Emmys: 'Transparent' Set Visit Mirrors a Real-Life Family Reunion

Jessica Chou

THR visits the L.A. filming of Amazon Studios' comedy contender to witness a Yom Kippur celebration — and a family that reveals what showrunner Jill Soloway calls "life outside the gender binary."

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Inside Stage 11 on the Paramount lot, on a steamy morning in August, Transparent creator Jill Soloway is mulling over a sprawling 11-person dinner scene hosted by characters Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) and her friend Syd (Carrie Brownstein). It's one of many busy, boisterous sequences the writer-filmmaker has filmed for her "very Jewish" half-hour dramedy about an L.A. family, the Pfeffermans, coping with their patriarch's (Golden Globe winner Jeffrey Tambor) gender transition from male to female. Today's scene, in keeping with the show's strong cultural imprint, is a Yom Kippur celebration in episode six of the series' second season, set to premiere in December.

Seated in front of the video monitors with the episode's director, Jim Frohna, and writer, Ethan Kuperberg, Soloway carefully analyzes a moment in which Jay Duplass' character, Josh, shares some upsetting news with his TV family, consisting of mom Shelly (Judith Light), sisters Sarah and Ali (Amy Landecker and Hoffmann) and "Moppa" Maura (Tambor). For Shelly's reaction to the startling news, Soloway offers: "I think Judith needs to start with a booming moan before she cries. Like a cow giving birth to sadness."

It makes sense that the on-set vibe today mirrors a real-life family reunion. Emmy nominee Soloway (Six Feet Under) channeled her own experience with a transgender parent in creating the series, which many in the once-hidden transgender community — including its most current visible member, Caitlyn Jenner — credit with kick-starting a cultural revolution. (Jenner has said the series helped her make her transition public.) Transparent's zeitgeisty impact in Hollywood helped the show garner 11 Emmy nominations this year — the most of any comedy contender — including writing, directing, lead actor (Tambor), supporting actress (Hoffmann) and guest star (Bradley Whitford).

That haul also has cemented Amazon Studios' presence in the awards conversation and reinforced Emmy's ongoing (and welcome, for many) conundrum: What the hell is a "comedy" in 2015?

The answer comes just minutes after Soloway's notes: Upon Duplass' delivery of the sad news, Light throws her whole body into a very convincing rendition of a cow giving birth to sadness, sparking quiet chuckles among the crew. Soloway smiles and, in a whisper, says like a proud mom: "That's what we do on this show. We cry and then we laugh."