5 questions from the season 2 premiere of Transparent

1 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Transparent’ Season 2: TV Review.

Welcome home, Pfefferman family! The opening moments of Transparent’s second season – released early to subscribers to Amazon Prime – are a perfect encapsulation of what the show is all about.Season 2 of Jill Soloway’s loving portrait of a trans woman and her fractious family is as brilliant, complicated, exquisitely detailed and surprising as ever.The premiere of the second season of “Transparent,” the Emmy-winning Amazon series that explores transgender issues, will be available Monday night — nearly two weeks ahead of the season’s scheduled release, series creator Jill Soloway confirmed Monday on Twitter. It’s Sarah (Amy Landecker) and Tammy’s (Melora Hardin) wedding day in Palm Springs and the photographer is trying to get a shot of the entire Pfefferman clan.

The opening scenes of the first episode of Transparent season two are a lovely collage of reminders: of how much this show has been missed (which in turn is a reminder of how great and fresh it was in season one); what a relentlessly clanging, idiosyncratic mess the Pfefferman family is; what a wonderful, under-appreciated director Jill Soloway is; and at last — the exclamation point — what a magnificent actor Jeffrey Tambor is. Though it wasn’t expected for another couple of weeks, Deadline reports that the Emmy Award-winning show’s Season 2 premiere will hit Amazon at 8 p.m. Few shows navigate seemingly impossible pivots from tragedy to comedy with such offhand grace, and the Pfeffermans somehow manage to be frustrating, inspiring and profoundly vulnerable all at once.

In the hands of Soloway and her outstanding cast, the family’s fumbling attempts at self-knowledge pierce the heart even as they inspire rueful laughs. Prime users. (The rest of the season will debut on Dec. 11 for the U.S., UK, Germany, and Austria.) Just in time to help you recover from Thanksgiving with your own dysfunctional family. Soloway, a Chicago native and alumna of the Annoyance Theatre, based the series on her own experience of having a transgender parent. “I think Season 1 was all about the revelation,” Soloway told The New York Times recently about the evolution of the “Transparent” characters. “Who knows? His announcement not only filled a hole in her life, “it provided a missing piece in my understanding of myself and my ability to create authentic work,” Soloway says.

But it’s “moppa” Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) who is pulling focus as she worries about how best to present herself for the picture, schooled and consoled by her former wife, Shelly (Judith Light). Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) is still navigating what it means to live as a woman, but her storyline, while reliably compelling, does not necessarily dominate the season. The “authentic” work that grew out of dad’s announcement is “Transparent,” the program that brought the problems facing transgender people to the forefront of public consciousness.

Everyone in this sprawling and unconventional family mills around, shouting about their own concerns … until the photographer refers to Maura as “sir”. Judith Light, who plays the jittery matriarch of the clan, gets a bit more screen time this year — a welcome development — and each of her three adult children continue to struggle with a combination of delayed adolescence and earnest attempts to grow up. Judging by who’s included in the picture, it’s clear that this unconventional family has only gotten less conventional with time, and everyone’s feeling the strain of pretending to belong to a nice, normal family.

The series, which begins its second season on December 11 and has already been renewed for a third, is about the impact on a family when dad makes such an unexpected announcement. Just a few of the series’ many charms are its nimble energy and its ability to hopscotch between sadness and silliness without missing a beat; there are also scenes of pure joy, like a road-trip sing-along to the Indigo Girls classic “Closer to Fine.” “Transparent” is also ridiculously funny at times, and quite willing to send up the self-absorption of its characters while never losing sight of their pain and aspirations. It’s also the perfect continuation from the show’s first season, which showed Maura’s transition from male to female become the catalyst for all the other members of the family to change things about themselves too.

