The election left me in such a funk that I couldn’t bear to read the newspaper, refused to watch the news; even commiserating with friends was too painful. I had to turn somewhere for solace. Thankfully, the Pfeffermans weren’t worrying about national politics. As always, the chronically depressed Jewish family at the center of Amazon’s brilliant “Transparent” was thinking only of themselves and their own tsuris. Their mood matched my own, and it felt comforting to hang out with them for 10 short episodes. We didn’t have to pretend it was all going to turn out okay; we know it won’t.
“Transparent” tells of the aftereffects of a 70-year-old man’s decision to reveal to his ex-wife and three adult children that he is transgender. This third season is sadder than the first two as the characters’ illusions begin to crumble. Maura (Jeffrey Tambor), who used to be Mort, is not going to have sex-change surgery. She’s too old, and she has heart trouble. Terminally adolescent music executive Joshie (Jay Duplass) is not going to create an alternate family with the fundamentalist Christian son he discovered last season. Bisexual Alex (Gaby Hoffman) hasn’t found her heart’s desire in the feminist professor she adored and now wants to get away from. Rabbi Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is teetering on the brink of a breakdown. Pretty much nothing is working out. The Pfeffermans are stuck with their weak, frightened, selfish selves, too self-absorbed to focus on anyone else, too immature to let anything go. Yet, I love them all. That’s what makes the show extraordinary. Creator Jill Soloway reveals her characters’ inner lives–their neediness, spite, and vindictiveness as well as their hunger for love and spiritual connection–without ridiculing or indicting them. They are as complicated and confused as the rest of us, and in as much need of forgiveness.
And Now to Another Family
I still needed soothing after “Transparent,” so I turned to “The Crown,” Netflix’s beautifully crafted 10-episode dramatization of the reign of Elizabeth II. This first season covers the 1950s, when George VI died suddenly and Elizabeth finds herself queen, a role she didn’t expect to fill for a long time. Even though I don’t give a fig for the royal family, I loved “The Crown.” The production values are fabulous–far more so than “Downton Abbey”–and the characters are much more nuanced and interesting. The Slate Culture Gabfest reports that the producers are planning 10-episode arcs for each decade of Elizabeth’s reign. That should get me through the next four years.
Created by Peter Morgan, who wrote another play about the queen called “The Audience,” the series devotes a lot of time to the personal animosities and attachments of the royals, particularly the Duke of Windsor, brilliantly portrayed by Alex Jennings, just teetering on the edge of camp. A vindictive and petty twit, the Duke can’t quite forgive himself for abdicating. Claire Foy is wonderful as Elizabeth, the young woman who doesn’t know much about the world except for horses and dogs and being polite. She must learn to manage a resentful husband (Matt Smith) as well as conniving politicians and a difficult sister.
The show is about politics, of course, but they are so different from the vulgar and nauseating variety we are still enduring. A shout-out for John Lithgow, who embodies an aging Winston Churchill. I was delighted that he carried this off, even managing to look like Churchill–at least somewhat. The writers capture their underlying racism and condescension as Elizabeth and Philip go around the world, visiting an endless array of colonies and former colonies, but the show maintains its focus on the development of a somewhat sheltered young woman into the longest reigning monarch in the world. The clothes are great, too.
What’s at the Movies
I’ve managed to get to a few movies too. Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” is the best film I’ve seen in a long time., deeply moving and beautifully shot. The acting is exceptional, and the film is so unlike anything else around. Jenkins treats the story of a black boy’s coming of age in Miami’s Liberty City and his discovery that he is gay with sensitivity and respect. The film is divided into three sections–boyhood, adolescence, and adulthood–with three actors playing the lead character, Chiron. Frightened and reticent, the young Chiron is befriended by a local drug dealer played by Mahershala Ali. Although we wait anxiously to see if he is going to abuse or betray Chiron, Ali’s character Juan is genuinely kind to the boy. As an adolescent, Chiron is mercilessly bullied by his schoolmates, and that experience leads organically into his life as an adult. Jenkins avoids all the cliches of movies about poor kids growing up in the ‘hood, and gives us a portrait that is filled with both pain and beauty, sin and redemption. Really, really good.
Toshiro Mifune was the star of many of Akira Kurosawa’s films, including “Seven Samurai,” “Rashomon,” and “Yojimbo.” Strikingly handsome, Mifune was a huge star in Japan, especially in the sword-fighting films popular there right after the war. Steven Okazaki has made a documentary about the actor called “Mifune: The Last Samurai” where he interviews a lot of Japanese actors who worked with him and American filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. It’s an interesting documentary, especially if you’re a huge fan of Kurosawa or Japanese film, but I need more than that to keep my mind off the news.