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No Blessings, No Curses—Jill Soloway’s “Transparent”

transparentIf you missed Jill Soloway’s series dramedy,“Transparent. that’s because it was never on TV. And it wouldn’t be. Rather, you’ll find “Transparent” on the subscriber-only Amazon Prime service, where the media giant can “narrowcast” content that appeals to some (if not necessarily all) of the viewing public without pitting shows against each other for limited primetime slots. Amazon bet on veteran writer Soloway (“Six Feet Under,” “Afternoon Delight,” as featured in Lilith’s ”Why L.A.? Why Women? And Why Now?” Fall 2013). Soloway also bet on Amazon, a brand new but untested platform where her story could unfold in all of its complex and boundary-crossing beauty—without having to cater to the tastes and sensitivities of a broadcast audience. On the internet, you can swear! And, apparently, chant Torah.

“Transparent” follows the Pfefferman family, three adult kids and their adult parents, through a host of personal transitions including divorce, shifting sexual identity, abortion, Bat Mitzvah, death, and most centrally the gender transition of parent Maura (née Mort), played by Jeffrey Tambor. Maura’s revelation, being a transgender woman, organizes the 10-episode arc. Abundant commentary about the celebrated show has largely explored the important and complex identity politics of representing trans people. But gender identity is not the only primetime-unfriendly theme that Soloway explores. Religion is baked into the world of the show, and so is sexuality.

Like many, I sat through “Transparent” in a single bleary-eyed day, promising “just one more” until the series was spent. But it wasn’t until days later that the haunting impact began to sink in. It wasn’t the heimish and pitch-perfect dialogue, the exploration of the gender transition, or the family dynamics that pressed my buttons and kept them pressed. It was the entire cosmology, where justice and retribution aren’t tied up with expressions of gender and sexuality, so refreshing for any series but in particular a story about families and growth.