January 19, 2016

The problem with the mass dumping of entire seasons of TV shows onto streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon is that once you’ve ingested them whole, you’ve a good 12 months to go before you can next digest fresh plot. It can be difficult to find your way back into the intricacies of the story, to remember who raped who, who aborted whose child or who was attacked by what prostitute, where, when and why.

The joy of a show like Transparent- which is back on Amazon as we speak, is that unlike, say, House of Cards, it’s the minute details- the feeling, suppressing and transducing of emotions- that grip. The details of the story may be foggy, yet the spray from the emotional swell is bitterly familiar and addictively distressing.

We rejoin the self-involved Pfefferman’s at the wedding of eldest child Sarah (an empathy inducing Amy Landecker) to Tammy (Melora Hardin, excellent).

When one character describes weddings as a very expensive play, we cop that everyone here is playing a part, and like all bad actors their true personal motivations overpower their attempt at staying true to that part.

The wedding becomes metaphoric. Characters are in search of stability. Of connection. Of definition. It matters not who they trample on to get there, nor will ‘getting there’ bring them the resolution they expect.  

Transparent is a well-deserved pity party thrown in honor of the inherent selfishness of ones own self-preservation. Part piss-take, part love-song to the creeds that guide and corrupt us on our journey through life, Judaism, feminism, class and sexual mores are skewed in this gorgeously shot dramedy, where West Cost chic allows shitty behavior to float.

Sarah leaves her new bride with the same suddenness she ditched her ex-husband, and becomes consumed with finding a solid foundation- all the while engaging in behavior that upends her world.

Her brother Josh (a heartbreaking Jay Duplass) reveals he is expecting a baby, embracing his Pater-in-waiting status as feverently as he does his responsibility to a newly discovered teenage son- without consideration for how this impacts his Rabbi bride-to-be, Raquel (Kathryn Hahn, devastating).

While Ali (Gaby Hoffman, at her most absorbing), the youngest daughter atones for her sins in season one, by repeating them in Season 2, using her father’s journey as a match to light the political theories that pass through her, like flatus.

Having dealt with her children’s self-absorption, Maura’s own transition from Mort (Jeffrey Tambor) is challenged constantly by the privilege she enjoyed as a man. The wife she continues to abandon, the women she blackballed when working as a professor, the working class trans women whose existence she compassionately scorns.

Creator Jill Soloway’s lens keeps spinning, shifting sympathy and scorn on these women too, their prejudice, their flaws, their hurt, their shame, tumbling back in time to investigate inherited trauma, the damage of doctrines and the fickle openness of society in a gloriously shot series of flashbacks- set in Weimar Berlin, but that crash chaotically into the present day.

Each moment exists as if it’s the shows only concern. Every act a character commits leaves you screaming silently at the screen like Mother Courage, (for fear you wake the sleep-Nazi in the bed beside you) unable to tear your eyes away from the raw, funny horror unfolding before them, while at the same time dying from the mortification, pity and sulky sadness woven between their lives and your own.

It’s a show about the bonds that bind us and the damage they do to ones sense of self, as characters twist themselves into knots to find the happiness they’ve been told they’re due.

When do we stop growing up? At what point do we stop putting our happiness before others? Or should we? These are the core seeds planted by Soloway, that bloom and wither and then repeat that process over the course of a 10-part series that is devastating in its faultless performances, instinctive script and openness to every interpretation of how to live a life.


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