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TV That Matters: "Transparent"

By Christina MurphyCOLUMNIST

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Oftentimes in television and film when you see a man of a certain age dressed as a woman, you can assume this is the result of a series of hijinks where this man in a dress is the punch line of a joke. This man’s decision to cross dress is not based on his personal identity, but rather something that is a last resort, a shenanigan, a secret or a method of trickery.

Amazon’s original series “Transparent” attempts to break this preconceived “man in drag” archetype. The show surrounds a trans woman, played by the tremendously versatile Jeffrey Tambor, who you may know as the conniving George Bluth Sr. from “Arrested Development.”

The show features an outstanding ensemble cast, but the brains behind the show is Jill Soloway, best known for her work on fellow family dramedy “Six Feed Under.” The show is a beautiful work that paints a portrait of a trans adult and the people around them in a way that has never been depicted in the mainstream media.

In “Transparent” there is no absurd wig humor ridiculously high-pitched voice, singular, earth shattering, reveal scene or Aerosmith dance sequence. There is just Maura. Maura, formally known as Mort, has three adult children who she must tell about her life-changing transition.

Sarah (Amy Landecker), the eldest, lives a cushy life with her wealthy husband, two children and full-time nanny. She has struggles with her own sexual identity, which is only exacerbated when she bumps into her college girlfriend, Tammy.

Josh (Jay Duplass), the middle child and only son, is a self-absorbed, image obsessed music producer. He is a man-child whose house is only ever stocked with cereal, spends an inordinate amount of time making sure he looks elegantly disheveled, sleeps with borderline teenagers and oh, yeah, he’s still carrying on a secret relationship with his former babysitter, who is 10 years his senior.

Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), the youngest, aimlessly meanders from one trendy, made up, food allergy to another, all while on her bumpy path to finding herself. Her family makes it very clear that they wish to see her settled. Although she is perpetually jobless and single, she seems to see things more clearly than anyone else in the family.

Hoffmann, who was a recognizable child actress, before disappearing into former child-star oblivion, made her return to the public last year with small roles in films like “Obvious Child” and the HBO show “Girls.” Her performance as Ali is monumental and shows her own tremendous growth from child star to unrestrained talent. All three children respond to learning of their Father’s transition in ways that are indicative of their essences. Sarah is quick and to the point, Ali is raw and honest, and Josh is immature and volatile.

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“Transparent” was released in full and can be viewed with an Amazon Prime membership. Although you have the freedom to watch at your own pace, you may find it difficult to pull yourself away from this captivating series.

“Transparent” flows in such a way that makes you feel as if you are watching a slightly-longer-than-usual film. It is certainly a more nuanced work that covers a lot of ground.

The series breaks through the limitations of standard television on multiple levels. Not only is Maura transitioning to the gender she rightfully identifies with, but Sarah is transitioning away from what makes her feel comfortable, Ali is in search of her identity as a nonconformist and Josh is still searching for adulthood in all the wrong places.

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