Transparent – New Series on Amazon

Oy veh!

Now that’s not an expression I use either regularly or even irregularly. But it was those two words that ended Season One of the surprise hit, the Amazon Instant/Prime Video Series called Transparent.

The transparent reference is about the fact that within most families, secrets are kept – meaning that transparent, in the sense of transparency, is not a word that rings true for most families, and specifically not this particular So-Cal family.

This is a family with issues – and that’s being kind. Issues that are life changing, and that’s just being honest. Intrigued yet?

Okay – maybe not yet, so let’s have a quick look at this family.

At the head of the family is Mort Pfefferman. Unless you know him well, for the moment we’ll describe him as a former college professor, former husband now divorced, and current father of three adult children. Mort is 70 and he’s harbored a secret for most of his adult life.

You see, Mort doesn’t want to be called Mort any longer. He’s decided to come out to both his family, and then publicly, under a new name which would be Maura Pfefferman. That’s right – Mort has been living as man, dressing as man, and for all intents and purpose was a man for these many years. But his reality is that he is a man who really wanted to be a woman. Mort/Maura is a transgender.

Jeffrey Tambor has the role. And when we meet him, we haven’t been made privy to his so far unstated new reality. He’s called his three adult children to his home with the intent of telling them his news.

His three children include Sarah Novak nee Pfefferman who is the oldest. She’s married with two children, unemployed, and sexually frustrated. Early on she confides to her therapist that she and her husband Len have not had sex in six months which is definitely not the norm for someone in their mid thirties. Amy Landecker has the role, and as long as the verb confide has already been mentioned, I’ll confide that as the show began, I thought she looked very familiar. The name Courtney Cox kept circling around in my head. But Courtney and Amy are not the same person.

She has a secret too. In the course of doing errands and picking up her small children at their school, she runs into an old girl friend from college – Tammy. It seems that back then, in her college freshman year, she had a fling with this Tammy played by Melora Hardin. As Sarah describes the situation later on to her siblings , she says something like – Yeah, I experimented in college. Didn’t everybody?

Now, Tammy, dresses and looks a Ellen DeGeneres kind of woman. Only with a child who she parents with another woman. Someone called Barbara.

Mort’s middle child is Josh Pfefferman, played by Jay Duplass, (who in real-life is the brother of actor Mark Duplass). Josh is a very successful record producer, in his late 20’s who has security issues, or maybe they should be called insecurity issues. There’s a secret reason for that too. Apparently, Josh, as a 15-year-old, was sexually molested by one of his mother’s girl friends. Since then Josh has been sexually precocious, new partners all the time, and yet finds it difficult to maintain relationships because he’s so clinging and cloying which is the outgrowth of his fear of isolation and abandonment.

The third child is Ali Pfefferman, played by Gaby Hoffman, who appeared in Field of Dreams and Uncle Buck as a child, and more recently has been seen this year as Carolyn Sackler on Girls. Here she plays a woman in her early twenties, a recent college graduate who hasn’t found her self yet. She’s not working, and is unsure of her sexual preference or sexual identity, so she’s up for anything and tries everything.

Rounding out the family is Shelly played by Judith Light who was Mort’s wife, and the mother to these three children. She’s not quite likeable as she kvetches, and whines, and talks non-stop with opinions about everything which she offers whether requested or not.

She divorced Mort at least 10 years ago, and yes, as we will find out, she knows all about Mort’s predilections, but has promised to NOT tell the kids.

Okay – there’s your main characters – Mort/Maura has called his kids to come over for a dinner and he promised some big news. The kids, with no idea, immediately think that the news will be of the type that begins with – I have cancer and I’m dying.

This is the dinner, and the big news does not get revealed

This is the dinner, and the big news does not get revealed

Of course, it is not like that all. But Mort backs off, and can’t tell his kids about his reality now:

1) he dresses as a woman in public 2) wants to be called Maura rather than Mort, and 3) And he’s known this about himself since he was five years old.

So the kids don’t get the real truth, and dinner ends with the kids still without a clue.

Transparent is the creation of Jill Soloway, a writer, director, and producer who is best known for her work on Six Feet Under and Grey’s Anatomy.

There’s something in Jill’s background that makes her an expert in some of what this show is about. She’s from a Jewish family, and her own father, Dr. Harry Soloway, came out as a transgender in 2011.

Now before you go off thinking about drag queens, or Harvey Fierstein, or any other theories you may have about transgender people, or homosexuals, please be aware that the Soloway show is not presented for broad laughs or for shock values. There are sex scenes, and there’s nudity including full frontal by Gaby Hoffman, but any or all of that is far from shocking. The way Soloway presents it, this is just a family under the stress and strain of keeping secrets buried within, and is more about the opening up by each of them to the rest. By the way, there’s way more straight sex in this series than the lesbian sex.

It’s at times touching, and funny without resorting to jokes per se. It may make you think of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm only without the shocking and often obnoxious behavior. It may make you think of Seinfeld, as each of these people on Transparent are self-centered and flawed just like Jerry, and Elaine, and Kramer, and George were – only with out the one-liners or the laugh track.

The series was released on Amazon Instant Video via Amazon Prime just a few days ago (September 26th) and you can binge watch all 10 half-hour shows at once, or should I say rather in one long sitting. These shows are available as rentals from Amazon Instant Video, or if you are a member of Amazon Prime – you can get them without any additional cost. The series is also making the news:

Yesterday’s Sunday Sarasota newspaper – The Sarasota Herald Tribune ran a story on the top left of the front page of the paper that began:



By Katy Bergen / Photography by Elaine Litherland

Southwest Florida individuals who want an inclusive world for transgender people believe change is fueled by visibility.

