When DAD be­comes MUM

Fra­zier Moore in­ves­ti­gates the hit new dram­edy demon­strat­ing how ev­ery fam­ily is just one rev­e­la­tion away from up­heaval.

The Press - The Box - - ON DEMAND - AP

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.

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