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