Across the country, transgender activism — for equality of people who identify with a gender that is different than their birth-assigned sex — is gaining momentum.

As advocates strive to transform legislation, politics, academics, pop culture and social consciousness, a diverse network of people in Southwest Florida is working for acceptance, respect and equality at home by spreading awareness about a population shrouded in misinformation.


The band wagon obviously did not begin with this Soloway TV series – but quite obviously it is representative of what we are likely to see more and more often.

The show is not roll on the floor funny, but it is quite humorous. The performances by Tambor as Mort/Maura will not strike you as either showy, maudlin, or over-the-top. He comes off as sympathetic and so very real.

If there was one role that could be called over-the-top maybe it is Judith Light as the ever so Jewish, Jewish mother. Maybe at first she’s a bit shrill, and it may put you off, but she mellows it down as the series progresses. Kind of backs off the gas pedal so to say.

As for the kids, their issues and conflicts are not unknown to any of us. All of the children will strike you as not only well written characters but also that the actors in the roles played their roles splendidly, if not perfectly.

I’ve given you the set up and the background. But I think I can really give you a bit of one scene just to sell the show even more. Sarah takes Tammy up to Mort’s home. Tammy is an interior designer and maybe she’ll come in handy when the time comes. At this point, Sarah still has no idea about Dad.

Sarah and Tammy begin to make out. Shortly there after Mort/Maura arrives home as Maura.

He takes in Sarah and another woman in a tight clinch kissing wildly. They are interrupted by Mort/Maura’s gasp.

Sarah: Dad????

Mort: [after taking a deep breath] … so I have something to tell you…

Sarah: Help me out here. Are you saying, are you saying that you’re going to dress up as a lady from now on?
Maura: Honey, my whole life… all my life…  I dressed up…  like a man. This is me… 

The implication is obvious. What came before was wrong, and was not the real Mort or as he/she now prefers – Maura.

Sarah is sworn to secrecy, as he/she wants to tell Josh, and Ali himself. By the same token, Sarah swears Maura to secrecy, as she’s going leave Len Novak and take up living with Tammy full-time – that is, not until Tammy tells her secret, which is Sarah, to her present live-in partner Barbara.

That’s Transparent – and trust me – if you can see it, please do. I watched the 10 episodes, surprising myself, comprising a total of five hours, over this past weekend, and I’m glad I did. Check out this great trailer for a show you may not consider watching, but after watching the trailer, I think you might change your mind about viewing this show, no matter what your preferences or orientation may be.

7 thoughts on “Transparent – New Series on Amazon

  1. Watched this all in one fell swoop and loved about every second of it. Amazon Prime definitely has a winner on their hands here and it makes me interested in the upcoming series they ordered to full seasons. Especially Bosch, one I think has the most promise of them all. Nice post, Mike!

    • Thanks Dan –

      Wondering if you are going to do a post on Transparent? I know you prefer film to TV series but the show doesn’t play as a series – it plays more like a long film.
      And unlike a typical TV series, with Transparent, it is not a series that you could just jump in in any season or any episode.

      I liked the Bosch series too, and have read a few of the Bosch novels as well.. I look forward to this as a another series I’d invest time in.

  2. Halfway through the season, and loving it so far. Jeffrey Tambor in particular is fantastic, and this is a moving, funny, and very well written series. Looking forward to finishing it up (also, it has one of my favorite opening credit sequences).

    By the way, did you hear about the cancellation of The Bridge? Not surprising, but I wish the show had another few episodes to properly wrap things up. The fact that this gets cancelled and Tyrant gets renewed is disappointing.

    • Glad you are enjoying this one – especially after you invested so much time and energy in The Leftovers and The Bridge.

      No I hadn’t read that it had been cancelled, or rather not renewed for a Third season. While I did watch every episode this year _ I thought that they mishandled it. The best parts were when Sonya and Marco worked together, and there was far less of that this season. Also the characters that we had invested in Charlotte, and the newspaper couple, and the low talker all had reduced time. It was if the writers had run out of steam.

      As for Transparent – while I really enjoyed it and wrote it up so very favorably – I can’t see that Soloway could do a second season of this and have it come off so well.

      • I did enjoy writing about The Leftovers, but I did feel like my Bridge reviews were getting redundant. I’m thinking I’ll review the full Transparent season once I’m done to go along with my pilot review, because like you said in your reply to Dan, this does play like a long film.

        For The Bridge, I thought they handled the Marco-Fausto stuff nicely, as well as the Sonya-Marco dynamic, but I definitely did get the impression that they were running out of steam (that explains the rushed finale)–not just in between seasons, but also during the season as well with characters like Eleanor Nacht. And yes, Frye and Adriana didn’t have huge roles, Linder and Eva were peripheral, and Charlotte and Ray barely had any screen time. I still enjoyed this more than the David Tate storyline, but this is still a show that was not quite there yet in terms of quality; it was very, very close throughout its whole run. Oh well, still deserved to go out on their own terms, but that’s the business.

  3. Wonderful review and it sure looks like a fascinating series! Transgenderism is an increasing topic and needs to be addressed more often.

    Be sure to support my upcoming Documentary ‘Transindia’ which explores the Transgender Community (Hijras) in India. Contributions will not only go towards the Film but will also support the Transgender community by offering them food and clothing.

    Like ‘Transindia’ on Facebook:
    Follow ‘Transindia on Twitter:

    • Thank you Meera –

      For the record, and especially after Transaparent took down two Golden Globes last night, I am letting all know that more than two and half weeks ago, following Christmas, I send along a cash support contribution to Meera Darji’s project – the documentary called Transindia.

      Meera is an ardent filmmaker and she’s going to leave for India on February 6th, so any kind of support is important. Thanks.


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