How to binge watch... 'Transparent'

While 'The Grand Tour' may have seen Amazon Video go global, this drama should take pole position

Why binge watch Transparent?

While Jill Soloway's insightful family comedy may not have been the launch vehicle that Amazon used to extend its video package to every country in the world - bar China, Syria, North Korea, and whatever exactly Chechnya qualifies as - it's arguably the show the nascent Netflix rival is most proud of. Though some would question whether or not it qualifies as a sitcom, leaning very heavily into the prestige TV era of blurred dramedy in its depiction of a dysfunctional family finding out that the patriarch they've always known now addresses herself and the world as a woman named Maura, there is no denying that what we see across the show's seasons is a clever, earnest, and entertaining mediation on identity, gender, and the bonds of family.

After claiming awards galore for its writing, performances, and direction, the show takes its cues from real life, with Soloway's father having come out to her as a trans woman three years before the first season aired.

Make no mistake, there is a lot of warmth and heart to be found in the centre of Transparent, a sensitively observed take on the trans community at a time in the US where even the rights to enter a public toilet are up for discussion. But there is also laughs, a streak of dark comedy and sly humour to be found as the revelation exposes hard truths and reopens old wounds. That said, in Maura Pfefferman, the new (not exactly) co-matriarch of a family of three adult children, whose own selfishnesses and shortcomings form as much of the show's plot as the new identity of their trans parent, the audience finds a character who is finally accepting who she is, who is brave enough to bear her soul, and who serves as a constant reminder that life changes and begins whenever we want it to.

How long will it take to binge?

With three seasons of 10 episodes apiece, it should take you roughly 15 hours to work through the Pfefferman saga. A very manageable binge, given the episode length, meaning a keen viewer could easily work through the episodes in the try-before-you-buy-in free week Amazon is offering to tempt subscribers. But bear in mind the show is still in production, and see the caveat below.

Where can you binge it?

By legal means, the only ones we recommend, you will have to sign up to Amazon’s Video Prime service, which will set you back €2.99 a month for the first six months, and €5.99 thereafter. However, for reasons unknown, only two of Transparent’s three seasons are currently available to Irish viewers on the service, despite all of the episodes of season three having debuted in September. Just quite why this two-tier approach is happening (Amazon has not made a number of its original series available to Irish viewers, including Woody Allen’s A Crisis in Six Scenes and One Mississippi) is unclear, for no, it is what it is.

Any hurdles to overcome?

The biggest problem with Transparent is how it is billed as a comedy, when it wears its dramatic heart clearly on its sleeve. There has been a significantly blurring of the lines in our understanding of how comedy is defined and marketed in the on-demand world of à la carte viewing. TV has evolved, and genre has changed with it, so go in with an open mind.

Who steals the show?

Jeffrey Tambor is the show’s real star, although ably backed by a supporting cast of excellent character actors. But Tambor deserves singling out for how earnestly and considerately he has addressed the controversy of his casting. When roles like this are filled by straight men who identify with the gender they were born to, the argument of why a trans performer wasn’t offered the chance to take the role on is often raised in op-eds and blog posts. Tambor has acknowledged this throughout, speaking about his privileged position as an established actor, and has been embraced by the trans community for his honesty and integrity in making Maura real.

A scene to sample:

Rather than spoiling any of the plot, simply enjoy Maura becoming who she is...

What to follow up with?

There really is no other show on TV, or whatever the online version of that saying is now, quite like Transparent. It would be crass to name Orange is the New Black simply because it features a trans woman, because Transparent is a show about families and identities. On that point, maybe try Enlightened, the short-lived HBO series starring Laura Dern, which deserves far more attention than it ever got.

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