Jeffrey Tambor stars as Maura, the matriarch of The Pfeffermans, a Jewish family based in Los Angeles who all have their own individual issues with identity. Maura is struggling with finally coming out as a transgender woman in her 60s, her ex-wife Shelley (Judith Light) is attempting to keep her second husband alive, her eldest daughter Sarah (Amy Landecker) is a married mother of two cheating on her husband with her former lesbian partner from college, her son Josh (Jay Duplass) is a successful music producer with a very chaotic romantic life, and her younger daughter Alexandra (Gaby Hoffman) is a constantly unemployed slacker trying to find a purpose in life between drugs and mooching off others.
The show was extremely well received, earning itself and Tambor awards at the 72nd Golden Globes. Tambor would go on to win an Emmy for his performance. It is seen by many as Amazon Studios' first hit original show, in the same way that House of Cards was for Netflix.
The show's second season was released on December 11th, 2015. For the second season, Soloway hired a transgender woman, pianist and singer Our Lady J, onto the show's writing staff, and the show has a policy of preferring transgender actors for transgender roles when possible; The transgender-friendly policy also extends behind the set, where restrooms and prep areas are gender-neutral.
Amazon already has renewed the series for a third season, expected to be released in 2016, and a fourth for 2017. On November 2017, it was announced that Tambor had exited the series after multiple sexual harassment allegations.
In 2019, following Tambor's departure, the series wrapped up with a single feature-length musical episode titled Transparent: Musicale Finale instead of a final season.
Transparent in general provides examples of the following tropes:
- Amicable Exes:
- Maura and Shelly remain on good terms in spite of no longer being married.
- Sarah eventually mends fences with her ex-husband Len, over the course of the series.
- Armor-Piercing Question:
Maura: I have a question, now that you're not on the payroll anymore. Do you like me? If I didn't give you any money, would you even talk to me?
- Maura to Ally during the first season finale
- Babies Ever After: In Musicale Finale, Josh's son Colton introduces his father to his infant son Bradley.
- Brilliant, but Lazy: Alexandra, who is very intelligent and astute but also a total washout who isn't employed and drifting through life living off her father-turned-mother's money. Although, in the second season, she gets better, and finally finishes grad school and is contemplating becoming her professor's TA.
- Butch Lesbian:
- Tammy, but she has a non-Butch Lesbian profession of interior decorator.
- Ali & Maura meet many at Idlewild, a festival that unbeknownst to Ali does not allow transgender women.
- Sarah meets Pony at Idlewild, who introduces her to BDSM and who Sarah eventually begins to pay to be her dominatrix.
- Cast Full of Gay: Even ignoring the transgender main character and the community in relation to this storyline, there are still a lot of various queer characters: Sarah, Ali, Tammy, Quinn, Barb, Shelley, and Syd. This basically comprises the entire main cast except for the people in Josh's stories. Josh notes that despite the rest of his birth family being women, they all like women.
- Coming-Out Story:
- The first season centers on Maura coming out to her kids as a trans woman.
- A large part of the second season centers on Ali embracing polyamory and her relationships with Syd and her professor.
- Also in the second season, Maura is conflicted on if she should come out to her mother, Rose, who lives away from Maura's side of the family, in near-isolation in convalescence care.
- In flashbacks, we see events in Rose's life leading up to Maura's birth, which tell a story (that if Maura knew the details of) that would likely make her realize that Rose would be sympathetic to her transition.
- Commitment Issues: All three of the Pfefferman siblings show ambivalence about locking themselves into anything:
- Josh seems to love the idea of being committed to someone more than the reality;
- Sarah goes from feeling stuck with Len to leaving Tammy on their wedding night;
- Ali gets nervous about committing to Syd shortly after they've gotten together, as she also has feelings for her professor, Leslie.
- Dysfunctional Family: The Pfeffermans have a lot of conflict between one another.
- Finale Movie: The series concludes with a musical film titled Transparent: Musicale Finale, where Maura was killed off and the plot focused on the rest of the family dealing with her death.
- Flashback Echo: The second series injects multiple flashbacks to the 1930's, telling the story of Maura's mother and grandmother immigrating from Berlin to America.
- Through those flashbacks we learn Maura's mother Rose had a trans sister named Gittel.
- When Ali visits her grandmother Rose, Ali's appearance reminds Rose of Gittel.
- Ali herself seems to have visions of Gittel at Sarah & Tammy wedding, and when swimming.
- Hereditary Homosexuality: At one point Josh notes that everyone in his family is attracted to girls, but he's the only guy.
- Inspirational Martyr: In flashback, we see that Gittel refuses to leave Berlin, as her travel visa is misgendered, which infuriates her mother Yetta; Her sister Rose, however, stands by her decision.
- It's All About Me: All three of the Pfefferman children are pretty self-centered, to the point where it interferes with all their personal relationships:
- Alexandra isn't as bad, but Sarah and Josh are to the point where Alexandra was the only person very worried when Ed wanders off and Sarah and Josh treat it as a joke.
- It's later implied they more or less learned it from Maura as it's revealed she may have encouraged Alexandra to cancel her Bat Mitzvah just so she can go to that crossdressing camp.
