What spoiler-free thing to say about the first episode of the second season of "Transparent," which bowed Monday -- more than a full week ahead of schedule on Amazon Prime? Other than the obvious? That if you're a fan, your cup ranneth over, right onto your lap, and on your shoes, or bare feet, assuming shoes were optional at 8 p.m. Monday when this arrived.
And speaking of feet, this was as sure-footed a sophomore launch as a celebrated freshman series could have hoped for, re-energizing themes -- of identity and transformation -- and enriching them in the process.
With the first episode as guide, "Transparent" remains a very funny series masking a melancholy if not quite mournful heart. (What's happiness if you can't accept who you are or -- once finally accepting who you are, learn that others can't or won’t? A mirage or further confirmation of your existential despair? Just two of the little questions here)
"Sharply observed" was the usual critical plaudit that Jill Soloway's series picked up along the way last season, and certainly not wrong, but sharply observing what, exactly? Of a man who is, in reality, a woman -- Mort's (Jeffrey Tambor) gradual embrace of Maura -- but it's also a story of assimilation and the inexorable loss of identity in the process. The Pfeffermans are human puzzles, continually trying to assemble the pieces of their lives into a coherent whole, without knowing exactly what the whole should look like because they can’t quite figure out what pieces go together where. The process is funny, also chaotic and inconclusive.
Monday's opener closes with a song, "Waiting," by Swedish singer-songwriter Alice Boman -- a sort of dreamlike dirge to unattainable love, with the words, “I want you more than I need you ... are you coming back? ... I'm waiting ..." So go the Pfeffermans wanting and waiting.
Monday's opener is "Kina Hora" -- Yiddish for "evil eye," referring to Byrna, Maura's disapproving sister who attends the big white Jewish wedding of Sarah Pfefferman (Amy Landecker) and Tammy (Melora Hardin). She glances over at Maura, withers visibly, then comments:: "By God, look at you..." Maura then withers, visibly.
Byrna by the way is played by Jenny O'Hara, a veteran of stage and TV -- perfect here, as a human deadzone, reducing Maura to rubble and ruin.
The episode opens with a three and a half minute pre-credit sequence that may be the longest wedding photo session in TV comedy history -- not that anyone's kept track. It's all yammer and staccato -- chaos in motion, with everyone talking over everyone else, shifting positions, and reshifting positions, quipping (at will, or at random) in the process, while the hapless photographer helplessly attempts to capture that which cannot be captured. He’s a cat-herder and the cats aren’t of a mind to be herded.
From the din, a series of snapshots emerge, and the whole world of the Pfeffermans comes sharply into focus and out of focus (the picture really only steadies at the very end of the episode): "Chin up”..."did he call me sir?" …”how about a Jewish reference...?" …”None of those words end in a smile”...”he's collecting us like Lesbian pokemons..."
It's the perfect scene setter and mood-setter, and economic storytelling at its most economic. Also almost all you need to know about the Pfeffermans.
Or almost. My spoiler-free first impression of the second season? So far, so good. Really good.
The full season begins streaming Friday, Dec. 11.