Why You Should Start Watching: Transparent

Transparent
Created by Jill Soloway
Returns December 4th at 12am (PT) on Amazon

Premise: Jeffrey Tambor stars as Maura Pfefferman, a retired college professor and transgender woman who comes out to her family about her gender identity late in life. Meanwhile, her three adult children struggle with their own personal problems, as well as the challenges posed by Maura’s transition.

Where We Are: Season two starts this fall; 10 episodes have already aired

What You Need To Know: Although Soloway herself is the daughter of a transgender parent, she hired a transgender writer and director to bring even more authenticity to the series. They’ll help to tell the story of diverse gender experiences beyond Maura’s, as she’s no longer the central character.

Where We Left Off: Ed, the husband of Maura’s ex-wife Shelly, has passed away, and the Pfeffermans are all coping with the loss. His funeral becomes the backdrop for an airing of the grievances of the many woman Josh has infuriated, including his sister Ali, whose best friend he slept with. She’s angry in part because of her own frustration with her life, which she also takes out on Maura. Sarah, the eldest sibling, struggles to pick between her ex-husband and her college girlfriend and recent partner. 

Why You Should Start Watching: Transparent is just one in a litany of half-hour dramedies which eschew typical televisual rhythms in favor of a rawer feel (Girls, Looking, Togetherness, etc.), but it very well may be the best of the lot. Despite not having anything approaching typical comedic structure, the first season featured some of the funniest jokes seen on TV in 2014; likewise, without forcing melodrama, Transparent can be quietly devastating. The episodes whizz by, trading a lack of action and obvious story beats for a feeling of authenticity and true-to-life characters which make Transparent like none other. Aside from the power of the familial drama, this is a beautiful portrait of L.A. life of all kinds in a minor key, and one whose subtle tone never keeps it from pushing its emotional stakes as high it pleases. You won’t believe when yet another episode has gone by, but your disbelief will be dwarfed by your desire to cue up the next one. On top of the top-notch writing, Jeffrey Tambor stands out amongst the stellar ensemble cast for his sensitive and committed performance. Transparent is obviously notable for bringing stories to the screen which have been underrepresented in the media, but above all else, it’s innovative and powerful TV. 

What You Should Watch Beforehand: There are ten half-hour episodes in the first season, all of which are a breeze, so if you have the time, binge them all. That being said, if you want to give Transparent season two a try before committing to the whole thing, start with:

Season 1, Episode 8, “Best New Girl”: Flashback episode in which a pre-transitioning Maura goes to a drag camp during what’s supposed to be Ali’s bat mitzvah weekend. Although it’s late in the season, its early place in the show’s timeline makes it a perfect introduction, and there’s no better episode for understanding Maura’s struggle to understand and cope with her identity.

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