The 10-episode second season was provided for review prior to release.
The 2015 premiere of Amazon’s delicately brilliant Transparent, unveiled earlier this week in advance of the second season’s release next Friday, is all about a wedding. More specifically, it’s about a Pfefferman wedding, which means witnessing the nuptials is like watching a slow motion head-on collision between clown cars. The cake is still getting sliced by the time just-remarried bride Sarah Pfefferman (Amy Landecker) is bawling her eyes out in the bathroom. She’s made a huge mistake, and now she knows it. “That was a moment… this is forever,” she unloads, having realized that the exciting new relationship she left her previous spouse for now reeks with the familiar odor of permanence. Everything new is old again.
Season 1 of Transparent certainly made for a moment in 2014, garnering a bevy of awards and raves (including our own), while also securing Amazon’s place at the streaming service adult’s table. Creator Jill Soloway, the standout cast and writers, and two of TV’s sharpest directors (Soloway and Nisha Ganatra) made the story of a wealthy, neurotic L.A. tribe grappling with identity politics into television’s Next Big Thing. Over the course of the first season, a show that could not have been more insular in its conception proved remarkably versatile and inviting. Instead of examining gender, sex, family, and faith from a fixed place, Transparent adopted a wide array of perspectives on how people navigate the constructs meant to define them, and what their value was to finding contentment.
In short, Transparent made for a shock to the system that could be felt amidst a deluge of programming that’s pushing the medium forward, and making viewer fidelity to a single content provider nigh impossible. One year later, and so, so much of what made that first season the revelation that it was holds true through the second. Maura Pfefferman’s (Jeffery Tambor) transition after a life spent as Pfefferman pater familias is Transparent’s main story catalyst, but the show continues to divide its attention between her experience, and the changes going on in the lives of her children. Those children, Sarah, Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), and Josh (Jay Duplass), remain petty, capricious, and screwed up individuals, but the real pain of watching them fail to become better people owes to the show’s intimate understanding of how easily our nature can overpower better intentions.
The second season finds every Pfeffermember exploring new circumstances, while still struggling toward ill-defined end goals. Maura is hesitant to define the physical boundaries of her womanhood, while Ali soon starts reciprocating the romantic feelings best friend Syd (Carrie Brownstein) recently expressed for her. Meanwhile, last season’s buzzer-beater reveal of Josh’s hunky, Christian, illegitimate son (Alex MacNicoll) exposes a rift in Josh’s relationship with knocked up rabbi Raquel (Kathryn Hahn). And in the season’s most consistently hilarious arc, Sarah’s retreat from her rediscovered lesbianism is just one component of a life implosion that leads to bad therapy, good weed, and a little kink.
The shift is ever so slight, but Transparent’s sophomore season is darker in some respects than the first, which seems a touch dramatic to say about a show this funny and light-footed. Soloway and her writers can go filthy to great effect (rare is the program where a character flossing while wearing a strap-on is simultaneously ridiculous and telling), but even small details, like someone forgetting to take off their sunglasses during a heart-to-heart, can kill thanks to the clear personalities dictating the manners humor. The opening scene of the season, a family photo that riotously devolves into a four-minute marathon of character comedy, tells you everything you need to know about what makes these people so alike as individuals, and so dysfunctional together.