Friday, February 14, 2014


It isn't everyday that Amazon makes you feel your opinion matters. Well, actually it is.

Yesterday's reach out was about a pilot for a new show, Jill Soloway's Transparent. I think because I watched three and a half seasons of past Parenthood within six months, the robots assumed I would like it.

Who wouldn't? The selling points are (a) this is a family in Los Angeles; (b) the family is enmeshed, has terrible boundaries; and (c) there is no (c).

I assumed it would be about transgender issues, a welcome change, no pun intended, and got that right. Had the show lived up to it, and maybe it will in the future, I would have raved. The transgendered people I see in my practice hurt from our cultural lack of understanding, and they have the same needs and wants as everyone else. Feeling accepted is an impossible dream in "ordinary" social circles.

And it is very hard, seriously, to be a woman trapped in a man's body, wanting to shop, wanting to talk girl talk about hair and shoes and make-up. People don't understand, but they should.

But in the pilot, nothing beyond a difficult coming out, which is important, of course. Yet what sticks out? What cheapens the show? The lack of clothing, a transparency. First scene, gratuitous, nudity. Josh (Jay Duplass) wakes up a bit before his wife, or paramour, we're not sure. Feeling frisky, he tickles her breasts with a corner of the sheet. We see all of her lovely chest, a surprise, maybe it shouldn't be. She finds Josh's stinky breath to be stinky, but delightful. Meanwhile we see skin that maybe we didn't want to see, and a lot of it.
Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent

The queen in the closet, Mort (Jeffrey Tambor, brilliant as usual) is Josh's dad. Josh has two sisters: the seemingly "normal" one, Sarah (Amy Landecker), and the depressive, Ali (Gaby Hoffman). This is an engaging ensemble, add to the four the wonderful Judith Light as Mort's ex-wife, ministering to her second husband with Alzheimer's. Those are the types of scenes we're looking for, some of us.

And yet. I'm glad I didn't switch to Netflix (House of Cards is promising, and there's always Freaks and Geeks), a natural inclination for some of us when the camera just can't let go of the flesh. Transparent is a title of multiple meanings, physical and psychological transparency will become thematic, no doubt. Clothes can't hide the man, the woman. Ali, one of the three sibs hates her body and stares at herself nude (naturally) in a full-length mirror. She hires an abusive trainer to help her reach her goals, better arms, for one. Is this necessary, seeing every inch of Gaby Hoffman? We see all of her; she sees flabby arms. Apparently it is.

The coming out process is presented as difficult, as it often is, and handled skillfully. When it \finally happens, we see it coming. We're sure that Mort, in full dress, will walk in on Sarah and an old girlfriend who are kissing in his bedroom. He isn't the only one outed. If only it were that easy.

All of this has great potential, really, if the psychological conflict rises to the top, not the sex. Transparent hints that this will be the case. The group therapy scene in particular is so well done. But as is, there's no way I'll be back any time soon.

Sorry Amazon. Three stars. Should have been five.



Mound Builder said...

It's funny that you mention your objection to this show, Transparent. I've watched several series lately, while doing other things, and have felt a bit put off by what seems to me to be a lot of gratuitous sex and/or relational poverty, where it seems the sex is mostly about getting something else. I started wondering if I'm becoming more prudish or squeamish as I get older. I've watched several episodes of season 1 of House of Cards but find myself confused by whatever the politics and power plays are about and put off by the twisted darkness of the main characters. I've also watched all of Orange is the New Black, highly recommended by various thoughtful friends, and found the sex in that to be so aggressive that I couldn't relate to that, though as I continued watching episodes it seems like that fell by the wayside, some, and the relationships between people became more important, with characters more developed. I ended up watching all of the first season and will at least be ready to try out the new season when it begins.

As for transgender issues themselves, I've known a few people, not terribly well, but a few, who've grappled with this and have been along what I see as a continuum in terms of transitioning from one gender to another. The hardest part for me has been about trying to keep pronouns straight because if I know someone is genetically male, but presenting as female, it can be hard for me not to say 'he or him or his' when referring to the person. One of my daughters told me I should go with the pronoun for the gender the person presents as and I've made that adjustment. One of the things I am really fascinated by (and hope this isn't disrespectful) is the opportunity I might have, in getting to know someone who has transitioned from one gender to another to hear about how he/she experiences the world with that dual knowledge. Seems like that is very worthwhile to know, among other things.

therapydoc said...

Thanks MoundBuilder. My thinking isn't that a transgendered person changes at all, rather is more open and honest with others about who he or she really is. The object, perhaps, of doing this is small waves, is to help us transition. Thanks for writing.