Series creator and writer Jill Soloway missteps by populating the story with an assortment of aggravating characters, particularly the three grown children of Maura Pfefferman, the transgender father played by Jeffrey Tambor. These three whining ninnies are thoroughly unlikable and annoying. Scratch that - they're reprehensible. It may have been Soloway's intention to present a flawed family, but she forgot to give the kids a single redeeming quality. Eldest daughter Sarah (Amy Landecker) is an upper, upper middle class soccer mom with a stable husband and two kids who suddenly chucks it all one fine day to pursue her repressed lesbianism with a butch flame from her college years, only to decide a short time later that the the gal-on-gal lifestyle may not be her thing after all. Son Josh (Jay Duplass) is a sleazy, well-to-do record company manager who sleeps with lots of young groupie types and impregnates a bubbleheaded chanteuse, but who really gets off on old ladies. Then there's la crème de la crème of the irritating threesome, youngest sibling Ali (Gaby Hoffman), an unemployed nymphomaniac who vacillates between bedding black men, a kinky female-to-male lover, and maybe - just maybe - her best girlfriend who's also sleeping with her hyper-sexed brother. You want to smack all of these kids, but it's Ali you really want to hit over and over again.
Then there's the story. While Maura's struggles with accepting her female gender identity should be Transparent's focus, they take a backseat to the insignificant, and at times, completely implausible, trials and tribulations of the Terrible Trio. Maura's coming out to her children barely registers with them. They practically acknowledge it in passing, then go back to their petty navel gazing. So instead of watching a show about a man who becomes a woman, we watch a show about selfish adults who just happen to have a transgender parent that shows up occasionally to give them money. Only when the focus is on Maura, her small circle of friends, her explorations of her new world, and the humiliation she sometimes faces as an out transgender woman does Transparent feel authentic and moving. Sadly, these moments are few.
Finally, Soloway's writing is mediocre at best. The dialogue among the characters is frequently stilted, and there appear to be many improvised moments that the actors simply fumble. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention Melora Hardin's performance as Sarah's masculine partner Tammy. Hardin plays her as an over the top caricature, slouched forward, legs in a constant wide stance, fingers hooked into her blue jean belt loops. It's unintentionally comical and cringe-worthy.
On the positive side, Transparent does has some noteworthy performances. Jeffrey Tambor brings the right balance of wonder, joy, fear, and world weariness to Maura, and he is every bit deserving of his Golden Globe nod. Bradley Whitford does a surprising and effective turn as Maura's secret transvestite friend Marcy, and Alexandra Billings, as Davina, Maura's transgender confidante, is superb. Judith Light brings nice comic relief to the proceedings as Maura's ex-wife Shelly, but she's completely under-utilized.
All this talent, however, can't overcome the weak script and unsympathetic characters. Transparent has indeed set a new precedent in recognizing the transgender world. I just wish it had done a better job.