The Best (And Worst) Of “Transparent”

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Guys and gals (and everyone between and betwixt and otherwise and alongside and may the goddess bless us every one), you really need to watch Transparent. As a part-time, low-level goon in the Gay Mafia, I am officially declaring it Required Viewing. Sound the trumpets! Unfurl the banners! Give the Golden Girls box sets the night off!

Transparent is, at its core, about a person transitioning gender and the ripple effect it has on those around her, but it’s also about much more. It’s about family. It’s about sexuality. It’s about horny geese. And thanks to its sincerity, its humor, and its willingness to dig into the messiness that makes us human, it’s been one of the year’s best shows on (or off) television, even before the Golden Globes started throwing hardware at it last month.

Since there’s only one season of Transparent (so far – another is headed our way, bless), we’re switching up the Best (and Worst) of… format slightly to focus on the show’s best and worst elements (instead of episodes). I’m sure once Season 2 is unleashed we’ll have plenty more to discuss. But in the meantime…

The Best of Transparent

1. It Will Thaw the Frozen, Brittle Husk Lodged Where Your Heart Used to Be and Maybe Even Make it Beat Again

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Every time Maura (Jeffrey Tambor, earning every ounce of that Golden Globe trophy) opens her mouth to explain herself (or to choose not to), I pull a Patsy Cline. I can’t explain it. I’m not a trans person. But the first time Maura presented herself in the way that she has always felt on the inside, it felt like I was coming out all over again. Those of us who are gay and went through the coming-out process know that it can be really tough. But coming out as trans is self-awareness on a completely different level, and Transparent pulls us into that experience with real grace. We are right there with Maura as she struggles to find her community (including a memorable weekend at a camp for straight men who cross-dress) and realizes how infinitely shaded and complex one’s identity can be. It’s humbling, beautiful, terrifying, and transformative for both the character and for us, the witnesses.

2. It’s Educational

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And I’m not just talking about what it teaches us about being respectful to trans people and sensitive to their journeys. And it’s not simply that it features trans actors playing trans characters who speak candidly about trans issues. That’s to be expected (one would hope, anyway). But the show doesn’t stop there with the schooling. I mean, what other show can introduce you to “Middle Earth Femme”, and the concept of the soft-drink “suicide” in a single hour? And I certainly had no idea that female ejaculate “smells like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.”

3. Carrie Brownstein, Harder and More Often

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Somehow, while not busy recording a blisteringly good reunion record with her groundbreaking rock band Sleater-Kinney or quietly stealing scenes out from under Fred Armisen’s nose on Portlandia, Brownstein managed to film a delightful arc on Transparent as Ali’s bisexual best friend, Syd. She’s awesome, and I secretly pray that next season will spell major developments for her and Ali.

4. The Music is Wonderful

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Speaking of rock, this show loves it some AM classics. I mean, two different versions of Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” in a single ep? Yes please. Ali (Gaby Hoffman, beautifully disheveled and OWNING those eyebrows) and Josh (Jay Duplasswe’ll get to him later) tend to communicate mostly through music (including a beautiful scene based around Jim Croce’s melancholy classic “Operator”), and the show tends to do the same.

5. It’s Extremely Bingewatchable

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Season 1 has ten episodes under 30 minutes apiece – that’s less than five total hours. I’ve suffered through Judd Apatow movies longer than that. Curl up on the couch on a wintry afternoon and plow through the whole thing.

 

6. Melora Hardin and More Often

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Chances are you might not even recognize bombshell comic actress Hardin (who had memorable roles on The Office, Monk, and dozens of other shows and movies) as the self-absorbed lesbian house-flipper Tammy. But she’s absolutely brilliant. Favorite line: “People have been jealous of me my whole life.” Well alrighty then! Also, that haircut has me questioning my Kinsey rating.

7. It’s Imperfect, and That’s Okay

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Transparent is all about stopping and realizing that you might not be the person you think you are. For Maura, this is a decades-long arc as she comes into her own as a woman. And for her kids it sparks a whole host of journeys, all of them messy and imperfect and confusing. The show doesn’t pretend to have it all figured out, because let’s be honest – very few of us do. But we can all benefit from asking the tough questions. Perhaps Maura says it best when – after her daughter’s estranged husband explodes at them when picking up the kids for the weekend – she tells him, “Baby, you need to get in this whirlpool, or you need to get out of it.” In, please.

8. Free 2-Day Shipping!

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Yes, Amazon Prime costs real money (about 100 clams a year) and it can be tricky to get onto your fancy teevee. But it’s worth it. What other streaming service comes with free 2-day shipping on all Prime-eligible Amazon purchases? Plus, you can rack up free video and music credits by declining the Prime 2-day shipping on purchases – it adds up! And if you’re a student you get half off your Prime membership, so there’s really no excuse anymore, you penny-pincher.

The Worst of Transparent

1. Joshie

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Ugh. I’m sorry, but I want to punch this guy in the face. I realize that this his character is supposed to be loathsome at first, and I do think that the character gets much more interesting in the second half of the season, mostly because the writers seem to delight in heaping misery on the guy. But for the first few episodes (before we learned his troubling backstory) it was really hard to stomach the behavior of this spoiled little twit.

2. Ed

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Good grief that was dark! Transparent’s humor is often of the squirmy variety, but the scene where poor dementia-ridden Ed overhears his family discussing how they plan on offing him and decides to take matters into his own hands was almost too much. Thankfully the moment was tempered enough to be simply bittersweet, but it walked a fine line.

3. Judith Light’s Wigs

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Don’t get it twisted: Judith Light is a national fucking treasure and I won’t hear otherwise. Full stop. Amen. (“Angela!”) But both her frosty Barbara Corcoran chop-top wig in the modern-day scenes and the brunet monstrosity she wears in the flashbacks that makes her look like Ellen Greene being swallowed by a varnished honeydew are simply unacceptable.

Those are just a few highlights (and lowlights) from the show’s addictive first season. Are there any that you’d add? To the comments!

Writer-filmmaker Brian Juergens launched CampBlood.org, the world's first website devoted to horror films from a gay perspective, in 2003.