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Amazon's Potential Breakout Series "Transparent" Premieres

The Jill Soloway dramatic comedy could represent a breakout series for the Seattle company and its efforts to create original content.


Amazon’s new dramatic comedy “Transparent,” available to its Prime members today, actually had its red carpet premiere last week in an ornate Spanish Gothic movie theater that was built in the 1920s for silent film stars Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplain.

It’s a place where more than the gilded interior had been renovated.

Members of the media, who assembled in a basement screening room to preview new episodes before interviewing the cast, discovered that the bathrooms had been deemed unisex for the event, setting the stage for discussions about a show that challenges notions about gender.

“Transparent” is the creation of Jill Soloway, a writer and producer who has worked on such acclaimed series as HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and Showtime’s “United States of Tara,” and who last year collected the best director award at Sundance for her independent film, “Afternoon Delight.”

The series revolves around a family whose father, played by Jeffrey Tambor, comes out as transgender. Soloway’s own father called her three years ago with the same revelation, though she emphasizes that “Transparent” is a work of fiction.

“The show is not about my family, the show is about the Pfeffermans,” she said. “But there are certain aspects of my story that are in the background.”

All 10 episodes of “Transparent” will be available to Amazon Prime Instant Video subscribers, in what could represent a breakthrough for the Seattle retail giant’s efforts to create original content. The timely show reaches millions of homes at a time when the trans community is increasingly visible in Hollywood and beyond.

Netflix’s prison comedy, “Orange Is the New Black,” cast transgender actress Laverne Cox as a trans inmate, Sophia Burset, in a role that earned her an Emmy nomination and landed her on the cover of Time magazine.

It’s no coincidence that these stories are finding distribution outside traditional television networks, notes Soloway.

“I was hustling and hustling and hustling to get a show made that felt authentic to me, that felt like it was about truth in the same way Alan Ball’s show (“Six Feet Under”) was about truth, and just couldn’t get anything made,” Soloway said. “I was being accused of writing ‘unlikable women.’ That my male characters weren’t strong enough.”

When Soloway entered the world of independent film, she said her conversations with other filmmakers prompted her to consider new ways of reaching audiences.

“We were all aware that our biggest audiences would be on iTunes, would be on Netflix, would be on Starz,” Soloway said. “Nobody in the independent film world is thinking much about opening weekend at the box office. You’re just so lucky to even get distribution.”

Soloway said Amazon has afforded her the kind of creative environment she last encountered at HBO from 2001 to 2005, while working with Ball on his dark comedy centered on a California family running a funeral home.

“They’re disrupting models in every part of their business,” Soloway said of Amazon.”And I’m thrilled to have them disrupt television, because it allowed me to sneak in under that bar.”

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