Sunday 22 September 2019

TV guide: When Dad becomes Mom

Amazon's much-feted comedy Transparent returns next month

Jill Soloway (with Amy Landencker, who plays Sarah).
Jill Soloway (with Amy Landencker, who plays Sarah).

Julia Molony

When it arrived last year, sweeping into the fiercely competitive TV drama market in a blaze of glory, snatching up a Golden Globe (best new television comedy) and no less than five Emmys, and described by one critic as "damn near perfect", the Amazon Studios flagship production Transparent seemed to herald a new era in which the streaming platforms took over as sources of the best new telly.

The most ground-breaking, artistically credible dramas which best reflect our times are, increasingly, no longer to be found exclusively in the cinema or on telly. They're online. Produced by companies like Amazon and it's main competitor, Netflix, they benefit from the seemingly limitless budgets these companies have at their disposal, and their freedom from the limitations imposed by advertisers and state regulators. Amazon and Netflix don't have to worry about viewing figures either. So they are free to take risks, to explore the complex, the challenging and the niche.

It's very much out of this culture that Transparent was born. Written by comedian and Six Feet Under creator Jill Soloway (pictured, with Amy Landencker, who plays Sarah), the show stars Jeffrey Tambor as Mort/Maura Pfefferman a divorced, Los Angeles-based father-of-three who, after a lifetime in denial is now ready, at the age of 70, to embrace a new identity as a woman. Since childhood, she's hidden a suffocating conflict between her inner identity and his outward image.

The show follows Mort/Maura as she navigates the delicate and messy business of transitioning, around the chaotic and self-absorbed lives and preoccupations of her three adult children. As the series opened, we saw Mort/Maura gather her children around her at his well-appointed, leafy upper-middle-class house for a dinner premeditated as an opportunity to break the news. Thinking that their father might be about to tell them he has cancer, his kids Sarah, Joshua and Ali make their way up his driveway pondering whether to ask him to gift them his estate in order to avoid inheritance tax.

They all, certainly, have their own stuff going on. The eldest, Sarah (Landecker), is a mother of two, dissatisfied and stuck in her affluent married life, who before-long launches into a diverting lesbian affair, Josh (Jay Duplass) is a record-producer and cad, professionally successful but personally floundering and unfulfilled, while Ali, (Gaby Hoffman) the youngest is a classic, direction-less millennial, bright but unfocussed, hoping to stumble across a viable career-path while relying in the meantime on the bank of Mom and Dad.

The show is a nuanced, witty, and bitter-sweet exploration of the experience of transitioning in later life, but also of the gnarly, and frustrating business of existing within family. As she begins to assert her new identity, Maura must struggle not just against social expectations, but his children's needs and petty narcissisms. Like that other recent bang-on-the-zeitgeist production Girls, or there's something very precisely contemporary about the concerns and preoccupations of the show's lead characters as they struggle to make sense of their dissatisfactions and frustrations.

In creating Transparent, writer Jill Soloway clearly knows of which she speaks. In 2011 her own father, a psychiatrist, came out as transgender. As she accepted the Golden Globe she dedicated it to her own "moppa".

With the complete new series due out early next month, (like Netflix, Amazon will release all episodes from the new series simultaneously) the hype is already building steadily as the show's army of devoted fans prepare to binge.

Transparent season two is out on Amazon Prime on the 11th December.

Sunday Independent

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