By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
I’ve just finished watching the new Amazon Originals pilot “Transparent” for the second time. The first time I watched, I was impressed enough to immediately write a rather lengthy review. I now feel I have to scrap that in its entirety, though not because I’ve come to different conclusions. I thought it was quite good the first time and recommended that people give it a chance. I still feel much the same.
If you aren’t familiar with the setup, “Transparent” is a new sitcom pilot created by Jill Soloway, who was a writer and producer for the show “Six Feet Under.” It stars Jeffrey Tambor, who folks will be familiar with from the show “Arrested Development.” Tambor plays the father of a pretty typical Angeleno family. A son, two daughters, an ex-wife played by Judith Light and many of the characters who orbit this core family all make appearances.
Also, Tambor’s character is a transgender woman in the early stages of transition. I have deliberately phrased this as “also” because although that is the central conceit of the show, at least in the pilot it comes secondary to the relationships between these characters. As a transgender woman myself, and an actor, I found this to be absolutely wonderful.
Normally, I find it upsetting when cisgender (not trans) actors are cast in trans roles. I am, however, prepared to give “Transparent” a pass on this for several reasons. First, I felt that due to the early transition time period of Tambor’s character, his casting was entirely appropriate. Physically he fits. Also, I think Jeffrey Tambor is a fine actor and his performance in this was honest, sensitive and rang very true to me. [pullquote]Normally, I find it upsetting when cisgender (not trans) actors are cast in trans roles. I am, however, prepared to give “Transparent” a pass on this for several reasons.[/pullquote]
Additionally, there was at least one scene of a support group that appeared to have genuinely trans actors. One was the trans male comedian Ian Harvie, who I recognized in a brief shot.
Most importantly, to me as a trans woman and an actor, when I asked creator Jill Soloway (who it turns out I have quite a few connections to from my time at Second City in Los Angeles) what she intends to do about the issue of trans inclusion in the cast she told me this: “We’re absolutely aware of the politics of casting a cisgender actor in the lead role as Maura. We hope to allow Jeffrey’s cis-ness to become a prism through which, in series, we can examine the issues for older transwomen about passing/not passing, medical vs. social transition, and how some people prefer the label ‘crossdresser.’ Other than the role of Maura, in series it’s our plan to have multiple arcs for trans characters and of course, those roles will be cast with trans actors.”
The thing I found truly exciting and impressive was the amazing economy of the show. Nothing is wasted. Every shot, every line of dialogue is filled with such a wealth of detail. There is so much conveyed about who these people are and how these characters relate to each other and exist in the world. I feel as if I know these people, and I want to know more about them. [pullquote]The thing I found truly exciting and impressive was the amazing economy of the show. Nothing is wasted. Every shot, every line of dialogue is filled with such a wealth of detail.[/pullquote]
In 30 short minutes, there is enough happening to fill an entire feature film. Even supporting characters are treated with an eye for emotional detail. On second viewing, one character who has not a word of dialogue gives a strong enough performance that it literally brought tears to my eyes, in a scene that had nothing directly to do with being trans no less!
Right from the opening credits, which have a sort of throwback, 70s sitcom style to them, I was hooked. The show wastes absolutely zero time getting right into things. If nudity or sexuality bothers you, you should just skip this, because by the very second scene we see a couple in bed–naked. You know, like real people are when they sleep together, especially in a warm city like L.A. Again, in a shockingly brief amount of time, this show explores several different models of relationships and adult sexuality. This includes, simply as a matter of course, a queer relationship, which made this queer writer enormously happy.
I very rarely watch anything twice, certainly not television shows. My own ADD generation attention span rarely allows it. However, this show was so rich in detail and wonderful performances, that if anything, I was even more drawn in the second time around. This is not just a good show about trans people and our experience in the world.
It’s everything that television, good television, can be. By the time you folks at home read this, Amazon will likely have made its decision as to whether or not to produce more episodes of “Transparent.” So far though, viewer reactions and media coverage have been overwhelmingly positive, so the prognosis is good that we’ll get to see more of this show. I certainly hope so. I think lots of people would really like to see what happens next. [pullquote]Perhaps the most telling reaction for me was from a trans friend on my Facebook page who commented that “Transparent” wasn’t her cup of tea. And you know? That’s pretty darned positive in itself! [/pullquote]
Either way, it’s a very positive step for media portrayals of trans people. Perhaps the most telling reaction for me was from a trans friend on my Facebook page who commented that “Transparent” wasn’t her cup of tea. And you know? That’s pretty darned positive in itself! A show with a trans character that isn’t offensive or demeaning or controversial, but simply not someone’s cup of tea? Now that’s progress!
*Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.