We finished the first series of Transparent last night. I haven’t been so hungry for a television show for a long time – we got through all of it in three sessions, and if there had been more to watch last night we would have kept going.
Amazon is doing to television what it has been attempting to do to publishing: disintermediating traditional publishers (the cable channels and the networks) and going straight to creators, with extremely specific knowledge about their customers’ interests and habits.
Twice now, they’ve released sets of pilots addressing these customer needs, and they’ve used buzz and direct feedback to commission series based on a small number of them; Transparent is the first I’ve watched, but I’ll dig around and look at the others at some point.
One of the concerns about Amazon’s attacks – and it would be naive not to call them attacks – on publishing has been that they will damage the diversity of the market, producing bland, middle-of-the-road, focus-grouped pap, and ignoring the margins. I’m more or less convinced by those arguments, but Transparent has somewhat non-mainstream subject matter that I can’t see emerging from a focus group, and it’s simply terrific television, which I must admit is unexpected.
Whether in the long term that’s sustainable or just a fluke, it’s hard to tell. And perhaps Transparent, with a middle-class LA family at the centre of it, isn’t that far outside the mainstream. AND I don’t expect that Amazon is happy to have occasional hits: the more content it produces itself, the more powerful it becomes, and the more the industry will be warped by its presence.
But in the meantime, Transparent: how fantastic. You should watch it, and you should probably pay Amazon money for the privledge of doing so.