Today’s T.V. landscape is more diverse and complex than ever before. The days of just three major networks are in the distant past. While the main goal of a show was once to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, with the diversification of networks it is now possible for shows to cater to an increasingly niche market. Showrunners don’t have to worry about everyone liking their show. Instead, they can focus on telling the best story they know how to tell. The freedom to create unique and powerful television has moved away from actual T.V., and onto the internet. While Netflix is the current face of online television with shows like House of Cards, Narcos, Orange is the New Black, and Stranger Things, Amazon is not going down without a fight. With the third season of its show Transparent, Amazon is making its case that it’s more than just the shipping behemoth that can deliver goods to your doorstep, but also a TV producer that can deliver some of the best content around.
Transparent tells the story of the Pfeffermans, a family of smart, interesting, self-involved people, all lost and on the edge of crisis. The general plot of the show revolves around the family’s patriarch, Mort (Jeffrey Tambor) coming out to his family as transgender, and reintroducing himself as Maura. From then on we see how the kids deal with this, and all the other problems in their lives, like professional failure, unexpected pregnancies, affairs, drug abuse, mental illness, and more. As season 3 of the program rolls around, the focus continues to shift from Maura to his family and how they’re dealing with the dramatic change to their lifestyles. The supporting cast is becoming more of a vehicle for storytelling rather than as a reactionary vessel to Maura’s transformation. The show does not have a huge technical scope, but rather focuses on the human emotion to tell its story.
The show is the brainchild of Jill Soloway, who created, wrote, and directed the show. It is Soloway’s deft touch that helps the show confront the difficult issues it faces. Transparent comes at a time in American history when the transgender movement is receiving more national attention than it ever has before. This show is able to put a human face to the movement, without ever veering into soapbox territory. Viewers see the difficulty of navigating identity, and yet also the freedom in being able to express who you really are. Transparent has a powerful message, yet it is a testament to the show’s quality that it can deliver this message without you realizing it. The show turns tropes on their heads, resisting the urge to create forced melodrama. Instead, through incredibly natural dialogue and intimate camera work that makes the viewer feel like we are living in the show, Transparent, is able to suck us into the world of these lost individuals.
While the writing and directing give the show its feel, the aspect of the show that shines through most prominently is the performances of this stellar cast. Tambor leads the group, and his performance is the best thing about this show. Every word he says and every movement he makes adds a depth and nuance to his character that cannot be overstated. When he is on screen, he commands your attention, but he does so subtly it never seems like he is asking for it. He’s so good that last week at the Emmys, host Jimmy Kimmel started the show by finding Tambor in the audience and giving him his award early. And he’s not alone in his ability. Judith Light is able to pull off a very difficult role as Shelly, Maura’s ex-wife. Light effortlessly portrays Shelly’s difficult past and her positive growth, all while being a guiding figure in the background of her children’s lives. The three Pfefferman children, brilliantly played by Jay Duplass, Gaby Hoffmann, and Amy Landecker, round out the cast. They all manage to express the difficulty of finding your place in this complex world.
The first two seasons of this show have been critical darlings, both earning universally high scores from critics and users alike. Not only that, but Transparent managed to be the first online show to win a Golden Globe, and racked up multiple Emmy wins, including directing for Soloway, in addition to Tambor’s back-to-back comedy lead actor awards. This third season is the most complex and poignant season yet, so there’s every reason to believe that the accolades will continue to pour in for Amazon’s flagship program.
Featured Image By Amazon Studios