It’s the comedy-drama everyone’s calling the new Orange is the New Black (so twice as new as black, presumably) – but what exactly is Transparent? And should you watch it?
RadioTimes.com recently sat down with series creator Jill Soloway and star Jeffrey Tambor, who explained what they think makes Transparent different to anything we’ve seen before.
What’s it about?
Transparent tells the story of Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman who was previously the patriarch of a Jewish family in Los Angeles.
Maura begins the series determined to tell her children about her transition – but they’re more interested in the large house they might inherit and their own personal problems than her announcement (which they assume is a terminal diagnosis).
Eldest daughter Sarah (Amy Landecker) is trapped in a marriage while yearning for a former lover, son Josh (Jay Duplass) is having something of a mid-life crisis and youngest Ali (Gaby Hoffman) can’t seem to hold down any kind of responsibility at all.
Basically, it’s your classic indie movie first-world problems with a progressive twist – but the cast sell it and it works. “There are many secrets in that family,” says Tambor, “And it just sets everybody into motion.”
Who’s in it?
Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker and Gaby Hoffman have some decent indie cred behind them (though Duplass’ work tends to be behind the camera as a writer/director) and Judith Light (who plays matriarch Shelley Pfefferman) is a veteran of the small screen.
However, the highest profile member of the cast is definitely Tambor, well known for his acclaimed roles on shows like Arrested Development and The Larry Sanders Show. Despite his illustrious career, he says this is his favourite part to date.
“You have to understand, these roles don’t come along,” he explains. “The reason I went into acting is to be in this project.”
He adds: “I had my nails painted on my feet, and I noticed that I was very lax in not taking the paint off my toenails. I guess I just didn’t want to say goodbye.”
What channel is it on?
None – it’s actually available on Amazon Prime Instant Video, the video-on-demand site rivalling the success of services like Netflix (whose original content includes the critically-acclaimed House of Cards and Orange is the New Black).
The series pitch isn’t a conventional commercial prospect, and Soloway believes that Amazon’s involvement is central to the series coming together.
“There’s no way in the world this would have been made on a traditional network,” Soloway says. “They’re more worried about selling projects internally and externally to advertisers.”
When can I watch it?
Well, now – the whole series has been released on Amazon Prime Instant Video. Of course, Jeffrey Tambor is no stranger to this style of distribution– the last series of Arrested Development, where he plays crooked family patriarch George Bluth Senior, was released in one burst by Netflix in 2013.
“I think the way this series is going out, all ten episodes, and the way Arrested went out, the binge-watching, is a sign of the times,” he says.
Soloway agrees. “It’s comical to think that ten years ago you had to sit down at 7pm to watch that show.”
“Everyone can see whatever they want, as much as they want or as little as they want everywhere – how lucky are we?”
Is it a bit preachy?
Earnestness is always a danger with an “issue”-driven series, and certainly both creator and star are very evangelical about the effect they think the show will have.
Tambor says, “I don’t know if any television has ever been quite like what Jill has written,” and Soloway believes that “it’s really gonna change the world” – lines that are hard to swallow when discussing what is basically a half-hour comedy, even if it does deal with a hot-button issue like trans identity.
However, the series itself is a bit more subtle, particularly Tambor’s performance. He explains, “I was trying to hone my performance into someone very human, very vulnerable, not an idea.”
It’s also pretty funny, which helps make it more palatable – one stand-out scene in episode two involves a literal wild goose chase.
Is it actually any good?
Yes – reviews across the board have been positive. The Telegraph have given it four stars, Variety call it a “breakthrough” and the Huffington Post have named it “one of the best new shows of the year”.
Tambor’s performance in particular has been praised, with many believing he’s likely to pick up a few awards nominations next year and the New York Post describing it as “the role of his career”.
All in all, it seems that after a few other attempts (including wobbly Halle Berry sci-fi series Extant), Amazon Prime now have something worth getting a subscription for – or at least checking out episode one for free.
All ten episodes of Transparent are now available to watch on Amazon Prime