×

TV Review: Amazon’s ‘Transparent’

With:
Jeffrey Tambor, Jay Duplass, Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker, Judith Light

Almost instantly achieving a beguiling and bittersweet tone, “Transparent” represents the sort of breakthrough destined to firmly put Amazon’s nascent original programming push on the map. Jeffrey Tambor stars as a family patriarch grappling with the decision to reveal to his grown kids his desire to be a woman. Jill Soloway’s grainy, indie film-style half-hour series contains more melancholy than mirth, with knowing insight about family dynamics and private pain. Delicately dealing with the transgender issue, the show features a familiar device — dad’s changed life has ripple effects — but establishes its ensemble as one worth watching (or bingeing) over 10 episodes.

Tambor’s Mort Pfefferman is introduced over dinner with his children: daughter Sarah (Amy Landecker), who seemingly has an idyllic existence, but yearns for passion in a cold, loveless marriage; Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), a perennial slacker, always looking for a parental handout; and son Josh (Jay Duplass), a record producer whose casual attitude toward sex is rather quickly thrown for a loop.

But instead of going for a big “Ta-da” moment, Soloway takes her time, as Mort struggles to find the words to tell the kids about Maura, his alter ego. His long, slow journey to this point in time is illustrated through flashbacks of the skulking around in which he engaged to explore his conflicted nature during those years when he was still married (Judith Light plays his ex) and busily raising his family.

Soloway does find some humor amid it all — when the kids think Mort’s secret might be cancer, they discuss having him gift them money to dodge estate taxes — but Tambor, perhaps best known for his comedic gifts, brings genuine pathos to the character. And while there’s an obvious message to “Transparent” (which casts transgender performers in supporting roles), nothing comes across more soberly or powerfully than the image Tambor presents, in the most understated way, of a guy raised in a different time dealing with a life he never would have chosen.

Yet if Mort/Maura is the point of entry into the story, the larger lesson is that all of the Pfeffermans have issues, with each of the kids prone to self-absorption — and lives of desperation, quiet or otherwise. That Soloway (whose credits include “Six Feet Under,” as well as the indie movie “Afternoon Delight”) and company have managed to convey that without becoming maudlin or ever reducing Maura to a punchline is an accomplishment of the highest order.

Taking a page from Netflix, Amazon will make the entire season available at once, which seems well suited to the fluid nature of these episodes (four were made available).

Beyond some notable guest stars (Bradley Whitford among them, as an important presence in Mort/Maura’s past), “Transparent” takes an idea that feels pretty well played out — from “Parenthood” to “Brothers & Sisters” — and invigorates it not through a gimmick but rather via strong writing and performances. And while the show comes on the heels of the solid “Alpha House” and “Betas,” the series reinforces the sense that Amazon has the goods to become a serious player in the premium programming game.

The step up in class is crystal clear, and indicative of another kind of change, one that’s transforming the media landscape. For those hungry for quality shows without regard to source or delivery mechanism, that’s even better news than free shipping.

TV Review: Amazon's 'Transparent'

(Series; Amazon, Fri. Sept. 26)

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Amazon Studios.

Crew: Executive producer, Jill Soloway; co-executive producer, Andrea Sperling; supervising producer, Bridget Bedard; producer, Victor Hsu; writer-director, Soloway; camera, Jim Frohna; production designer, Catherine Smith; editor, Catherine Haight; music, Vincent Jones; casting, Eyde Belasco. 30 MIN.

Cast: Jeffrey Tambor, Jay Duplass, Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker, Judith Light

More Digital

  • Three Minute Film Lecture

    Hong Kong Protest Movement Gets Its Own Streaming Platform

    The team behind the award-winning controversial Hong Kong dystopian drama “Ten Years” has launched a new streaming platform focusing on short films about the ongoing protests that have gripped the city since June. Backed by Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily and Next Magazine, Next Film is headed by Jevons Au, one of the co-directors [...]

  • Memories of the Alhambra

    South Korean Producer Studio Dragon Sets Partnership With Netflix

    Global streaming giant Netflix has struck a multi-year deal with Studio Dragon, a three-year old production company that has become one of the hottest content houses in Korea. The deal is described as a three-year strategic partnership, highlighted by a multi-year content production and distribution agreement, that begins from 2020. Studio Dragon’s parent company, CJ [...]

  • Google headquartersGoogle headquarters, Dublin, Ireland -

    Google Won't Allow Political Campaigns to Target Voters by Affiliation Anymore

    Google is tweaking its policy for political ads, which includes doing away with microtargeting by political affiliation or voting records. The search giant also announced Wednesday that it would clarify its advertising policy to make sure that political advertisers can’t make grossly misleading statements. “We’re limiting election ads audience targeting to the following general categories: [...]

  • Sonos Q4 Results: Revenue, Losses Grow,

    Sonos Acquires Voice Assistant Startup Snips for $37.5 Million

    Smart speaker maker Sonos is getting ready to take a more active role in voice control: Sonos announced the acquisition of Paris- and Tokyo-based voice assistant startup Snips Wednesday. Snips had been developing a platform to launch dedicated voice assistants for smart speakers and other devices. Sonos spent $37.5 million in cash on the startup, [...]

  • Ramin Arani - Vice Media

    Vice Hires Fidelity Veteran Ramin Arani as CFO (EXCLUSIVE)

    Vice Media Group appointed Ramin Arani, a 26-year veteran of Fidelity Investments and an early adviser to Vice, as its new chief financial officer. Arani, reporting to CEO Nancy Dubuc, will lead all financial and accounting functions for Vice Media Group. Following Vice Media Group’s recent acquisition of Refinery29, Arani will also work to unify [...]

  • Jim Cornette

    Jim Cornette Resigns From National Wrestling Alliance After 'Offensive' On-Air Statement

    Professional wrestling mainstay Jim Cornette has resigned his position with the National Wrestling Alliance. “Effective immediately: Jim Cornette has resigned from the National Wrestling Alliance,” the company said in a statement released Wednesday. “As an announcer on the November 19th edition of ‘NWA Power,’ Jim made remarks during a singles match between Nick Aldis and [...]

  • Sarah Silverman

    As TV Consumption Shifts, Streamers Struggle With How to Apply Programming Standards

    When she launched her ultimately short-lived Hulu talk show  “I Love You, America” in 2017, Sarah Silverman wanted to make a point. This wasn’t a traditional broadcast or cable talk show with content restrictions or language limits — and so she experimented with that freedom on her very first episode. “Because we can — we’re [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content