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Amazon has Netflix in sights with Transparent

16 September 2014, 13:05

Los Angeles -Online retail giant Amazon celebrated Monday the launch of a new original show it hopes will help catch up with streaming pioneer Netflix.

Transparent, which had a red-carpet unveiling in Los Angeles, features a transgender character in the central role of a show which has already generated strong critical buzz.

"No one can ever doubt that the TV model has changed for good. Amazon, with its ability to draw in name talent, is impressively building on what Netflix and (rival streaming service) Hulu are doing," commented the Hollywood Reporter.

"This is huge, it's a game changer. There is nothing like this on television," its main star Jeffrey Tambor told AFP on the red carpet. "I couldn't be more proud."

It is not Amazon's first foray into producing its own original content - political comedy Alpha House debuted last year, but has so far failed to win the acclaim of Netflix series like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black.

House of Cards was the first online only show to win major awards nominations -- and a win last year for big-screen director David Fincher, while Orange is the New Black won two Emmys this year.

The pilot episode of Transparent is already available, while Amazon has taken a leaf out of Netflix's book by releasing the whole season to binge watch on September 26, rather than airing an episode per week.

The half-hour dark comedy stars the lugubrious Tambor - from Netflix's Arrested Development - as father Mort Pfefferman coming out as transgender Maura to his three adult children (who have their own secrets to divulge too).

The cast of the show, which is definitely for an adult audience, also includes Gaby Hoffman of the hit series Girls.

Adding to its creative heft it is directed by Jill Soloway, an Emmy-nominated writer on cult series Six Feet Under who won a directing award at the Sundance Film Festival last year for Afternoon Delight.

"Artistically, it's been a dream come true. I absolutely got to make the show I wanted to make," Soloway said, when the Amazon series was announced in August. "I am beyond excited to share Transparent with the world through Amazon.

Transgender roles in comedies are nothing new -- Orange is the new Black features Laverne Cox, who made it to the front page of Time magazine in her role as Sophia Burset.

But a transgender main character is rarer, giving the series -- the title of which is a play on words involving a gender-bending parent -- an edge in a crowded new market.

Soloway said the casting of Tambor wasn't difficult.

"Luckily I didn't really have to think about it, because from the very moment I had the idea in my head, Jeffrey was Mort to become" Maura, she told the Hollywood Reporter.

"It wasn't a decision, it was an intuitive feeling thing," she added.

Netflix and Amazon have taken starkly different paths: whereas Netflix went straight for heavyweights Spacey and Fincher, and even ordered two seasons straight at once, Amazon was much more cautious.

The online retailer's approach has been much more inter-active: in 2010 it launched a process which produced traditional pilot episodes, which it then put online for free to guage audience reaction.

Only then did it order a whole season.

Critics have lavished praise on what they have seen so far.

"It's a nuanced, gorgeous first half-hour, brilliantly performed and laced with melancholy and humor; you could confidently put it up against the best HBO or Showtime half-hour pilots of recent years," wrote Time magazine's reviewer.

"And the fact that platforms like Amazon now exist to give shows like this a chance says that not only Maura Pfefferman, but the TV business itself, is going through an exciting transformation," he said.

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