- Sarah cheats on her husband with Tammy, divorces him, then bails on marrying Tammy when she realizes she can't stand her.
- Sarah's next two relationships, with her pot dealer and a dominatrix, have no ties whatsoever.
- Josh is so desperate to start a family, he's devastated when Kaya has an abortion.
- Josh then proceeds to literally put Coulton on a bus with his foster parents.
- His reaction to Raquel proposing and his subsequent attitude pushes her away, too.
- Maura practically invites herself to Idlewild with Ali and Sarah.. This has repercussions for Maura later on.
- Late Coming Out: The show is about a transgender woman named Maura coming out in her 60s. The story revolves around how this affects her and her family.
- Locked Out of the Loop: Maura and Shelly knew all along about Josh having a son but kept it from him. He is not pleased when he learns the truth.
- Meaningful Name:
- Gittel is Yiddish for good.
- Yetta is a short-form of Henrietta, which is German for home leader. We later find Yetta's husband emigrated to America first, but then chose to start a new family instead of coming back for Gittel, Yetta and Rose.
- Mrs. Robinson: Rita, Josh's babysitter (!) who becomes his girlfriend when he becomes a teenager, who at the beginning of the series, we find he still having an affair with, even while he is dating another woman.
- In flashbacks, we see that despite his parents' disdain, the relationship appears to have been consensual.
- During Ed's funeral in the first season finale, Rita shows up with a much younger man who we learn is Colton, a son she had with Josh. In the second season, we find Josh's parents knew about Colton, and had paid off his adoptive parents to keep him away from Josh.
- Rita is invited to dinner with Colton, Raquel and Josh, where she brings up her relationship with Josh at the table, and also makes a not-so-subtle attempt to get Josh to 'visit' her again.
- Nature Tinkling: "Pinkwashing Machine" has a scene where Ali pees on the ground.
- Nazi Gold: Subverted in flashback when we see Yetta hiding her family's valuables in clay stones in preparation to immigrating to America.
- No Antagonist: There's no villainous character in the show at all, it's mainly all the characters wrestling with themselves.
- Open-Minded Parent:
- Inverted with Sarah being very open-minded about Maura being transgender.
- Played straight with Maura in turn accepting Sarah's leaving Len for Tammy.
- Also played straight with Maura's father Moshe Pfefferman, who doesn't turn her away after being informed that she is trans.
- Outliving One's Offspring: In Musicale Finale, Maura's father Moshe is among the relatives attending Maura's funeral.
- The Promised Land: In flashbacks, we see Rose visiting Gittel, who has left home and is living happily at an institute for gender studies in Berlin. However, as it is 1930's Berlin, things take a turn when Hitler youth storm the estate, destroying research and attacking the people within.
- This leads to an Ambiguous Ending where in a later flashback we are left unsure if Gittel is still alive when Yetta and Rose leave for America.
- Pun-Based Title: Maura is the "trans parent".
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
Ally: Why are you always pushing money on me?Maura: Because, my beautiful girl, you cannot do anything. You know, you have so much more to say now, than when I was writing your checks, giving you loans. Which, by the way, aren't actually loans because you don't pay back dick. Do you understand? Not one cent. I'm paying for your life.Ally (while throwing money at Maura): I don't need or want, or give a shit about your money. You can't fucking scream at me anymore 'coz I'm an adult. Okay? So there we go. It's settled. Done.
- Maura and Ally to each other during the first season finale:
- Runaway Bride: Sarah leaves Tammy once the wedding ceremony ends; Since Rachel had not yet sent the marriage licence to be notarized, they technically weren't yet married. This leads to a Freak Out moment from Tammy, and leads Sarah into a serious mental breakdown.
- Silent Credits: The end credits to the episode "Desert Eagle" lack music.
- That Man Is Dead: Played with. From Maura's perspective she was always just herself, and 'Mort' was a role she had to play, and most of those closest to her accept that relatively easily. But it's eventually revealed that Josh feels on some level like his father has died, and Buzz almost (but not quite) drops the name of this trope in convincing Josh to face those feelings.
- Tomboy: Alexandra, who identifies as female, but doesn't neatly fall into the girly girl box. She doesn't like wearing make-up, usually dresses up in men's clothing (to the point of wearing a men's suit to Ed's funeral) and didn't want her eyebrows touched during a makeover.
- Trans Equals Gay: Subverted with Maura, who after returning from Idlewild has her first sexual encounter with a woman since transitioning.
- However, it appears that is not the case for Marcy, who appears to have have some reconciled feelings for Maura.
- Transgender Fetishization: Averted during the first season, where Maura was the only character who wasn't engaging in raunchy sexual behavior. Then, it became an Enforced Trope in season 2, after trans writer Our Lady J took the reins. It became her mission to sexualize Maura, but not turn her into an object.
- Trans Tribulations: Maura, as well as a few other trans characters that have dealt with this trope, particularly Maura who doesn't come out well into her 60s.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Maura and Marcy visit a crossdressing camp full of them in a Whole Episode Flashback. Some even bring their wives. However, most of the campers are in fact transphobic, voicing disdain for and ostracizing a long-time camper who eventually transitioned to a woman. This leads to a falling out between Maura and Marcy, as Marcy is only a transvestite and has no desire to transition like Maura does.