“Transparent” recap (1.1): Pilot

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Yes, I’m schmaltzy over the new Amazon Studios series, Transparent. Yes, if you aren’t already an Amazon Prime member, now is the time to make that totally necessary move. Yes—a million times yes, this show will be your new favorite must-watch. How long did it take me to determine I was in love with it? About seven seconds. (It was the font in the opening credits.) Executive producer, writer, director and Emmy-nominee Jill Soloway has a hit on her hands, it’s true. Between one phenomenal lineup of actors and the appropriately named title that so poignantly lets us in, to look around and stay for a while, the 10-episode season may cause you to binge-watch, as every episode is ready today (Friday, September 26) on Prime Instant Video.

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The show stars Jeffrey Tambor of Arrested Development and The Larry Sanders Show fame as Maura (but for the moment, Mort.) He hasn’t come out to his family yet, and that’s a big problem, but he will, because he’s Jeffrey Tambor. He has three children in the Pfefferman family: Gaby Hoffmann as Ali, Amy Landecker as Sarah and Jay Duplass as Josh. The very brilliant Judith Light trades her Who’s The Boss mom role for the sharp-witted Jewish mom, Shelly, Mort’s ex-wife (though I’m partial to her Lifetime Original role in Wife, Mother, Murderer.) Of course Hoffmann has been on the scene as of late with Lena Dunham’s Girls, as well as Louie, The Good Wife and Homeland, or you know her best as Samantha from Now and Then. (Duh.) Amy Landecker has guest starred on Louie and Revenge. You might’ve seen the 2005 indie film The Puffy Chair, written and directed by Duplass, who also recently played a recurring role on The Mindy Project.

In the first episode, we’re introduced to the ways Mort’s kids do this whole living thing. We’ve got Ali (Hoffman) who is a free bird in the sense that she floats around lofty ideas, like a coffee table book on soul mates she proposes to her friend Syd (Carrie Brownstein) while hoping to beef up her body image by enlisting a militant smooth-talking trainer who has plans to whip her ass into gear, ahem—literally.

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Then there’s her older sister Sarah (Landecker) who is married to this guy Len who picks at his chest in the mirror and otherwise appears clueless. Sarah is a busy mom who seems like one of those typical micro-managers with just enough time to prepare a roast and get the rascals in the minivan in time for school—complete with ear-numbing children’s sing-along type tunes. My real question is: When was the last time Sarah got laid (and enjoyed it?) Not to worry, she’s about to find her vagina again—which surely doesn’t have barbecue sauce in it, as her brother Josh (Duplass) is otherwise convinced.

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Brother Josh is the not-so-exaggerated example of male ego working itself out in LA’s playground, where the show takes place. He’s “in the music industry” and he’s seeing this blonde girl with Courtney Love hair who’s in a band with another blonde girl, and a third chick in the back who plays the triangle, but he’s also sleeping with another girl and probably countless others. His sister Ali prods and pokes fun at his weird life, perhaps a bit bothered that he’s not maximizing his full-potential much in the same way he is frustrated that she isn’t doing the same. But they have that “Oh well!” vibe between them and maybe in between all that banter, they’re just two kin, down to listen to some vinyl while enabling each other’s poor life decisions. The tension accumulates when the clan gets word that their dad wants to meet for dinner to announce something big. It must be cancer, they all say. Yes, probably prostate cancer.

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At Mort’s house, the whole family sits down for grub while Mort tries desperately to spill the beans. We can guess where this is going. But, instead, he tells the group he’s selling the house and Sarah and her husband Len can have it. This causes some uproar, and the fam disbands for the night, leaving baby back ribs in a disappointed Mort’s fridge. Later that night, we see Mort as Maura. And she’s lovely—in a silk kimono robe with a good magazine article as a nightcap. In group therapy, Maura tells the others that she couldn’t bring herself to tell the kids—relaying a story about a recent interaction with a store clerk who IDed Maura and was stunned to see Mort. As a side note: I really hope we learn more from Maura’s fellow group members.

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Maura revealing the ins and outs of her day’s errand in group creates the highest point and the lowest point in the episode—and by that, I mean that it ties up the comedy and the drama with the kind of bow you assume will be there with great acting, great writing and great design. The exciting thing about Transparent is that, why yes—it’s a show about a transgender parent. This is cake for television history. This is relevant, timely, matter-of-fact, hard, sad, uplifting, beautiful, hilarious and 100 percent everything a show that opens up conversations about gender, queerness, family and relationships should be. Where Mort is transitioning into Maura, there’s Sarah coming to familiar grips with the fact that she’s, perhaps, still attracted to women—namely her college hookup Tammy, who happens to be on marriage number two, with kids in tote. But, Sarah’s an apparent sucker for those aviator lez shades.

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Josh—the son with a wooden iPhone case who thinks his father is a total “pussy hound,” is currently shaping up to be so opposite his parent, it’s fascinating to contemplate the many routes his character could venture into, if he allows it. As for Ali—Gaby Hoffmann can do no wrong, and the unpredictable, vulnerable, naked, raving girl she already seems so in tune with in that character-to-actor way almost makes me feel too excited to sleep.

Maybe this is an oversimplified way of looking at things—but I’d rather not dress it up in order to make a point, this pilot was one of the best pilots I’ve seen in a minute. It gave me the same jolt like I had when I binged Season One of Orange Is the New Black. I’m pretty sure Judith Light (Shelly, mom) has a twelve-pack of Ensure sitting on her kitchen counter in her scene with Ali (plus mom’s mostly mute husband), which is aesthetically on-point, and I’m seat-buckled in for all the bits and pieces that will inevitably come out about her divorce with Mort, along with the way the kids were growing up (in flashbacks!)

When Sarah asks Tammy to go back to her dad’s place with her to “get her eye” because interior design is her “skillset” Tammy has that smiley look on her face that says she’s hiding back something. Then again, maybe they’re still just feeling the awkward tension of their long-ago college fling—or maybe it wasn’t just a fling at all. I mean, Ali did say she distinctly recalled Sarah mentioning adopting children with Tammy, which she vehemently denies. At the house, one thing leads to another and Tammy puts the moves on Sarah. The two are making out now, pressed up against Maura’s bedroom dresser, getting super fresh and handsy, when suddenly who walks in but Maura. “Hi, girls.” She says. Seems both of these Pfeffermans have some explaining to do now.

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Soloway’s set was apparently filled with loads of transgender actors, crew, guides and gender-neutral bathrooms. According to Out, Soloway’s father is transgender, so the experiences portrayed in Transparent may not be too far removed from her own experiential journey. For Soloway, a Jewish feminist Libra who in 2006 published the post-feminist manifesto, Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants, this moment is everything—it will propel and shift dialogue to an all-time high in and outside of the transgender community—it will take the gender binary and fling it on its side, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from a wild group like this.

Get going at Amazon Prime, all 10 episodes of Transparent are available now!

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