Transparent, yet another perfect US dramedy.



Trans­par­ent sounds for all the world like one of those punch­lines from an ear­ly Simp­sons episode, one of the ones when, God be with the days, they were still fun­ny. A Cal­i­for­nia fam­i­ly have to deal with the emo­tion­al hav­oc caused when the fam­i­ly patri­arch comes out and decides to live out the autumn of his years as the woman he’s always known he real­ly was.

Writ­ten, direct­ed and most­ly star­ring women, all it need­ed was to be set in a hip­py com­mune at the Joshua Tree run by a lat­ter day Janis Joplin fig­ure, played of course by Hol­ly Hunter, who takes under her wing the emo­tion­al­ly lost stray waif played by the blondie one from Girls.


Jef­frey Tam­bor, right.

When the show’s cre­ator and showrun­ner Jill Sol­loway gave an inter­view in the New York­er with Ariel Levy here, and she men­tioned her cameo as a gen­der stud­ies pro­fes­sor in one of the episodes, she seemed to be dis­cussing those kind of views with fer­vour rather than the hint of irony one might have been hop­ing for.

Hap­pi­ly, Trans­par­ent is noth­ing like that. It’s about a com­plete­ly nor­mal fam­i­ly, that is to say a glo­ri­ous­ly dys­func­tion­al one, who just hap­pen to be finan­cial­ly com­fort­able and fan­tas­ti­cal­ly Jew­ish – it makes Curb Your Enthu­si­asm look pos­i­tive­ly preppy.

Gaby Hoffman and Jay Duplass as two of the three siblings.

Gaby Hoff­man and Jay Duplass as two of the three siblings.

The three grown up chil­dren are all appar­ent­ly suc­cess­ful if secret­ly rud­der­less and qui­et­ly lost. So when their father decides to come out in episode one, yes that emo­tion­al tur­moil is to some degree explained. But more to the point, it’s yet anoth­er com­pli­ca­tion that they all have to deal with.

What makes Trans­par­ent so good, and it real­ly is very, very good indeed, is that like Girls and Louie before it, it is first and fore­most a dra­ma, out of which the com­e­dy evolves.

With a sit­com, even ones as sophis­ti­cat­ed as Curb Your Enthu­si­asm or the late great Lar­ry Sanders Show, their pri­ma­ry, indeed their sole duty is to make you laugh. But a com­e­dy dra­ma has to involve you emo­tion­al­ly, so that the laugh­ter that aris­es from the mess the char­ac­ters make of their lives is tinged with sad­ness and recognition.

Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Allison Williams.

Lena Dun­ham, Jemi­ma Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Alli­son Williams, those crazy Girls.

Of course you have to care about the char­ac­ters in your sit­com for the jokes to have their full effect. But that’s not the same thing as being moved by them.

What makes Trans­par­ent so pow­er­ful is the force­ful way that it engages you emo­tion­al­ly in the lives of its pro­tag­o­nists. So that by the time you get to the finale of sea­son one, you’re left an emo­tion­al wreck after the car­nage they wreak upon one anoth­er, in a way that only fam­i­lies can.

The genuinely great and now late Gary Shandling.

The gen­uine­ly great and now late Gar­ry Shandling.

The writ­ing, act­ing and pro­duc­tion are almost painful­ly spot on, and the series glides con­fi­dent­ly from the present day to the recent past and back again giv­ing the whole fam­i­ly por­trait an added poignancy.

If you were won­der­ing what to do with your evenings, now that you’ve got through sea­sons one and two of Girls, look no further.

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