Each episode is packed with incidents, confrontations, revelations and ruminative flashbacks — Soloway freely borrows from soap operas, sitcoms and serious dramas, depending on the story being told — and yet the show’s greatest accomplishment may be that it unfailingly gives important moments enough space to breathe. Anyway, in the photo, neglected children cozy up to their parents: Bianca, the daughter of Tammy’s ex, is forcing a smile to the left of Sarah’s attention-starved kids, who are acting bratty not far from Colton, Josh’s college-aged son. Soloway is particularly interested in how people relate to each other physically and how pain and pleasure reverberate through bodies; the age, gender and physical appearance of the participants in a sex scene don’t matter to her as much as their emotional connection, an approach that infuses the entire series with a sense of sweetness and wonder. It’s a poignant image, since season 2 explores how parents’ decisions affect their kids, specifically the ways in which Maura’s coming out as a transgender woman has sent her grown children on a never-ending quest to redefine who they are. Soloway’s willingness to perform what amount to careful emotional autopsies puts her in the top rank of directors working today, in part because she pokes around inside the tough moments, not just the tender ones.

Soloway’s ability as a writer and director to capture the nuances of a family in flux — a family whose members’ own searching is amplified by one very big change at the center of it all — is masterful, and gives Transparent its delightful depth. Several standout scenes depict Josh silently reacting to emotional devastation and wrenching confusion; Soloway’s camera stands a respectful five or 10 feet away, but that distance is soaked in clear-eyed compassion. She didn’t want to go from one marriage to another; she wanted something she may not even have defined yet, that might have nothing to do with the romantic relationship she’s in. And season two proves almost immediately that this family, shaken up and set in motion, continues to hurdle forward even now that Maura is fully out and the family is both fully aware and fully supportive. Josh is holding Raquel tightly from behind while she smiles awkwardly, as if she knows she’s trapped in a situation that’s not quite happily-ever-after.

The way she panics at the altar and her breakdown in the bathroom is the most realistic depiction of anxiety I’ve ever seen on television (or whatever it is we’re calling shows on Amazon these days) and it is completely disquieting, especially since Josh and Ali seem so ill-equipped to deal with it. Soloway’s camera remains still for the entire sequence, capturing every nuance, air-kiss and strained interaction, and it soon becomes clear how pointless it is to try to represent everything that’s going on in a single image. This continued propulsion is immediately evidenced by the wedding — an event, not surprisingly, primed for both implosion and explosion (and both happen). Josh has gone from the wild child sleeping with all sorts of young wannabe singers to a guy with a kid and a serious girlfriend, who neither of his sisters like very much.

The Pfefferman clan picks up and sheds new members with astonishing and slightly terrifying speed, something anyone in their orbit soon finds out (and by the way, that opening scene — as well as the whole first episode — is available now on Amazon Prime). But while the big reveals are exciting and dramatic and something for Soloway to build the rest of (or most of) the season around, it continues to be Soloway’s mastery of little things — the idiosyncracies of her characters and their world — that make this series so special and fuels its emotional intensity. She’s someone who uses romance as an escape from her old life, instead of a way of building a new one, and we’ll see her making that mistake over and over again this season.

The only happy-looking couple in the portrait is Maura and Shelly, who are posing like newlyweds themselves, with Maura’s hands resting on Shelly’s shoulders. But Amazon vehemently loved it and even though they didn’t have any [other original] shows, I went with them.” Still, the unabashed success of “Transparent” was a bit of a surprise. “Since then, we’ve all had time to get used to [the show’s success], to realize it’s a part of a much bigger journey,” she says. “We feel that sacrifice — no, that’s not the right word.

Ali seems much better off than at the end of last season when she was struggling to find her way out of that gender confusion and short haircut of hers. We’re about three months of hair growth away from the funeral that concluded that season and while it seems as if everyone is celebrating, they’re all still as lost and self-centred as ever.

The five family members go through quite different experiences this season, but restlessness is a common trait, and the kids all share an inability to fully commit. Answering one set of questions or meeting one set of desires just leads to another set of revelations and consequences, an effect that might be exhausting for the characters around them, but for viewers, it can make for memorable parties and dates. It’s easy to relate to the conundrum that trips up the Pfeffermans: They want to feel safe and secure, and yet acquiring self-awareness and deepening relationships are hardly risk-free endeavors.

