The best new show of the fall TV show is currently airing on your computer. After many months, the complete first season of Transparent is now available on Amazon.
Let’s bitch it out…
Of all of the pilots that I’ve watched this year, the pilot for Transparent is the only one that immediately made me want to watch more. It’s possible that that’s because I knew there was a chance that I would never see any more (Amazon gives their series the greenlight based on audience votes, and Transparent is similar enough to an indie film on TV that I wasn’t sure how viewers would react). Thankfully other viewers also responded to the show and now we have a ten episode first season, debuting all at once online.
As a narrative, the tale of the Pfefferman clan is a relatively simple one: three egotistical adult children are on the cusp of learning that their father Mort actually identifies as Maura. The thirty minute pilot subtly introduces all of the players with a minimum of fanfare, preferring to put the characters front and centre so that we invest in their lives in anticipation of the significant shake-up that looms on the horizon. And so we’re introduced to Ali (Gaby Hoffman), the youngest daughter, a dreamer who is bad with money, Josh (Jay Duplass) a successful but isolated music manager and Sarah (Amy Landecker) a disaffected stay at home mom. Initially they all seem like familiar character types we’ve met before, but creator Jill Soloway and the actors quickly invest these individuals with their own unique personalities.
Most reviews have highlighted the amazing work of Jeffrey Tambor as Maura, a woman who has spent the majority of her life trapped inside the body of Mort and has only recently found the courage to “come out” to her family. The praise is well-deserved; Tambor finds a vulnerability in Maura that clearly conveys the melancholy loneliness of being unable to be the true you. It would be a mistake to discount what Hoffman, Duplass and Landecker bring to their respective roles, though. In many ways, the Pfefferman children are unlikable / verging on terrible people (Abby is hopelessly idealistic, Josh has an affinity for young ladies and Sarah is already cheating on her husband with a lady ex from college by the credits). And yet somehow in the space of only a few minutes I wanted to spend more time with these people and learn more about their stories.
What resonated most with me in the pilot is how lived-in everything feels. There’s a lush realism in Maura’s house when the kids visit for dinner (it looks like she actually lives there among the records and the desk full of papers). The camerawork and lighting are naturalistic, complementing and even highlighting the performances of the actors. Soloway’s dialogue, in particular, helps to construct these individuals as real people. Most of the dialogue, however innocuous, actually provides insight into these people’s psyches, from the petty remarks when the kids fight over the house to Ali’s mockery of Josh about the age of the girls in the band he’s working with.
The other defining element of the pilot is its frank portrayal of nudity. Virtually every character has a moment that exposes them (often in a way that helps the audience realize that there is a great deal more to them than we initially thought). Ali comes home and examines herself naked in the mirror. Sarah brushes her teeth naked from the waist down. Josh visits a mysterious woman who nonchalantly pulls up her skirt so that he can perform oral sex. It’s beyond cliche to say that doffing your clothes is a fearless performance, but the realism in Transparent’s casual nudity lends the series an air of credibility. These people get naked, they have sex, and they keep secrets. They are real.
They’re also fascinating.
The pilot ends on Soloway’s version of a cliffhanger as Maura comes home from a group meeting to discover Sarah and her ex Tammy (Melora Hardin) having sex in her bedroom, which should offer everyone plenty to play off of moving forward. I can’t wait to see where things go next.
- For more on Soloway’s creative process, check out Alan Sepinwall’s interview here
- For more on Tambor’s approach to Maura, check out Sepinwall’s interview here
Your turn: what did you think of the pilot? Were you as fixated on Tambor’s performance as critics, or you taken by the entire cast like me? Which character is the most interesting? And how will Maura and Sarah react to each other’s secret? Sound off below. *Please Note* As with any “all at once” series, please refrain from posting spoilers or comments about upcoming episodes.
Transparent is now available in its entirety on Amazon. We’ll be back next Friday with a review of episodes 2-3.