by Michael Sullivan
When I first dumped cable and went to streaming, I relied solely on the apps available on my smart flatscreen television. On it came just a handful of options, including Hulu Plus, Netflix, Facebook and Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime had mostly the same shows that were on Netflix and Hulu Plus, except I would have to pay to watch them. But in it was hidden a guilty pleasure: Transparent (and it’s free for Prime members).
What first attracted me to this Amazon original were two things: 1. Jeffrey Tambor, who is cast as the “transparent” and also did a bang-up job on Arrested Development as an asinine criminal father and as truly deceptive twins. And 2. In this day and age, despite some pushback and denial in various parts of the country, sexuality has become somewhat fluid. Just about anything goes, and if you happen to be straight and comfortable with that, you could face ridicule these days. If you doubt me, try going back to junior high.
The first season, which premiered in 2014, focused primarily on Mort Pfefferman (Tambor) becoming Maura, and the fallout and eventual acceptance of her true identity by her immediate family members: wife Shelly (Judith Light, Who’s the Boss?) and their adult children, Sarah (Amy Landecker), Ali (Gaby Hoffman) and Josh (Jay Duplass).
While there are numerous families with members who don’t fit the proverbial cookie-cutter American image (as if there really is such a thing), the overall elitism and snobbery depicted in the first season were a bit of a turnoff and just not relatable. Because finances are not really a struggle for the characters, the show tended to follow the path of the cliché spoiled brat and delved into such real nonissues as, “Am I straight today or gay?” (And no, I am not talking about being bisexual.) “Am I going to sleep with this hot person or that one?” “Whose heart will I stomp on next?” This relationship recklessness catches up with them in the second season.
With its release in December, it was easy to sink my teeth into Season 2 as one issue, generally less talked-about, took main stage: being transgender doesn’t make one technically straight. Despite the fact that Maura dresses like a woman, she is in fact OK with having a penis and having sex with women. Shelly, Maura’s wife, didn’t seem to be too bothered by her transgender partner, either, as a tender and spontaneous sexually gratifying moment played out in the bathtub. Maura has also had to face discrimination: not the expected public scrutiny that comes with being transgender, but from women, specifically lesbians who don’t like humans born with penises regardless of their outer appearance.
In essence, this show is a bit confusing, somewhat complex and frustratingly highbrow, but in the end, it’s all about that journey to be comfortable with one’s own being and that all-too-familiar desperate search for someone who will love you and accept you for who you are. The well-written script is enough to shrug off any disappointments one may have in the characters themselves.
Transparent Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Amazon Prime.
Out of the Box is a biweekly column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content.