If Transparent has taught us anything, it’s that happiness and contentment are elusive destinations and that the pursuit of them is often full of heartbreak. Maura loses her way, but Shelly stays centered providing unconditional — if occasionally kvetch-filled — love to all, the ultimate “Yiddishe mama”.

But now that they have their “Moppa’s” example to follow, the Pfefferman kids have fewer reasons to keep secrets, and more motivation to live authentically — and maybe even thoughtfully. It’s also removed from the family home that has been central to so much of the drama, set on neutral territory as a transition from one owner to the next.

We see a room full of dramatically lipsticked cabaret singers, dancers wearing frilly lingerie, and other beautiful people, including the queer actress and writer Mel Shimkovitz, who played a bar mitzvah bartender last season, and the trans actress and model Hari Nef, who plays a major role in season 2. While the shot at the beginning is one of chaotic togetherness, the ending is just the opposite, with each character sequestered in his or her own room, struggling with the reality of their lives now that they’ve made so many radical changes. In the world of Transparent, this personal searching can often be frustrating and overly-dramatic; there is a certain kind of emotional carnage that the Pfeffermans both create and endure with annoying consistency.

I won’t spoil who Nef’s character is, except to say that her story line offers an interesting lesson in pre-war transgender history and helps illustrate one of the season’s major themes: that family trauma can be passed down through the generations. 3. Many of “Transparent’s” most beloved ideas come full circle in the graceful 10th episode, which uses this specific set of neurotic Los Angeles residents to access universal truths about pain, connection and the unlikely endurance of love. “You will learn to survive me” are the lyrics of a well-chosen song on the show’s soundtrack. This show is not for everyone, but those who stuck with the journey in season one are the core of the fan base that will return for season two, eager to jump back into that carnage.

But not Ali, who is looking out on to the horizon gazing towards her future without even knowing that she’s being visited – or haunted by – by a ghost from the past. She’s rocking some kind of gender-neutral, asymmetrical, deflated pompadour, which seems designed to show the world that she’s not done figuring out her sexuality or gender. Jeffrey Tambor, Judith Light, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, Gaby Hoffmann, Cherry Jones, Anjelica Huston, Carrie Brownstein, Kathryn Hahn, Melora Hardin, Bradley Whitford, Alexandra Billings, Hari Nef, Michaela Watkins Ali’s style has always been a point of contention with her family. (“You look like a f—ing punk-rock broccoli!” Josh once told her after an unfortunate haircut.) But throughout season 2, her hairstyles get even more creative.

But the ability of this amazing collection of actors to take Soloway’s plots and dialogue and keep it all grounded in a realism that seems plausible, harrowing, funny and touching is at least one element of the magical recipe that makes Transparent work, that sets the series apart. They also make for some hilarious insults. “That’s an interesting braid,” Ali’s friend Syd tells her in a different episode. “Did you join a new-wave polygamist cult?” 4. In season two, Transparent is impressively still in command of that volatile mix, delivering episodes that have heightened fallout but are dealt with in intimate, personal, often low-key scenarios. This is how the painful, unfair, difficult — and yes, sometimes beautiful, happy and memorable — moments of real life are processed in the real world. Clinging to that standard of realism while also allowing for the idiosyncrasies, flaws and challenging traits of the characters is what allows Soloway and Transparent to deliver so many emotional truths with such subtle power.

We can see Shelly, pulling Maura into a romantic embrace that’s sweet but also sad, because it feels like a reenactment of feelings they haven’t shared in a long time. The lyrics sum up each of these twosomes well as they spend the night together, each feeling totally alone. “Are you coming back?” Boman pleads. “I’m waiting.” 5.

Well, judging by their fights in this episode — each of them accuses the other of making everything “all about you” — we’re guessing the answer is no.

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