Forget Game of Thrones. Jill Soloway’s Transparent is TV in its absolute highest form.
There is this moment in the second episode of Transparent…and this is the moment I fell totally and completely head-over-heels in love with the show: when we see Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) come out to someone in her family for the first time. She’s just returned home in a kaftan and make-up and startles her daughter Sarah (Amy Landecker), who snuck in to make out with an old girlfriend (we’ll have to save our Ode to the Comic Genius of Melora Hardin‘s Tammy for another day). Maura’s hand is forced, so she takes a deep breath and sits down with her daughter to tell her the truth.
Maura begins to explain that she felt that “something was not right” ever since she was five years old. It was a different time, she says. She had to keep it to herself. Sarah is thrown; it’s a lot to take in. She tries to clarify:
Sarah: I’m just trying…can you just help me out here? Are are you saying that you’re going to start dressing up like a lady all the time?
Maura: No, honey, all my life my whole life I’ve been dressing up like a man.
…This is me.
Cue the opening credits. The piano rises and falls while old home videos play out on screen. A boy dancing like a diva at his Bar Mitzvah. Families celebrating. The sparkle as someone in a glittering dress performs under bright, bright lights. A woman blowing out birthday candles. People being people in 1994.
And that’s when I fell in love with this show. Because while it is very, very funny, and most of the things which happen are fairly ordinary, and many of its characters are extraordinarily selfish, when those moments of grace and love and beauty and all of the best parts of the human experience happen, they are treated with the utmost respect, and they rise to the top like cream.
When I watched the original pilot on Amazon last year, I wasn’t too sure about the casting. Jeffrey Tambor as a trans woman? It sounded like a joke. Everyone loves Jeffrey Tambor, but he’s played a very specific type of man over the years. He is balding. He has big teeth. He plays pretty manly shmucks, and he plays for laughs. And in 2014, I didn’t want to watch a show–I didn’t want them to be making a show–about a man in a wig and a dress. I just couldn’t imagine how they could possibly get it right.
But the beauty of Transparent is that although Maura is human and flawed, although there are aspects of her person that could look comedic if the show were a different kind of lens, and although her children are self-absorbed and noisy and constantly asking her for money…even though life can be absurd, there is nothing about Maura’s inherent being that plays as campy or cruelly comical. Here Maura is in her seventies, finally, finally coming into herself, and it is absolutely beautiful.
There is a kind of gravity and grace that inhabits those people we see in life who have truly fought to be who they are, and have won, and are at peace in some new way. In her best moments, with her children, dressed and expressing herself just how she would like to for the very first time in her life, Maura shines with that grace.
Jeffrey Tambor, Jill Soloway, everyone involved, they’ve managed to make a show that reflects just how absurd and cruel and hilarious life is, and then shows us, in contrast, the moments when we rise above that. We all live for those moments, but it’s not too often that we see them playing across our TVs. The show is a gift, and I’m in love.