New Lightbox acquisition Transparent, an Amazon Original from a key Six Feet Under writer, is already being touted as one of the year’s finest.//
“Are you saying you’re gonna start dressing up like a lady all the time?”
“No, my whole life I’ve been dressing up… like a man.”
Transparent is the brand new comedy-drama from Jill Soloway, producer and writer of Six Feet Under and veteran expert in pulverising traditional representations of family, gender and sexuality onscreen. Jeffrey Tambor stars as a retired professor who, at the age of 70, comes out as transgender. To say that Transparent explores the story of a gender-transitioning woman and the reaction of her adult children is accurate, but painfully limiting. It’s a show about the vicious task to find and represent your true identity, the dynamics of the family as a fluctuating hostile organism, and just the general struggles that come with being alive. It’s ironic that the “big-sell” story of Maura’s gender transformation is actually the show’s least complicated journey.
Alleviating the focus from Maura’s transition as the central catalyst for drama, the show actually highlights her role as the calm centre of the family storm. She is the only person that, however huge the change she is going through, has finally found contentment within her true self. Whether it’s Maura’s son Josh jumping between girlfriends, daughter Ali remaining unemployed and listless beyond acceptable years, or eldest Sarah juggling a lesbian affair – Transparent is a transformative reminder that everyone has secrets, and everyone is on same twisted journey of change. Some of us just have to wear our change on the outside.
“You look like you’re underwater”
“We’re both underwater… this whole house is under the ocean”
Transparent is about false appearances and masquerade. It’s a heartbreakingly sad comedy, a drama that will make you cry with laughter, and a vehicle for some truly incredible and undoubtedly Emmy-wrenching performances. Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development, The Larry Sanders Show) effortlessly becomes one with Maura in undoubtedly the most transformative role of his career. In an interview with the Guardian, he talked about dressing as Maura for the first time:
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life as I was when I walked through the hotel as a woman. It was an epiphany, because I realised, this is how Maura feels every day of her life.”
The ensemble piece also welcomes the likes of Gaby Hoffman, Amy Landecker and Jay Duplass as Maura’s children. The casting is spot on, and yet does not remain free of controversy. Having a straight cis man playing the role of a trans woman is a problematic representation that has arisen several times in recent years. Creator Jill Soloway responded to criticism in an interview,
“I wish that I had been able to find the trans person who could’ve played the role. But Jeffrey is so talented and so good in the role that I really believe that Jeffrey is right for the role of Maura. There isn’t one way to be trans; this isn’t the definitive trans story. It’s just one of many ways to be trans.”
Despite Tamboor’s casting, Transparent features 15 transgender speaking roles and over 100 transgender extras – the most ever hired for one show in television history. It’s safe to say that it has taken the ranks alongside the likes of Orange is the New Black in giving privilege to the underrepresented, shedding off sexual taboos and embracing the “other” with open arms. It explores serious themes of sexuality and gender with a knowingness that isn’t afraid to have a flat out laugh about it. Because we’re all just humans. And that’s really what the show is about. Bigger than sex, bigger than gender, bigger than identity – we’re all just humans.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.