This weekend, I watched the first episode of ‘‘Transparent’ on Amazon – a new webseries focusing on the later in life transition of Moira (born Mort) and the impact on her three adult children, ex-wife and their assorted family and friends.
Moira is portrayed by cisgender, heterosexual actor Jeffrey Tambor, well known for his roles on “Arrested Development” and “The Larry Sanders Show” along with an extensive history in film and television. Tambor is 70 and his Moira is not the Hollywood beauty we often expect, not is she frumpy a la Mrs. Doubtfire. There has been much criticism for the decision to not cast a trans female actor in this role, but I’m unsure that’s fair. Is there a transwoman in Hollywood in this age bracket who could tackle this role? I honestly don’t know.
The shows boasts some interesting casting – indie star Gaby Hoffman as the somewhat lost daughter Ali, Judith Light as Moira’s ex-wife and mother of his children, Melora Hardin (‘”The Office”) and Carrie Brownstein (“Portlandia“) in supporting roles.
But Tambor is the heavyweight and it makes sense to me that director Jill Soloway would want a well-established actor in this key role. My impression after the first episode is that Tambor has done his research. As an ally, I can’t fault his performance. And I recognize that good roles (think Hillary Swank as Brandon Teena) pave the way for even better stories, roles and opportunities.
Soloway insists that she’s telling a party autobiographical story as the daughter of a transparent who came out to her when she was well into her adult life. And it is likely true that Amazon took a risk on the show based on Tambor’s acting credits. I’m willing to give him more episodes to convince me that was a good decision.
The family is a little annoying. Of course, the son is a music producer. Of course, one daughter seems directionless. Of course, one daughter seems to have sold out. Of course, of course, of course. The family is a mess, captured quite well in a feast the kids enjoy with Moira (presenting as Mort) as she’s trying to come out to them. There is barbecue sauce dripping everywhere and arguments about tidiness and order and all of that. In the end, Moira doesn’t come out instead deflecting attention to the issue of who will inherit the family home.
I wasn’t a fan of that scene, but I was more captivated by Tambor’s Moira when she was on-screen solo or with people other than her family. There’s a sadness about her as she realizes out loud the unanticipated costs her children paid growing up with a parent who wasn’t truly their own self. Moira labels them selfish, a theme I’m anticipating the show revisiting in future episodes. In fact, I subscribed to Amazon Prime just so I could do that. I wasn’t moved to tears, but I did feel a slight ache in my heart as Moira revealed herself to the viewers.
It isn’t the greatest series pilot, but it does bode well that Amazon is interested in telling queer stories that aren’t about only the beautiful, young movie star versions of our community. The real stories. Our stories.
You can watch the pilot episode for free on Amazon.