Sunday, February 23, 2014

TRANSPARENT Show Something New

Article first published as TRANSPARENT Show Something New on TheTVKing.

Recently, Amazon released several new pilots, and I've been working my way through the dramas and comedies, reviewing as I go. The fourth of the five on my list, Transparent, is the first one this year I've found something good to say about. It's a dramedy, leaning more towards the heavy side, about a father with a secret and his three grown children. How will they cope when they learn the news he's trying to work up the courage to deliver?

The patriarch of the family is Mort (Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development), a caring individual who doesn't understand how he could raise three such selfish kids. He finds it hard to open up because they don't seem to care, more concerned with who gets what when he starts giving out things. It's hard to imagine how the trio grew the way they are under Mort, unless Mort has changed significantly in ways the viewer has not been made privy to, or just didn't enforce discipline.

The problems the children face could stem more from their mother (Judith Light, Who's the Boss?). We don't see a lot of her in this pilot, despite being one of the five names on the 'Starring' card, but what we do see isn't all that likeable a woman, scolding her daughter and sort of steamrolling her current beau, even as she tries to make it seem the opposite.

At the center of the show are Mort's kids. Josh (Jay Duplass, The Mindy Project) is a music producer who sleeps with the various artists he manages, a horn dog who acts soulful. Ali (Gaby Hoffman, Girls) has no house and no steady job, and has decided to get her body into shape in the hopes that it will help her overall situation. Sarah (Amy Landecker, Dan in Real Life) has a nice home, husband (Rob Huebel, Childrens Hospital), and kids in the suburb, but is tempted to betray them when she runs into former girlfriend Tammy (Gillian Vigman, Suburgatory).

I'm not sure exactly where the story would go if ordered to series, but since the main cast comprises only the five main family members, no spouses or friends or anything, one assumes it will be a character study of the particular clan. They all have their secrets and flaws, and so much time could be spent exploring those, perhaps growing them into better people, but only after much trial and suffering. More than likely, they won't change much, but that works, too, seeing authentic reaction to real issues.

The tone is definitely HBO-esque, and not just because of nudity (which there is plenty of) or the cursing. It's got an indie-vibe, including in the music selection, not fitting into a typical structure or formula, meandering, in a good way, through seemingly only loosely connected threads. It's pretty dark, with few laughs to be found, but evokes plenty of feelings from the viewer.

Tambor, as usual, is excellent, bringing a quiet dignity to the role, and evoking sympathy in his plight. He is surrounded by other excellent performers who are much less sympathetic characters, so the burden of likability will be on his capable shoulders. While Tambor has shown range in the past, never being one-note, I did feel like I saw something new yet again from him in the episode, exposing some raw vulnerability, and it made me want to watch more.

With only one more pilot to go, Transparent is the only new Amazon premiere I've been able to solidly recommend so far this year. Check it out, available streaming on their website now.

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