A Different Look at ‘Transparent’

Other people see a pioneering portrayal of the trans experience. I see the rawness of family love.
A Different Look at ‘Transparent’
Mark Duplass, Judith Light, Amy Landecker, and Jeffrey Tambor in 'Transparent'

I didn’t expect Amazon’s Golden Globe-winning series Transparent to delight me so. Certainly not as I listened—rapt—to creator Jill Soloway share her family’s story on NPR’s Fresh Air. As she told of discovering her father was transgender, I expected drama, for my heart to break during the show. But I knew I had to watch.

Sure enough, last month, as I clicked my way through the ten episodes of the first season, I felt the drama. I shook my head and sighed plenty as the Pfefferman family’s personal and public demons reared their heads. My heart broke as we traveled through the troubles of the adult children whose lives spin and spiral against a backdrop of discovering their father (“Moppa,” as she comes to be called) identifies as a woman.

At the heart of Transparent is a wonderful—if “boundary challenged,” if over-the-top dysfunctional— family. These are brilliantly crafted characters. Even in the legion of cringe-moments—when the brother slept with the rabbi, when the younger sister used drugs to finagle a threesome, as the ex-spouses plotted murder and the older sister left her husband and kids for her college girlfriend—I found them relatable, inspirational, and, to my surprise, likeable. (Most of them, anyway. I still have trouble with the older sister.)

The secrets and lies and impulses and sexual looseness of this TV show are enough to put the “dark” in “dark comedy.” The New York Times review admitted there was “nothing initially endearing” about the trans woman at the center of the show, played by Jeffery Tambor. And the kids were “just as enigmatic.” So why did so many ...

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Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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