Transparent, a part-comedy, part-drama that follows the misadventures of a Los Angeles family whose father (played by Jeffrey Tambor) is in the early phases of transitioning to a woman, isn't exactly what I expected it to be. The show has garnered a great deal of critical acclaim, especially for Tambor's performance as Maura, and I figured that the bulk of the show would be dealing with Maura's story. Instead, the first three episodes are largely about those aforementioned misadventures.
Maura directly refers to her three children as being "selfish" and she isn't off with that description. By the end of the third episode, each of them is deep within a crisis of their own making. Sarah, the eldest daughter, is basically scrambling to leave behind her married life while in the throes of passion with her old college girlfriend. Josh, meanwhile, is a predatory music producer that comes across as a bro-y Don Draper in his inability to maintain healthy relationships with the opposite sex. Finally, there's Ali, the intelligent but apparently always unemployed daughter that brings out the show's zanier side with drug trip sequences and dramatic showdowns with geese.
I'm not really sure if the show's creators intend for the audience to sympathize with the self-destructive tendencies of the children. Sarah, in particular, seems pretty cavalier about dissolving her marriage to chase after the fleeting highs of an affair. Josh is clearly yearning to find something more fulfilling than his current lifestyle, but throwing chairs at windows and leveraging his position of power as a producer to sleep with musicians isn't going to get him anywhere. Ali basically passed out in a fountain in the last episode.
I almost wonder if the show is spending the majority of its time on the kids as a sort of meta commentary on how people can take significant news - like being told by their father that he never felt comfortable going through life as a man - and then immediately make it about themselves. Sarah was already in the process of cheating on her husband when she first found out that "Mort" had become Maura, but it's easy to see how she could use Maura's story of embracing her true self as a way to justify her own adultery. At this point in the show, Josh and Ali don't know anything yet, but they will probably make it about themselves as well.
After looking back on the preceding paragraphs, I sound like a bit of a downer regarding this show, don't I? For what it's worth, I was actually pretty interested in everything that was happening. These highly flawed characters all have smart shading to them that make them seem somewhat believable. When he's not trying to push a member of one of his acts to keep his baby against her will, Josh is given a lovely moment where he is entertaining his niece. Ali and Josh have a funny sister-brother rapport that feels very lived-in and comfortable. I also liked the small touch of Sarah reaching out with a napkin to wipe food off of Maura's face during a dinner. Generally speaking, nudity is handled fairly tastefully in this show, with it being presented as something that's just not that big of a deal (as opposed to Game of Thrones styled titillation).
A lot of what the family is going through at the moment feels like slight variations of well-worn sitcom tropes, though, and I'm hoping that the remaining episodes will spend more time with Maura. Transgender people aren't well represented in television and film, so centering a series around a character like Maura who is in the process of transitioning will open up some relatively new stories to explore. I understand where some people are coming from when they express disappointment with Maura being portrayed by a cis male (as opposed to someone that is actually transgender), but Tambor is handling the material with a deft touch. It's impressive to see the subtle differences in personality that Tambor brings out between "Mort" and Maura. I'm going to keep watching this to see where it goes.