In the onslaught of new shows premiering this fall (25 all told across the Big Five networks), it's easy for a smaller, subdued affair like Amazon's new series Transparent to slip through the cracks... especially since it's streaming on Amazon Prime, a service not everyone receives. Amazon's original programming hasn't caught on yet in the way that Netflix's has, but Transparent could change all that — which is ironic, since it stars Jeffrey Tambor, who's most widely known for his work on Arrested Development (now a Netflix property).
Transparent, the first episode of which is available to stream now (the rest of the season will be released simultaneously this Friday), has already been garnering rave reviews from critics praising everything from its "bittersweet tone" to "Tambor's heart-rending portrayal of a man finally becoming who he's always feared to be," calling it "the best streaming-network pilot since Netflix's Orange Is the New Black" and "one of those rare shows that alters the complexion of the landscape with its quality."
So how did this terrific show starring such a popular TV star wind up on a website that's more known for its controversies with book publishers than for its original programming? In point of fact, Transparent's creator and director Jill Soloway initially shopped the show to various networks, including HBO, but Amazon offered her something no one else could: a speedy timetable. "It was about two months after my first meeting with them that they greenlit it, and a month or so after that, we were shooting," recalls Soloway. "I think I met them in May and we were shooting in August. That never happens!"
But what exactly is Transparent about? Glad you asked. Here's the official logline:
A man gathers his three adult kids for a talk about the future, but everyone is shocked to learn that it’s not a financial inheritance at stake but rather the complex legacy of a secret life as a transgender.
Tambor plays Maura Pfefferman (formerly Mort), who informs her wife (Judith Light) and three adult children (Jay Duplass, Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker) that she is beginning the process of transitioning.
And the woman behind the show is more than qualified to lead such an important series. Soloway cut her television teeth as a writer on HBO's Six Feet Under; she also wrote for Grey's Anatomy and Dirty Sexy Money on ABC, and Showtime's The United States Of Tara (on which she also served as showrunner for Seasons 2 and 3). Soloway describes Transparent (in a Variety interview)as her means of exploring the idea of a "wounded father being replaced by a blossoming femininity," and she's encouraged by the sense that transgender rights are "in the zeitgeist in a great way that makes us think we’re pointing in the right direction."
There's something serendipitous about a show centered around such a zeitgeist-y topic debuting on a model as innovative as online streaming.
Of course a stodgy network like CBS would never have picked up Transparent for a primetime slot in its fall schedule. Amazon may not be the first name that springs to mind when talking about quality drama, but it feels like the perfect home for Maura Pfefferman. With no status quo to maintain (like on HBO or AMC), ideally, Amazon execs were able to leave Soloway and her cast free to craft the most compelling, original, compassionate show possible. I'm sure those execs are hoping that the buzzy Transparent will finally give their streaming service the public consciousness it deserves. And hopefully Maura's story can do the same for underrepresented peoples everywhere.
Images: Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images; Amazon Studios