When it was originally on: 2014-2019
Original network: Amazon
Where you can stream it now: Amazon
Had I seen it before: I stuck it out through the end of Season 1, but based on that experience I didn’t have any desire to stick with it further.
What IMDb says: An L.A. family with serious boundary issues have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone’s secrets to spill out.
Why I picked it: If Amazon Prime has an equivalent to House of Cards, it may very well be Transparent. This is the first Amazon Original that I remembered hearing about. However, it seemed to be one of those shows that was constantly getting award nominations and buzz from critics. The divide between shows that critics like and shows that the general public like is always interesting to me. Are the shows themselves any different? Or is just that Transparent was on a platform where many tv consumers weren’t looking for content? Either way, I wanted The List to have a mix of critically-acclaimed “prestige” shows as well as popular-among-the-masses shows, and Transparent is a great example of the former.
What I liked: Not very much.
What I didn’t like: Th For a show that’s supposedly about a trans person, this pilot is not even close to being about a trans person. The fact that Maura is trans is almost irrelevant here. Instead, we spend time with Maura’s three children, and at least two of them are clearly insufferable narcissists, and the third isn’t quite insufferable, but also isn’t exactly likable either.
If the show is going to focus more on how these grown kids are affected by their parent’s transition rather than how Maura herself is affected (which is already a fatal flaw in my opinion), the kids need to have distinct personalities from one another. If I got the sense that one child was going to be super nice and sympathetic and another kid was going to be a brat about it, it would be a lot easier to envision interesting conflicts in future episodes. Such a show could be a parable for how people in general treat trans people in general.
But the pilot doesn’t really find any way of indicating that Maura’s kids are different people and are going to react differently to her transition. It wouldn’t have even been that hard, just have them interact with other LGBTQ+ individuals in this pilot and we could get a glimpse into how they might feel about Maura. Only one of the three has such an interaction, and that’s Sarah. This interaction comes in the form of her former lesbian lover, Tammy, coming back into her life. Sarah is in a straight marriage and has kids, and Tammy is supposed to be some chick she “experimented with” in college.
All we really know about Ali is that she’s broke, has body image issues, and most likely wants to fuck her personal trainer. All we really know about Josh is that he works for some record label and likes sleeping with one of his artists. Both are bitter at the prospect of their older sister getting Maura’s house. There’s no point where they show any kind of empathy towards anyone, and I feel like the way they’ll handle Maura transitioning will be virtually identical. I don’t like them as people, and they’re also not interesting enough to spark curiosity either.
An unfortunate side effect of focusing so heavily on Maura’s children is that Maura doesn’t really get to have any personality outside of the fact that she’s trans. Transitioning is certainly not easy, but it’s also not the only thing that makes a trans person who they are. The handful of gender nonconforming people I’ve met have included writers, musicians, adventurers, trivia nerds, and more. No two are the same. So it’s a little disheartening that pretty much all of our interaction with Maura is limited to her complaining about how hard it is to be trans. Not because it isn’t hard to be trans, but because it makes Maura feel so flat when in my eyes, she’s the character she would be most invested in.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Not really. I think a big part of why this show made the splash it did was because our media landscape was (and is) so starved for trans-centric narratives that simply trying to incorporate a trans character into a lead role feels like enough. But the story just isn’t that entertaining and the characters aren’t people I want to spend time with. While the intent behind this show is noble, it doesn’t pan out in execution for me.