I’ve been watching this show on Amazon and have a bunch of random thoughts on it. Since I set up a blog years ago that I’ve never bothered to use, it seems like as good a place as any to post things that I don’t feel like carving up into 140-character pieces.
JUST TO BE CLEAR: TONS O’ SPOILERS AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
I’m into the 6th episode as of writing this, and so far, I’m really enjoying it. The best part is that even though it’s about trans people, by a non-trans creator/showrunner, and starring a non-trans actor as a trans woman, there are exactly zero scenes so far that feel like they would fit right in in an After-School Special or Very Special Episode. Thank god for that.
We don’t linger over how very brave Maura is being, and if there was the cliched shot where we see her putting on makeup that’s supposed to be some kind of larger symbolic statement about performing femininity, I completely missed it. Thank you for both those things, Transparent.
We do get one sort of perfect After School Special-ly line of dialogue as Maura comes out to her oldest daughter. When Sarah asks her if she’s going to dress up as a woman from now on, she replies “All my life, I’ve been dressing up like a man.” But it works ok (for me, anyway) because the setup for the scene is so off-balance that it doesn’t play out generically, and also because I think that’s exactly the sort of line a lot of transitioning trans women work out in their heads and try to keep on file for when we have to explain ourselves. The fact that Sarah gets to react with her mind blown while her lover Tammy, who’s used to the LGBT community, says all the right supportive things you’re supposed to say, keeps the scene from being unrealistic (as it would be if Sarah were super supportive from minute one) but also keeps it from being mortifying for Maura, which is nice.
Also, I mentioned this on Twitter, but Melora Hardin is amazingly hot as Tammy. It’s worth repeating.
Jeffrey Tambor does a good job in the role, in my opinion. There’s a lot of observation that clearly went into his performance, and it pays off. And he thankfully tends to underplay the character rather than going for caricature, which would straight-up ruin the entire show. The few moments of silliness — like when Maura takes one Estrogen pill and reacts like her whole body is suddenly changing — seem both earned and pretty believable.
The flashback scene where Maura plans to try on some women’s clothes, then backs away from it when someone comes and knocks on his office door at the wrong time felt both heartbreaking and really true to life. Like a lot of trans women who don’t have things figured out from an early age, I spent some time wondering if I was a crossdresser, but it seemed like a thing that was uncomfortable and didn’t really line up with what I actually wanted. I totally get the evolution from “I should try this, maybe this is my thing” to “Ick, this is creepy and disturbing and I want to stop now.”
The only parts, so far, that have made me super-uncomfortable have been the flashback scenes with Bradley Whitford as either a crossdresser or another trans woman (it’s not clearly defined which from what I’ve watched so far). Bradley Whitford seems much more like the negative “guy in a dress” stereotype trans women get saddled with, so I’m sure that’s what’s setting off my alarm bells. Of course, if the character is intended to be a crossdresser, then that’s a perfectly reasonable characterization, and there’s really nothing wrong with the character being into what he’s into.
I’ve heard some people express disappointment about the fact this this is yet another show about white, economically privileged people. Which is true, for sure. And it is absolutely true that white, economically privileged people have a vastly greater ability to tell stories about themselves and their lives on television (and in other media) than other people. At the same time, my personal opinion is that given that this is true, at least this show is exactly the sort of story they should be telling, as opposed to so much of the lazy detritus that usually makes it onto television. Then again, I’m an economically privileged white person, so feel free to think I’m completely full of shit.
Maura’s daughter Sarah meets up with Tammy, her ex-girlfriend from college, and almost immediately takes a wrecking ball to her stifling, super-heteronormative life and marriage. I think Sarah is a terrific character, and I really like Amy Landecker in the role. I don’t fully understand how the character got buried this deep in the demands of being a suitable suburban wife and mom, yet was still willing to decide to suddenly tear it all down at a moment’s notice. But the character is interesting enough that I hope that’s a thing that will get revealed as we understand her better, rather than feeling purely like a plot device to add drama.
Maura’s other daughter, Ali, is someone who never got her life on track. Gaby Hoffmann is terrific, and gets some wonderful, bizarre scenes of crazy sex and drug abuse that underscore her recklessness as she drifts through her life, clearly having no idea what she’s doing. There seems to be a distinct possibility that she will turn out to be a trans man, or at least questioning in that direction. I definitely want to see where she goes with this.
Josh, Maura’s third child, is almost unbearably douchey as an asshole hipster record producer. I kind of wanted him to get hit by a train most of the time. But the scenes with Rita, his childhood babysitter who he’s still having an affair with, were compelling and unexpected, and they make me curious to see where Josh will go when he stops hiding behind the mountain of bullshit that he’s built his life out of.
Alexandra Billings is good as Maura’s trans confidante, Davina, but the script doesn’t give her a ton to do, and Trace Lysette is among the other trans actresses who have small roles in the show. Given the choice to star a cis actor in the main role, it’s nice to see the trans performers make it into the cast, even if the roles are minor. Hopefully some of these characters will get more developed as the show continues.
So anyway, like I said, I really like it so far. I’m looking forward to watching the rest of the season.