“I don’t know how it is I raised three people who cannot see beyond themselves.”
The title of the series, Transparent, is a perfect encapsulation of what this show is about. On the one hand, you have the obvious play on words with “trans” and “parent” placed side by side, but on the other, you also have the actual meaning of the word transparent: having thoughts, feelings, or motives easily perceived by others. The show is about perception, about how we see who we see, about how societal and personal values may clash, about whether or not we can still love while looking at someone through a different lens.
In fact, the very opposite of the title’s meaning is true for all these characters. As humans, we tend to desire a concrete, black and white answer to everything, and we’d certainly like to view everything around us–our relationships, our jobs, our identities–clearly. We’d like some transparency in certain situations, but at the same time, we need to realize that we’re human and that we’re much more complicated than initial perceptions or isolated incidents may suggest.
Transparent asks each of its characters whether or not seeing Mort Pfefferman (Tambor) differently–clearer, even–changes things. After all, each of these characters is longing for something of his or her own, perhaps even keeping a secret like Maura’s been doing: Sarah’s getting back with her college flame, Josh is having sex with an older woman named Rita, and Ali’s simply floundering with regards to her entire life, still getting money from her parents. Like Maura says, these are all selfish people, exemplified by their money-driven reactions to cancer speculation about their father. However, these are all people who are very similar to each other, all confronting the paths their lives have taken and all afraid of what they may find.
The season will undoubtedly delve more into all this later on, especially now that Maura’s coming out to her family; I’m sure many characters will have to come to terms with their own secrets, with their own lives, and perhaps swallow initial perceptions to realize that they still know and love each other. For now, though, the pilot’s immediate standouts are Gaby Hoffmann’s Ali and, of course, Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura Pfefferman. The former seems to be the one exception to the quote I used to open the review; we see that she’s the only one who truly sees the man with dementia, who truly sees beyond herself at this point in time, who sees her father, but she simultaneously sees herself in a negative light. She can see others, but she sees too much of herself, and her unhappiness is palpable when the Maura support circle scene is followed up by Ali looking at her naked body, which is then followed up by her getting a personal trainer. She could use some discipline, some control.
Ultimately, we’re left with a scene in which Maura comes across Tammy and Sarah kissing, and the words “Hi, girls” close the pilot. Here, two secrets come into contact with each other, and it remains to be seen how these characters will react. What’s clear, though, is that the audience will be allowed to watch us these people come to grips with the world around them in order to understand themselves. Maybe there’s something transparent amidst the murkiness of life.
-Jeffrey Tambor is fantastic in this role. We obviously know him from Arrested Development, but this series proves that he can handle the dramatic stuff extremely well. His character could easily be played for laughs or overt characterization, but Tambor’s acting and Soloway’s script bring subtleties to him.
-That’s Judith Light as Shelly Pfefferman. Interestingly enough, she seems to be the one most content with the state of her life at the moment.
-Amy Landecker was most recently seen in the Louie masterpiece, “In the Woods”, as Louie’s mother. She was fantastic there, and I’m sure she’ll be great here as well.
-I suspect this will be a fairly polarizing show, considering it’s very similar in style to Girls. I like both, for the record.
-Rob Huebel shows up as Len, Sarah’s husband. His dismissive “I like lesbians” is another instance of gender expectation exploration within the show; the love being two women is just as real as the love between a man and a woman,
-I haven’t decided about coverage yet, but I’ll probably check in at the end of the season for a full season review. Who knows? Maybe I’ll decide to cover this two episodes at a time, if I have enough to say about it and if I have enough time.
Photo credit: Amazon Prime, Transparent