When DAD becomes MUM
Frazier Moore investigates the hit new dramedy demonstrating how every family is just one revelation away from upheaval.
Jeffrey Tambor is spiffed-out in jeans and a blue blazer and, as a further gesture, a shade of fingernail polish. What shade is it? ‘‘Mauuuve,’’ he says with deadpan flourish.
Tambor, an up-for-anything actor, has logged memorable TV roles during his lengthy career. He was a comically corrupt industrialist on Arrested Development and before that, a hapless talk-show sidekick on The Larry Sanders Show.
Now, at age 70, he’s involved down to his fingertips in what he calls ‘‘the role of a lifetime’’. Bestknown for comedy, Tambor turns in a full-range performance as Mort Pfefferman, who, much to the shock of his grown children, comes out as a woman christened Maura.
But Maura doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Her journey as an emerging transgender is intertwined with the stories of her family – an ex-wife (played by Judith Light) and a trio of progeny (Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass), each of whom is plagued by agita and so self-absorbed they could dismiss dear old dad as someone set in his ways and long past able to surprise them.
Any family is just one revelation away from upheaval: That’s a message of Transparent, but one delivered lovingly and entertainingly, states Tambor, ‘‘and hopefully, people will look at it and say, ‘Oh, this is just like my family. It’s exactly how WE are’!’’
‘‘I wanted to do a show about a family with ‘trans-ness’ as an element – not as the comedy or dramatic question, but as part of the wallpaper,’’ says creator and executive producer Jill Soloway. ‘‘What we’re doing is privileging The Other. The people who would normally be ‘Other-ised’ in another show – the transdad, the gay daughter, the love-addict son in Transparent are the subjects, instead of the objects.’’
Soloway previously explored a dicey subject – death – as a writer- producer on HBO’s funeral-home drama Six Feet Under, and she told the story of a frustrated stayat-home mother who adopts a stripper as a live-in nanny, and more, in her 2013 film, Afternoon Delight, for which she won the Sundance Best Director award.
Now, as she confronts the full spectrum of sexual identity, Soloway notes that the first thing people ask about the show is, how far will Maura go? Will he go under the knife to physically transition into she?
The answer: To Be Determined, in part by the level of viewer support that will determine the duration of the series’ run.
‘‘When we think about the story over the course of five years, these are real questions,’’ she says. ‘‘But what the show’s gonna help you understand is that people can become the gender they feel most comfortable in, with or without hormones, with or without surgery, and with or without necessarily identifying with the binary male or female.’’
Next question: Why choose Jeffrey Tambor for the key role as Mort-becoming-Maura, which, after all, is a role that not only could have gone to any actor of a certain age but also, arguably, any actress of similar vintage?
‘‘There’s nobody funnier!’’ Soloway replies. ‘‘Show me somebody who’s a better actor and more loving and more revealing of his soul – yet SO hilarious!’’
Trans-formation: Jeffrey Tambor gets into character for Transparent.