"Becoming Us" — Between the success of the Amazon series "Transparent" and the appearance of
ABC Family's new docu-series "Becoming Us" addresses both with great humanity, examining the pain and joy of two families in which the father is a transitioning transgender woman. Seen through the eyes, and many screens, of Ben, a Midwestern teen, "Becoming Us" chronicles both the emotional upheaval and resilient normalcy of a family in which Charlie becomes Carly. That Ben's girlfriend, Danielle, has experienced some of the same things during her own father's transition, while seeming beyond coincidental, adds a marvelous depth and breadth to the story while providing a necessary reminder that no two people experience anything in the same way. Where Ben's father Carly is very out and frank, Daniella's father is less comfortable in public.
Though certainly a welcome demystification of the topic, "Becoming Us" is not so much a transition story as it is a portrait of two families. In early episodes Ben's grades are an issue, as is his stepsister's wedding and a friend's rocky relationship with his girlfriend's brother. Just as being transgender is but one aspect of a person's life, it is also but one part of a family's life.
All of the participants are smart and interesting people, but Ben and Daniella stand out as two of the most honest and best-hearted kids on television. ABC Family, Mondays, 9 p.m.
"Orphan Black" — I feel like I haven't said enough about "Orphan Black" this season, which remains one of my favorite shows, possibly ever, and, three seasons in, never ceases to surprise with its twists and turns all anchored by Tatiana Maslany's continued astonishment of a performance. Even as Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) rescues Helena at great cost (RIP Paul!) and Cosima fades dangerously into Camille territory, even as now one-eyed Rachel may or may not have cracked the code that may or may not save Cosima's life and the Castor clones pit themselves against their half sisters, ol' Alison delivers a beautiful campaign speech on redistricting that turns into a treatise on the nature of family.
So maybe I haven't said much this season because there's really only one thing to say: Everyone should watch "Orphan Black" because it is amazing. BBC America, Saturdays, 9 p.m.
"Penny Dreadful" — Here's a thing that rarely happens: I hated this show last season and now I love it.
From the moment it debuted, the title, the lingering camera work, the haphazard assemblage of "monsters" seemed to me both derivative and damaging. None of the works referenced, from "Frankenstein" to "The Picture of Dorian Gray" remotely fit the description "Penny Dreadful." Instead, they were masterpieces, not only of horror but of the importance of horror. We need our monsters to keep us human, not to band together for vague purposes of looking like an Edward Gorey painting and saving London from vampires. Even Timothy Dalton couldn't keep me interested.
But now that those vampires have coalesced into a "family" headed by the deliciously malevolent Evelyn Poole (Helen McCroy) and the story has shifted from the assemblage of the characters to a team narrative, grounded in but not limited to a finally comprehensible Vanessa Ives (