Amazon's Transparent is a gorgeous, nuanced story of a person undergoing change--and a sign of a TV business in transformation.
It’s been a momentous end-of-the-TV-summer while I’ve been on vacation–the Emmys spun Sofia Vergara like a car-show model, Tony Soprano lived (or maybe didn’t), Full House might be coming back. But Labor Day’s over, which means it’s time to put away the white shoes (unless you’re Dr. John Thackery) and start thinking about fall.
While I was away, Time published its fall preview, including my feature on my top pick among the season’s new series, Transparent, which premieres all 10 episodes Sept. 26 on Amazon Prime Video. I know we’re already well into the Netflix age, but there still seems something significant about the most promising pilot of the fall being produced on the e-commerce site of a massively embiggened bookstore.
But Transparent would be worth seeking out no matter who made it. Created by Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under, Afternoon Delight), it stars Jeffrey Tambor as Maura Pfefferman, née Mort Pfefferman, who is preparing to come out as transgender to the three adult children who have known her as a father their entire lives:
“I had everything to learn,” Tambor says of his preparation. “I remember my first costume fitting. They asked, ‘What do you like?’ I thought, I have no idea what I like.” But he found that the process of becoming Maura was, after all, what the character goes through. Though in her 70s, “Maura is new,” he says. “All the mistakes Jeffrey was making, Maura had to make too.” Mistakes or no, Tambor is marvelous, capturing Maura’s warmth and grace, her anxiousness to be accepted by her children and see them thrive–an experience of parenting that goes beyond any gender identity.
As for Maura’s own identity, Soloway says, Transparent’s first season will explore–in the present and through flashbacks–exactly how far along Maura is in her process. “We’re asking that to ourselves,” Soloway says. “When does Mort become Maura? Is Mort changing into Maura? Is Maura allowing herself to be seen and pushing aside the character or costume of Mort?”
The full article requires a TIME subscription (only $30 a year!) but I’ll have more to say about the show when Amazon makes more episodes available for review before its premiere. In the meantime, I also recommend Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s profile of Soloway for the New York Times magazine, in which Soloway (whose own father came out to her as transgender three years ago) talks about making a show that questions traditional gender pigeonholing–not just in the story but in the way that it’s made. (Which, she says, involves a “more feminine” approach to direction as well as hiring transgender cast, crew and consultants.)
But above all, watch Transparent, whose pilot is screening now on Amazon Prime. It’s a nuanced, gorgeous first half-hour, brilliantly performed and laced with melancholy and humor; you could confidently put it up against the best HBO or Showtime half-hour pilots of recent years. And the fact that platforms like Amazon now exist to give shows like this a chance says that not only Maura Pfefferman, but the TV business itself, is going through an exciting transformation.