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‘Transparent’ review: Season 4 continues a family journey worth following

Jeffrey Tambor in a scene from season 4

Jeffrey Tambor in a scene from season 4 of Amazon Prime Video 'Transparent,' 2017. Credit: Amazon Studios / Jennifer Clasen

THE SERIES: “Transparent”

WHEN|WHERE: Season 4 starts streaming Friday on Amazon Prime

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor), back at college teaching again, has accepted an invitation to go to Israel to speak at an academic conference on Judaism, Cold War and Gender, and naturally she says yes. So does daughter Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) who decides to go with her. Upon arrival, they are pleased. Says Maura: “Here we are. Jews as far as the eye can see. But not as many yarmulkes as one would think.” Meanwhile, Shelly (Judith Light) has moved in with Josh (Jay Duplass) who joins a self-help group with Sarah (Amy Landecker).

 While there, Sarah meets an alluring group leader, Lila (Alia Shawkat) and Josh meets someone unexpected as well. Also this: The whole family ends up in Israel where they learn a deep family secret.

Besides Shawkat (“Arrested Development,” “Search Party”) there are a couple of notable guest stars: Jerry Adler (Hesh from “The Sopranos”) and veteran actor John Getz.

MY SAY The third season ended with a rough-hewn (but nice) cover of Alanis  Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” while the fourth ends with a rough-hewn version of “Everything’s Alright” from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Suffice it to say, an enormous amount happens between both musical bookends: personal crisis, visions, spiritual awakening, more crisis, family secrets, new career directions, sexual triangulation, child-rearing techniques, and a disturbing/hilarious encounter with TSA agents at LAX, which introduces a new phrase to the language (“groin anomaly”).

As usual, one’s tolerance for “Transparent” depends on one’s tolerance for the overbearing, over-sharing, boundary-blasting Pfeffermans. But here’s a guarantee: One won’t be bored and one will end this ride with an affirmation, once again, that love may come in all shapes and sizes, but love is still love. It’s a comforting note to end up on, or to quote the song, “everything’s alright, yes, everything’s alright, yes...”

In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, show creator Jill Soloway explained that the Pfeffermans’ trip to Israel is “like the Bradys going to Hawaii!” That’s probably not the first thought that will come to mind when you watch, but the travel analogy certainly works. Each of the Pfeffermans is on a life journey, together and singly, and what drives the show as much as them are the questions “where are they going?” and “how are they going to get there?”

Soloway knows her beloved characters certainly better than they know themselves, but there’s also the sense they’re all on the journey together. Where are they going? Who knows? (Least of all them, perhaps not even Soloway.) But the genial, organic flow of these unconventional lives is what makes “Transparent” so vital.

“Transparent’s” core five — Maura, Ali, Sarah, Josh and Shelly — are as screwed up as anyone else on the planet, but what continues to make them so endearing, or bearable, is the brute fact that they know that. Where are these Bradys really going and where will they finally end up? It won’t be Hawaii. You can be certain of that. It will be interesting, however.

BOTTOM LINE Never a dull moment, and never a wasted one either. Fans will love this season.

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