Does it have to be on television to be a television show? Amazon answered this question with another question: Do you have to have a female body in order to be a woman? Taking the plunge with what some would consider a controversial subject matter, Amazon made waves and garnered much praise with its “breakout” show “Transparent,” that no one even remembers Amazon had actually already created a couple of original shows before (did anyone even hear about “Alpha House,” Amazon’s attempt at a counter-show for Netflix’s “House of Cards?”).
Not only is “Transparent” about a patriarch who comes out as a transgender woman, but it is also filled with other characters questioning their sexualities, pushing the borders of their gender identities, and endlessly attempting to make true connections with other people (and for the most part, failing quite miserably).
Maura (Jefrrey Tambor in a career-defining role), formerly known as Mort, is the father of the family, or as she is now referred to by her daughters: Mapa (squish name for Mama and Papa). She has spent her entire life “dressing up as a man,” as she says. Now that she is divorced from ex-wife Shelly (the always marvelous Judith Light) and that her children are all grown-up (at least biologically speaking), she finally wants to live life authentically.
Maura has not had gender re-assignment surgery, neither is she taking hormones; she just dresses as a lady and hangs out with other transgender people and she is actually the one very stable, reassured and content person on the show.
Her kids: Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), Sarah (Amy Landecker) and Josh (Jay Duplass), however, are a different story.
Let’s start with Sarah, for no other reason but that she’s my favorite. Sarah has been married to Len (Rob Huebel) and has two children. But on the very first episode she runs into her college-days lesbian flame Tammy (Melora Hardin) and that flame is rekindled on the spot. In an extremely brave move, she quickly comes out to her husband and the rest of her family and moves out, back into her childhood home, recently vacated by her father.
Equally as impressive, Tammy almost immediately leaves her wife and moves in with Sarah. They make for an adorable couple, which becomes the most stable of the relationships on the show. Even when Sarah wavers for a second, the show gratefully doesn’t follow the age-old lesbian trope of sending her running back to the safety of heterosexual life.
Sarah is also the only child who accepts her father unconditionally and tries to get everyone else on board, too, the other unlikely supporter being Mort’s ex Shelly, who seems like the most stereotypical Jewish Yenta, but turns out to be 0-remarkably enlightened and supportive.
Josh is a musician man-child who is looking for a mommy figure ever since he had a relationship with his babysitter. He hops from one woman’s bed to another, until he meets a Rabbi (my new discovery, the wonderful Kathryn Hahn) who knocks his socks off. But of course, that is not going to work out that easily.
Ali, the most complex character, albeit perhaps the most obnoxious at times, is the youngest. She doesn’t conform to her gender in any way, but insists she is strictly straight, even when she tries to get in the pants of a trans man with a vagina, and she seems genuinely perplexed when her best friend Syd (Carrie Brownstein) admits she has feelings for her.
Ali is a lost soul who doesn’t know who she is or what she wants, so she relates to everything and everyone through sex. As Syd puts it, some people are tactile learners; Ali is a vaginal learner.
For a show that seems pretty bold and in-your-face with its depictions of the many versions sex, sexuality and gender can take, it works its magic on you in ways that are quite subversive. It doesn’t try to teach you a lesson, it doesn’t try to answer any questions. What it puts out there is a lot of confusion on characters that are endearing some of the time and then some of the time irksome.
The one thing these people are not confused about is their love for one another. And that’s its power. These are people like you and me. And they are a family. As troubled as they are, they stick together; they care about each other. They try. And they do it in a way that makes us all wish they were our family.
In the most counter-intuitive way, these people could normalize anything to us, because their relatability lies in the fact that no one is truly normal.
When Maura comes out to her family, she is warned by Davina (Alexandra Billings), her friend from the transgender support group, that she will probably lose her family. This may be the case on television shows to date. That is probably still the case in many families across the world and even in this country. But how refreshing it is that this show is all about what happens when the family sticks together.
Favorite guest star of the week:
Gloria Steinem makes an appearance on one of the most women-empowering shows on television, “The Good Wife,” trying to convince Alicia Florrick to run for State’s Attorney because “we need women to run.” Priceless.
How much am I excited about…
“The Affair,” a new show coming on Showtime this Sunday, is starring ER favorite Maura Tierney and the fabulous Ruth Wilson (if you haven’t seen her as Alice on “Luther,” you still have the weekend to catch up and have your mind blown).
Now it’s your turn: What did you think about “Transparent?” Who was your favorite guest star of the week? What are you excited about? Like, comment and share the discussion!