Review: ‘Transparent’ – the true transgender tipping point?
Transparent, created by Six Feet Under’s Jill Soloway, is a dark LA-based comedy-drama focusing on dysfunctional family the Pfeffermans.
Arrested Development star Jeffrey Tambor takes the lead role as Pfefferman patriarch Mort, who in the very first episode attempts to reintroduce himself to the family as Maura – if only his three grown-up children would pay enough attention enough to notice.
The show is partly autobiographical for Soloway, who draws on her own experience of having a parent – who Maura is based on – come out as trans three years ago.
Soloway adds it was her parent’s revelation that made her realise the lack of transgender representation in TV and film, a problem she intends to deal with as the Pfefferman children – music producer Josh, mother Sarah and deadbeat Ali – come to terms with Maura’s identity, and their own.
She says: “That was something that was always there for me. They wanted the house, they wanted the money. They may or may not want what their parent has to offer, which is their truth.”
For a show dealing with such an important subject, Transparent never risks alienating a wider audience, managing to stay true to its bold message while never becoming too preachy or pretentious.
It instead takes an approachable, understated tack, with heart-wrenching scenes juxtaposed with slapstick humour, which – if sometimes predictable – stop the show from getting caught up in itself.
The show’s on-demand home also allows it to be a lot more conservative pacing-wise than most TV comedies – Soloway refers to it as a five hour movie with nine intermissions – and it ends up feeling more House of Cards than The Big Bang Theory.
Transparent picked up some controversy before it has even aired for the casting of a male actor as a trans woman – but Soloway insists the show’s commitment to the trans community doesn’t end with the lead role.
The show features regular appearances from a trans support group at the real-life LA Gay & Lesbian Center – while hundreds of trans actors were given both speaking and background roles throughout the series.
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Trans people were also intimately involved behind the scenes, with scores of transgender consultants in every area of the production given a genuine say to ensure issues were portrayed as honestly as possible – with non-binary people, cross-dressers and drag queens all getting addressed on-screen.
The huge amount of preparation, research and passion that has gone into the show is clear for all to see through the realism of Maura’s transition, and Soloway is clear that the show is a springboard to start real-world discussions about everything from transphobia to gender neutral bathrooms.
She adds: “The world is just beginning to understand what it means to be trans – Maura is one way of being trans and there are hundreds more ways of being trans. We just feel lucky that we get to be a part of the conversation.”
“There’s been a 350% increase in people identifying as trans in just the past year and starting to change more and more – we’re at the beginning of something.”
Transparent is the first look at trans issues since Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox was hailed to by TIME as the ‘transgender tipping point’ – and if the scales aren’t tipping already, it certainly helps them on their way.
The show is now available on Amazon Prime Instant Video, with the first episode available to watch for free.