A couple of Saturdays ago, Amazon was kind enough to offer up the entire first season of Transparent for free. I’d been meaning to catch-up on the Golden Globe-winning series, but I was putting it off for a less TV-filled time. However, with freezing rain outside and a surprisingly empty DVR inside, I figured what the hell and hit play. Ten episodes and five hours later I was pleasantly surprised by how mellow and restrained the series was when it came to both its comedic and dramatic elements.
Don’t get me wrong, I love TV series that deliver ‘oh snap’ moments, ridiculous plotlines, or take place in different worlds and universes, but I also appreciate the rare TV series that’s grounded in reality. Despite being labeled as a comedy, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Transparent and NBC’s recently concluded series Parenthood. Both shows created these very insulated worlds where every character had their own shit going on, for lack of better words, but at the same time it was all very personal to the family at its core. Relationships may be at stake, but the fate of the world never is.
Maura coming out to her kids as transgender is no small feat, but it doesn’t happen in some sort of uber dramatic fashion, or play as a joke. There isn’t any explosive confrontation or a public run-in resulting in a shocking reveal. Rather, it’s a series of mostly quiet and intimate moments of discovery sprinkled throughout the entire first season.
And Maura isn’t the only one going through a transition. Ali is likewise navigating her own gender identity. Josh, a stereotypical man-child spends much of season one trying to figure what it means to ‘be a man’ and Sarah ends her marriage to get back together with an ex-girlfriend. On a personal level, the stakes are high, but the rest of the world continues to go on around them, and that feels very true to real life.
Transparent may not have a Jack Bauer or Carrie Mathison, but that doesn’t mean as an audience member I’m not invested in the Pfefferman family and their story lines. For all their flaws and quirks they’re still relatable characters and more stories like this should be told on television. Maybe it’s not always as much fun as the escapism offered in other TV series, but I don’t want to see television go the way of film, where everything is a blockbuster and smaller features struggle to be made, let alone reach a mass audience.
There’s a lot of content avenues for television right now and I’m excited that Amazon is willing to tell stories that need to be told, even if they occur on a smaller scale. Transparent isn’t just about a transgender woman, although props for shining a light on an underrepresented community, it’s about self-discovery. And that’s a universal struggle, one that doesn’t always need to be sugar coated with zombies, natural disasters, or non-stop pop culture references to be entertaining or enlightening.