We have found the show of the year: Transparent. Available on Amazon Prime, and produced by Amazon Studios, I binge-watched its ten episodes in three satisfying sessions – the only reason I didn’t consume it in two being that I didn’t want it to end.
The show stars Jeffrey Tambor as the father of what we might call a high-functioning dysfunctional family who, upon retirement, reveals to his children that he is transgender. Now, Jeffrey Tambor is a hero. Not necessarily to the transgender community, who may or may not appreciate the programme, but to me personally: between The Larry Sanders Show and Arrested Development he has been entertaining me for perhaps the majority of my life and his tender portrayal of Mort/Maura only increases my regard for him.
Speaking of Arrested Development, Maura’s family defer to the Bluths only in terms of surrealism when it comes to chaos. The eldest daughter, Sarah (the comely Amy Landecker), begins the series as a frustrated housewife with two kids and ends it engaged to a previous female lover – Tammy (played to perfectly observed heights of self-regard by Melora Hardin). Josh (Jay Duplass), Maura’s son, whom we first encounter in bed with a much younger girl – a member of a band he briefly manages – before he falls for the local rabbi. Ali is the youngest daughter – Maura’s beautiful girl, an aimless hedonist whom we cannot help but love thanks to Gaby Hoffman’s bewildered, at times tortured, portrayal. (And may I say it’s wonderful to see Gaby Hoffman (of Uncle Buck fame) given a role with far more depth than the two-dimensional psycho-eccentric she played at the whim of Lena Dunham in Girls.) Rounding out the immediate family is their mother, Shelly – a neurotic played by the splendid Judith Light, in a novel departure from her usual grandes dames.
Predictably enough, the revelation that Mort will now be living as a woman causes varying degrees of distress for his/her children; but it is a mark of the show’s distinction that these people are so ensconced in their suburban middle-class bubble – with its farmers’ markets, yoga and medicinal pot – that their father’s decision is often the least of their selfish, hapless worries. And yet they are not annoying. We sympathise with all of the characters from the first episode – true, perhaps Josh is a bit more of a tool – and, with each new instalment, they creep up on you until they are almost your own virtual family.
Everything works: the music, the sets (particularly the nineties period ones, a decade difficult to delineate), the low-key cinematography and, above all, Jill Soloway’s understated script, which contains just enough black comedy. Transparent is superior television – when do we get more?
Now we turn to a different variety of drama – actually it’s really just variety: Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One). Three weeks in and it’s certainly one for the boys this year: Pixie Lott and Caroline Flack – particularly Caroline Flack – can shake their cha-chas at me anytime. Misogyny to one side, however, Flack is probably my favourite purely on the grounds that she knows how to sell a performance and seems to have a natural flare for making beautiful lines – at least, I assume she does…
And it wouldn’t be fair not to mention my second favourite: Alison Hammond. A woman born to be on the dance floor and an absolute treat to watch as she shakes those hips into an ebullient frenzy. It’s going to be a fine autumn.