Transparent: Season 2: a review

I can love a character without liking a character.

While watching the second season of Transparent, it occurred to me that I didn’t really like any of the characters on this show.

Maybe that’s a little harsh. I like Raquel the Rabbi, who is pregnant with Josh Pfefferman’s child during this season. And, I kinda like Colton, the son Josh never knew he had with the babysitter. Of course I like Syd Feldman because I like Carrie Brownstein in everything she’s in. Same for Richard Masur’s character Buzz, the Jewish Santa Claus, as one character describes him.

So, there are several supporting characters whom I like just fine.

I don’t like the Pfeffermans, though. These are the main characters in the series, a Jewish family in Los Angeles in which the patriach has decided to live his life as a woman. The series is still about Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambour) adjusting to living as a woman, but it’s not only about that. Maura’s ex-wife, Shelly (Judith Light), has a bigger role this season, and she’s great, if not wholly likeable. All of the Pfeffermans seem self-absorbed and psychologically fragile, with their loved ones taking the brunt of the damage they all seem to dish out.

The season opens with the same-sex wedding of Sarah Pfefferman and her girlfriend Tammy, a lavish affair that ends with Sarah calling the marriage off. Sarah left her husband in the first season for an old lesbian flame. In this season, she turns to self-destruction while sinking into drug use and some light S&M by season’s end. She no longer seems certain that she’s a lesbian, but it is certain that she’s one messed-up lady.

Ali Pfefferman, the most interesting of the Pfefferman children, transitions from being the adventerous heterosexual person she was in the first season to exploring her own lesbian side. It seems the Pfefferman family must have at least one lesbian member. This time, it’s Ali, who chooses to return the affection her friend Syd has admitted she has for her. Then, Ali proceeds to take Syd for granted, wanting to continue to explore her sexuality outside of their relationship after she becomes interested in her lesbian gender studies professor, Leslie.

Josh Pfefferman makes a feeble attempt at being a father to Colton, with less than satisfactory results. Then his relationship with Raquel runs into a roadblock. Josh seems comfortable with his sexuality (at least so far), but seems unable to avoid sabotaging his relationships.

And then there’s Maura, the “trans” parent that this show is at least nominally about. I applaud the fact that the writers allow her to be wholly human and flawed. Political correctness does not prevent the series from spotlighting an unlikeable trans character.

When I write that I don’t like these characters, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like the actors or the storylines. I love these flawed, unlikeable characters and think all of the actors in this series are doing a great job. Transparent has a weird dreamlike pace, and a musical score that I think would be terrific to listen to while drifting off to sleep. If possible, the Pfeffermans are even more Jewish in this season, and a portion of the episodes have been dedicated to flashbacks to 1930s Germany, exploring how the Pfeffermans emigrated from Germany and came to America. It seems their dysfunction came with them.

This is a show that’s difficult to categorize. It’s billed as a comedy for Emmy consideration. While it is genuinely funny on many occasions, these episodes run the entire gamut of emotions. An unsatisfied sadness seems to pervade the series at times, in fact. In structure, it’s less a television series than an actual art project. There never seems to be concrete beginnings, middles or endings to the stories. At times there doesn’t even seem to be a story. At a half-hour per episode, it is also the perfect length. I don’t think I want to spend more than 30 minutes at a time with these people. If you’re looking for familiar and comfortable, this show isn’t for you. If you’re uncomfortable with discussions of gender identity or sexuality, or if raw, often ugly, nudity is a game-ender for you, this show definitely isn’t for you.

But, it is a great show. I’ll be watching more.

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