THE SERIES “Transparent”
WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Amazon Prime.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT As Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) and Vicki (Anjelica Huston) draw closer, Maura begins to consider — unbeknownst to Vicki — the next major move in her journey: gender confirmation surgery. Oldest daughter Sarah (Amy Landecker) seeks to become a board member at the temple where Raquel (Kathryn Hahn) worships. Maura’s ex, Shelly (Judith Light), and Buzz (Richard Masur) get closer, too, while Shelly begins to discover and explore her own voice. Younger daughter Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), meanwhile, has to go to the dentist, where she has a nitrous oxide fever dream in which appear feminist playwright-poet Ntozake Shange and the world’s most famous transperson, Caitlyn Jenner. The three of them are playing “Wheel of Fortune.” The Pfeffermans also go on a cruise to Mexico this season.
MY SAY I came to the conclusion a while ago that either loving — or completely ignoring — “Transparent” was a personal decision, best left to the reader, who is, after all, you. Ignore it and your life will happily go on. There’s plenty of other stuff to watch. But ignore it and you ignore probably the most finely and intimately crafted series on the web (“TV” doesn’t quite fit in this context).
Tambor just won his second consecutive Emmy for outstanding actor in a comedy series, but that doesn’t quite allow for the fact that some of the other principals — notably Light, Hoffmann and Landecker — are equally outstanding. The third season is another reminder of all that.
But devotion comes with a price. “Transparent” refers to a trans parent, Maura, but the equally relevant definition is the other obvious one. This is a transparent portrait of a Jewish family through history and in the moment. The show isn’t just about gender identity but human identity, and makes the case that both are intimately, profoundly linked. But the Pfeffermans, each of them, remain outsiders, too — assimilated, but still alienated from the world and to varying degrees from themselves.
In a lecture to her class early in the season, Ali tells her students about the “asocials” of prewar Berlin — using the Nazi pejorative referring to those who didn’t conform to the ideals of the emerging Reich. “How many of you have had the ominous feeling that your very essence was taboo to those around you?” she said. “So the Jewish people have this escape legacy, but you don’t have to be Jewish to have this escape legacy.” But you do — she might have added — have to be a Pfefferman.
The third season draws you deeper and deeper into their psychic battle between self and self — always seeking the true self, never quite certain where that is. The journey they go on you must go on, too, and because the Pfeffermans are uncompromising, you have to deal with that as well. Their narcissism must become yours to a certain degree. There’s no halfway point. Either you’re all in or you flip to something else. As noted, there’s plenty of stuff to watch on the internet. This isn’t casual viewing, nor is it meant to be.
So is the price worth it? There’s beauty here, but there’s also pain. There may be an end to this journey, even if sometimes it feels like it’s just one big circle. But yes, the price is worth it.
BOTTOM LINE Based on the first three episodes, this looks like another finely crafted season. Also intense, uncompromising and demanding.