“Transparent” is Willing to Take on the Actual Complexity that is in Each of Us When it Comes (no pun) to Our Sexual Lives

“Transparent” is Willing to Take on the Actual Complexity that is in Each of Us When it Comes (no pun) to Our Sexual Lives October 5, 2014

Transparent is great! Jill Soloway, the show’s writer and director/creator is brilliant.

If Amazon’s book-selling success scares some writers imagine what lovers of Netflix and HBO will do now that Amazon’s binge series, Jill Soloway’s Transparent , has turned out to be a work of genius?

Transparent  is the best thing on TV or in movie houses right now. Period.

Maura (Jeffrey Tambor), has been living as a woman. But he/she hasn’t told her three grown children: Sarah (Amy Landecker), mom to two young kids–Josh (Jay Duplass), a serial damaged-goods ladies man and Ali (Gaby Hoffman), the lost eternal student who paid the highest price for her parents open-ended liberalism–yet.

Rounding out the ensemble is Maura’s ex-wife, Shelly (Judith Light), who is high-strung, anxious, brittle, Jewish-mom-from-hell re-married to a man with dementia.  She’s also the last Pfefferman left who “still likes cock,” given everyone else’s sexual journey to either/or lesbianism, transgender cross-dressing and/or trans-curiosity.

Soloway is the playwright, and Emmy-nominated television writer known for her work on the delectable Six Feet Under.  Genius meets genius. Enter Jeffrey Tambor an actor who I first loved for his work as the sidekick to the star on the best TV show about TV shows, ever made: The Larry Sanders Show.  Now the brilliant Tambor is a transitioning woman ready to come out to his—rather to her–three grown children, who still think of her as their father.

Where to start?

To watch Transparent is to enter the world of the Pfefferman family. They’re Secular and Jewish the way Larry David is Secular and Jewish: in other words both hilariously and poignantly dysfunctional. The parents are long divorced, and the three grown children are each a study in selfish, sexually confused arrested development.

If this was a movie every single member of the cast would be nominated for an Oscar. Then Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the head of the family, would be nominated for God.

Tambor is both above the fray yet invested in it and like God is chief instigator of all the troubles that befall his children. He giveth and he taketh away!

This “God” is transgender. The patriarch becomes the matriarch. He’s old and ugly too. And unless you have a heart of stone you’ll be rooting for her all the way.

As Tambor’s character comes out to the Pfefferman children. Each deal with “it” (their father’s issues) in a quirky self-interested way. That series of reactions also reveals entire lives lived in the shadow of the mixed blessing of being raised by liberal secular Jews.

Turns out the atheist godless life of reason—like all human lives—isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

For evangelical and Roman Catholic survivors watching this show there’s dark comfort to be had in the fact that life on the other side to the tracks has its own problems. Maybe your home-school born-again mom was nuts but so are liberal Jews! Maybe those nuns were uptight and mean but so are some lesbian interior designer insanely introspective and selfish lovers! Maybe it is the human condition that is inherently screwed up and we just all experience our own version of it!

What all this is really about is much bigger than the specific plot. Transparent is about us all.

Soloway has created a series that opens a Pandora ’s Box on a host of related issues. Here are a few that jump out besides the obvious story line:

  • Does being a secular Jew produce a feckless level of dysfunction? In other words do Jews without God need something other than sex, shopping and career to fill bright minds with?
  • Just like blacks get to use the N-Word can Soloway, who is a committed feminist and Jewish, get away with her devastating parody of the extreme silliness of feminism (not to mention her Woody Allenesque look at the crazy side of secular “Judaism”) when it’s carried to the Nth degree?
  • How will the gay community, transgender community and feminist community react to a show that does nothing to gloss over the fact that being politically correct on sexual and gender issues still leaves all concerned with the same human problems of greed, betrayal and anger everyone else has?

This is the first show I know of that begins where everything else ends: with the audience as already out of the closet.

In other words this show doesn’t need to argue for tolerance any more. So it can show sexual and gender diversity warts and all. The show’s creator assumes she’s talking to an enlightened enough audience that she can now tell a real human story with “gender issues” as the backdrop while she allows the human stories to emerge.

The human trumps the merely sexual here.  Transparent is as devastating as it is moving. It is devastating because the writing is so good and the performances so impeccable that watching this show is to live the lives in it.

Therein lies the show’s heart:  Transparent is willing to take on the actual complexity that is in each of us when it comes to our sexual lives and how they impact the world. And of course none of this would work unless the show was also devastatingly entertaining and darkly funny too.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace

Available now on Amazon

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