Over the Christmas break, I had the chance to finally watch the show I’ve been meaning to watch since it was released, Transparent. A number of publications have named it the best new series of the year so it was a perfect time for me to sit down and watch the entire season. The story, as it unfolds through the course of ten 30 minute episodes, is the story of the Pfefferman clan and how they deal with the patriarch’s late-in-life transition to female.
At the age of 70, Mort (a college professor with a $10-$15 million dollar home in Pacific Paiisades) decides that he is going to finally start living his life for himself and begins the process of coming out as trans to his three extremely selfish children. There’s Sara, the oldest daughter, married with two children. Josh, a music producer with a penchant for sleeping with the group he’s producing at the moment. And Alli, the youngest and most free spirited. Each have their own issues that are slowly explored along with Mort’s transition to Maura.
This is Amazon’s first foray into a Netflix-style production. It’s creator, Jill Soloway, previously of United States of Tara on Showtime, created the show after her own father’s coming out as trans. And its handled very sympathetically. When the two daughters learn of Maura, they take her to the mall for a makeover and brunch. When Josh finds out, via his sisters, its handled as not that big a deal. Even their mom Shelley (wonderfully played by Judith Light, yes I was shocked) plays it off because she has known for quite some time Mort liked to dress up in women’s clothes. We’re treated to flashbacks of Mort at a weekend retreat for men who like to dress like women (but are still men) and of professor Mort hiding in his office and putting on lipstick.
Along with transitioning, Transparent also explores differences in homosexuality and sexual identity, from different characters. Sarah’s girlfriend from college Tammy, is a out and proud lesbian. Alli has a dalliance with a trans man. Josh can’t let go of the babysitter he fell in love with at 14. Its refreshing and bold to see these topics so naturally discussed during the course of the show. Its something you’d never find on network television.
I gotta say, as much as I enjoyed Transparent, what was missing for me was a sense of catharsis. There are a number of scenes throughout the first season of the show that are played off as no big deal. Not just Maura’s coming out. When Sara, the oldest daughter, reconnects with a lesbian friend Tammy she lived with in college, eventually leaving her husband and convincing Tammy to do the same with her partner, it’s treated simply as a matter of course. Eventually there is a scene where the husband confronts Sara, but its played more for the decision to expose their two young children to Maura. Even the decision to help Ed, Shelley’s second husband, end his life is done over the family’s standing order of bagels and lox from Canter’s on Fairfax and Arnold Palmers.
I kept waiting for the big scene, or scenes, that would explain more about why the characters are the way they are. There’s gotta be a reason why all three of the Pfefferman children are so stunted emotionally. Why does Josh continue to see his former babysitter who’s ten years older than he is on the sly? Why did Shelley and Mort get divorced? Why did Mort wait until he was 70 to transition after being divorced from Shelley for quite some time? Why wasn’t Alli’s bat mitzvah rescheduled to when she could recite the torah? Why isn’t Josh freaked out to suddenly discover he has a 17yo son who likes sushi? Questions like this left me feeling like I wasn’t getting the whole story, that maybe I’d missed something.
About the only confrontation we do get happens at the end, during Ed’s shiva (a jewish funeral custom) that’s performed more like a circle of life celebration, but with only one kind of coleslaw (that’s a joke if you’ve seen the show). Ali asks her mom why she they allowed her to cancel her bat mitzvah, and Shelley replies that its because Mort wanted to go away that weekend to dress up camp. Alli confronts Maura and suddenly, finally we get the conflict we’ve been waiting for. Maura explodes at Ali, stating that Ali is a fuck up and Mort/Maura has been paying her way through life because Ali ‘can not do anything.’ Ali takes out money and starts throwing it at Maura, and all this hurt and resentment Maura has been feeling comes flooding into her face. It’s a great scene, and more like it are hopefully on the way next season. We end with Josh’s son leading the reassembled family in a Christian prayer for food and the family is delighted by Sara’s news that she and Tammy are getting married. oy vey.
Did I miss anything? It’s entirely possible! Let me know in the comments below.
Side Note: Apologies for not updating this blog more regularly. I’ve been in the process of moving from SF to LA and unfortunately this blog has fallen by the wayside, along with a number of shows I had stockpiled on my DVR to talk about (like that Aaliyah movie). Once I’m settled in LA and have regular television access again, I’ll be posting more regularly.
Image courtesy of Amazon. Transparent is available on Amazon Prime.