ByDavid McDermott, writer at
TV Reviews with a Scottish flair...which is code for moaning a lot. Find more of my stuff at
David McDermott

One of the best things about the cable and streaming TV revolution in the US is that shows which tackle non-mainstream issues which would never have been commissioned before are now seeing the light of day and being given a chance and Transparent is the latest in an ever expanding catalogue of exactly this.

There is no point pissing about here, I really liked Transparent. A show about a man in later life finally coming out to his family as a transgender doesn’t seem like a great idea for a comedy but in many ways it works really well. I think that the main positive is that Transparent is written very well and it not only weaves a very intriguing story but also handles its subject matter very well. I always consider the sign of a well written show is one which never feels like the characters have been forced into a situation because it suited the narrative the writer wanted to tell, and Transparent follows this pattern. Characters make decisions which suit their character. Transparent has a story to tell; it tells it and doesn’t need a song and dance or big finale to justify itself. Life is life and a subtle ending is often just as effective as a cliff-hanger (thought the last scene was perfect). If I were to have one criticism of the narrative it is that we see very little prejudice against Maura. Re-reading that it makes it sound like I wanted people out with the pitchforks but naturally I would have thought there would have been more situations like the moment in the woman’s toilets or the restaurant.

Personally if this had happened to me I think I would have freaked out, mainly because (as in the show) I wouldn’t have seen it coming. It is weird to think of because how would you honestly react to one of your parents (or a sibling) coming out as trans? It wouldn’t make me love them any less but I can only imagine it would be incredibly awkward. Obviously you can’t tell until something like this happens to you personally, but I imagine being in public would be very weird. I’m trying to be honest (I could just lie and say I’d be all cool about it) because I think this is a genuine issue, for instance I highly doubt I would have the same reaction if someone in my immediate family came out to me as a homosexual, but somehow this seems different, I don’t know why but I guess it is ignorance on my part. Trans really is one of the last taboos and personally I think that shows such as Transparent can only help normalise people’s feelings and help stamp out prejudice on the subject. It’s nice when TV shows make you think about areas which you have never really crossed your mind before.

Jeffrey Tambor leads the cast with another effortlessly excellent performance and it comes as no surprise because he is an excellent actor. The role of Maura is one which could so easily have been a disaster if she was portrayed in a different manner, but Tambor plays it straight and it’s the perfect style for the role. You really feel the anxiety and pain of Maura as she struggles to tell her kids that she is making the transformation and the general problems and issues she suffers along with that, you can’t help but feel for her. The flashbacks to the early 90’s and Mort’s initial conflict about who he really is makes the fact that she has been waiting twenty plus years (as well as her whole life) to truly come out as who she is. It is a simple tactic that many shows use, but it was used very effectively in increasing character depth.

The rest of the Pfefferman’s are made up of Maura’s adult children and her ex-wife. Each of the children is fucked up in their own personal way but they all share the trait of being selfish. Despite the fact that they are all selfish and have a tendency to do things which are reprehensible, it is hard not to like them as they are all sympathetic characters. This harps back to the ‘well written show’ thing as you realise that they are fucked up but you understand why they have turned out this way, again the show uses flashbacks very well to illustrate this. I think it also helps that each character has their own story threads which are of a similar strength and screen time, as it allows for each of the siblings to feel as important as the other. Shelly (Maura’s ex-wife) is the funniest character for me; she has great one liners and steals every scene she’s in. I also think the supporting cast is very strong and I applaud the use of actual transgender people to play the transgender roles.

So we’ve established that Transparent is well written, well-acted and has engaging characters but the one thing I would really question is whether or not it is really a comedy. Don’t get me wrong I found the show could be funny and it had nice little quirks to boot but is it really a comedy? I’m not so sure to be honest. I know it has been classed as a comedy but I really see it as more of a drama than a comedy. Shows like the Sopranos or Breaking Bad could be really funny on a consistent basis but that didn’t make them a comedy, I see Transparent as being similar to this. If I were to be picky I would say that the major difference is that you would get episodes of both those shows where comedy is non-existent and in Transparent that is not the case. Two thoughts come to mind for me, firstly that it feels like comedy is adapting and moving more into drama territories and secondly that a 30 minute show is no longer considered a proper drama. It doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the show but it really feels to me more like a drama-comedy hybrid and more to the drama side as well.

Transparent is a beautifully crafted show, it does so much by doing so very little and that subtlety is what makes it so good. I have very few gripes about the show in general and the ones I do have are fairly superficial. Can you really ask for more than a well-acted, well written and ground breaking subject matter from a series which at the same time managed to give you what feels like a genuine attachment to the beyond dysfunctional Pfefferman family? I don’t think you can. Transparent deservedly has been renewed for a second season and there are already a number of avenues which have been set up for further development. A season which ends with you wanting more is always a good sign and I unsurprisingly want more of Transparent. The television revolution has begun and Transparent is at the forefront.

So what did you think of Transparent? Am I and the critics bigging it up too much or have we got it spot on and it really is a very good TV show. Did Transparent make you go out and buy Amazon Prime or did you just get the old one month free job? Leave a comment and let the world know and don’t forget that all the latest bm23reviews updates can be found by joining the Facebook and Twitter pages or by checking out my own blog at because why the fuck not.


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