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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5 Best Albums of 2011.

5. Let Eng­land ShakePJ Harvey

Just­ly laud­ed when it was released in Feb­ru­ary, Harvey’s eighth stu­dio album land­ed her a sec­ond Mer­cury Prize after Sto­ries from the City, Sto­ries From The Sea in 2000. Osten­si­bly, Let Eng­land Shake delves into the psy­chic scars left in the after­math of the First World War. But for all the heart­felt angst of her lyrics, it is as ever the bewitch­ing dri­ve of her music that once again proves so beguil­ing. There’s an eerie men­ace to her sound that’s plea­sur­ably threat­en­ing and draws you inex­orably in. And despite mak­ing prob­a­bly her most acces­si­ble album to date, she remains glo­ri­ous­ly unconventional.

4. Dia­mond Mine – King Cre­osote and Jon Hopkins

Occa­sion­al col­lab­o­ra­tors and fel­low Scots Meur­sault describe the songs they pro­duce as “epic lo-fi”. That describes per­fect­ly the music that Ken­ny Ander­son makes under the moniker King Cre­osote. And when he teamed up with indi­etron­i­ca pro­duc­er Jon Hop­kins for Dia­mond Mine, he was final­ly able to enjoy some belat­ed recog­ni­tion when they were nom­i­nat­ed for this year’s Mer­cury Prize. Incred­i­bly, this is (rough­ly) his for­ti­eth album. And he’s still (appar­ent­ly) the right side of forty. Just sev­en tracks in all, but each one is exquis­ite­ly craft­ed and impec­ca­bly deliv­ered. Track 5, Bub­ble, has the sort of heart-break­ing melody not heard in the Scot­tish High­lands since Belle And Sebastian’s haunt­ing I Fought In A War.

3. The Har­row And The Har­vest – Gillian Welch

Welch and her part­ner, gui­tarist David Rawl­ings made their debut in 1996 with Revival, pro­duced by T‑Bone Bur­nett. But it was when she per­formed with Ali­son Krauss and Emmy­lou Har­ris on the Bur­nett pro­duced sound­track to O Broth­er, Where Art Thou that her career took off. And a year lat­er in 2001 she and Rawl­ings fol­lowed that up by releas­ing  Time, The Rev­e­la­tor. This is their fifth album, and is prob­a­bly their best. By some curi­ous alche­my, the songs they pro­duce suc­ceed in sound­ing at once time­less yet pow­er­ful­ly con­tem­po­rary. Del­i­cate melodies cast in Appalachi­an gran­ite, track 2, Dark Turn Of Mind is a wor­thy suc­ces­sor to Time’s impos­si­bly mel­liflu­ous Dear Some­one.

2. The Less You Know, The Bet­terDJ Shadow

Every time we greet some­thing new with school­girl excite­ment, we have an irre­sistible urge to over-com­pen­sate by sneer­ing at it ever after. Thus it is that after greet­ing DJ Shadow’s 1996 debut Entro­duc­ing… with unbri­dled enthu­si­asm, everyone’s gone out of their way to ignore the three he’s made sub­se­quent­ly. As I wrote in my ear­li­er review here of this his fourth album, one day, a lot of peo­ple will one day feel very fool­ish for hav­ing missed this first time around.

1. Father, Son, Holy Ghost – Girls

Com­pil­ing these end of year lists is invari­ably a process of reluc­tant elim­i­na­tion. So that by the time you’ve nar­rowed it down to your best five albums, the five you end up with are all equal­ly won­der­ful. Not so this year. This year’s best album was unusu­al­ly easy to name. As I wrote in my ear­li­er review here, the sec­ond album from Christo­pher Owens’ band Girls is a seri­ous album. Mon­u­men­tal yet inti­mate, and rang­ing musi­cal­ly across three or four decades, it’s an album that’ll be cel­e­brat­ed and returned to for decades. Enjoy.