TV review: Amazon’s winning ‘Transparent’ is an uncompromising look at a challenging subject

Amy Landecker, left, and Jeffrey Tambor get serious in Amazon’s Transparent.

Three stars

Transparent Season 1 available September 26 on Amazon Prime.

After underwhelming with its first two comedy series (Betas and Alpha House), Amazon makes a strong leap forward with Transparent, the kind of challenging, well-acted dramedy that could easily fit in at HBO or Showtime. It also has a similar tone and dynamic, focused on the often narcissistic angst of the privileged. Creator Jill Soloway, who worked on HBO’s Six Feet Under and Showtime’s United States of Tara, balances that by making the most privileged character of all, a wealthy older white man, the one taking the biggest risk. For his entire life, Mort Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) hid his gender identity issues, and now retired and alone, Mort finally has the courage to become Maura.

The show gives equal time to Maura’s self-absorbed adult children (played by Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass and Gaby Hoffmann), all of whom are dealing with identity crises of their own. Although the theme of sexual and gender expression ties the storylines together, the problems of Maura’s children are much less compelling than their parent’s transition, and can veer into indie-movie clichés (Soloway also wrote and directed the Sundance favorite Afternoon Delight).

Still, the show handles delicate subject matter with grace and humor, and Tambor is very good as a person attempting to live authentically after a lifetime of hiding. Even when it stumbles, Transparent remains dramatically uncompromising, a welcome change from the lazy humor of Amazon’s past comedies, and a positive omen for the future of the company’s original programming.

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