TRANSPARENT Season Two Review

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The first season of Amazon’s out-of-the-blue hit series TRANSPARENT ended with a funeral, so it’s only fitting that the new season begins with a wedding. Some time has passed since the events last season, and the Pfeffermans have been able to pull it together to celebrate the union of Sarah and Tammy. Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura has finally settled into her new role in the family, and everyone seems to have accepted her identity. It appears to be a joyous occasion for all involved, so it’s obvious that something is about to go completely, irreversibly wrong. Sure enough, TV’s most troubled trainwreck of a family is back in peak, dysfunctional form.

TRANSPARENT’s second season is just as long (and by that, I mean short) as its predecessor, clocking in at just under five hours across 10 episodes. This time around, however, the series does a much better job balancing screen time between all of the Pfeffermans. No one felt left out in this season, a far cry from the previous Maura-dominated narrative. Josh and Ali, the previous weak links, enjoy much more captivating arcs, and Shelly, who was all but MIA before, finally gets a place of her own on center stage. Though TRANSPARENT doesn’t take long to say its piece, it still manages to tell an incredible amount of stories in its limited timeframe.

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And all while staying kosher!

As for how good those stories are, mileage varies. Ali’s sexual awakening is fully explored in a manner similar to Maura’s, and Josh is suddenly provided with a new family, and the responsibilities that come with it, in the form of Raquel and surprise son Colton. While Maura’s attempts to reconnect with Shelly and struggle to commit to her transition are by no means weak, it’s the tales of these younger Pfeffermans that steal the show. Sarah is the only one who feels out of place. Despite being one of the more interesting stories of the first season, Sarah’s story here is aimless, fitting given her spiral of self-destruction, but comparatively unengaging viewing nonetheless.

The supporting cast, luckily enough, is an absolute home run. Standouts include Alex MacNicoll as Colton, whose clumsy and innocent demeanor is immediately endearing, as well as newly introduced Cherry Jones as Leslie, Ali’s radical feminist mentor. PORTLANDIA’s Carrie Brownstein returns as Syd, in a much more welcome and prominent role. Old staples like Davina, Tammy, and even weed dealing Dr. Steve are presented with fresh new takes. Len is still Len, but that can only be a good thing. As with the the main cast, the performances here are all delightful and add a wealth of character to the show.

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Sleater? I hardly know ‘er!

The weakest part of the season, by far, are the flashback sequences. Season one’s flashbacks were as fun as they were insightful. They offered much needed background on not only Mort’s transformation into Maura, but also how Sarah, Josh, and Ali grew into the  adults they are now. The flashbacks in this season are just bizarre. They follow Grandma Rose, who was mentioned offhand last season, living in Berlin in 1933. Her brother, Gittel, identifies as a woman, and her strict Jewish mother doesn’t approve. The Nazis come and ruin everyone’s day, and Rose and mom end up coming to America. It’s a limp-wristed and yet overtly conspicuous attempt at allegory (all the Berlin flashback characters are portrayed by the actors from the earlier flashbacks), completely falling flat. The story here is irrelevant and unrelated to the main narrative, only serving to confuse the viewer.

The other issue with TRANSPARENT season two isn’t immediately apparent, but rather creeps up as an insidious realization upon completion. Yes, it can’t be denied that this new run is a huge improvement over the premiere, but not in a sustainable manner. Resources were diverted to the weakest areas (Josh, Ali, Shelly) at the expense of the strongest (Maura and Sarah) in the form of scenes and side characters. This made these parts of the show vastly more entertaining, but also highlighted how weak said characters are without a strong supporting cast. On his own, Josh is uninspired, and Ali’s personal connection to the lackluster flashbacks doesn’t hold a candle to her interactions with Syd and Leslie.

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Who invited the fakakta critic?

Even more worrying is the diminishing focus placed on Maura. Practically everything about her transition has been covered in the first season, meaning all that she has left to do is (ever so slowly) follow through. Sadly, that leaves less room for her, and this is where the aforementioned crutches come in. Significantly greater focus is placed on the L over the T in LGBT this time, and it can be argued that the overall theme of the season has nothing to do with sexuality at all, but rather the Jewish experience. None of these would even be issues if the show wasn’t called TRANSPARENT, which unfortunately leaves our central character as a mere token, rather than an empowering icon.

Make no mistake, TRANSPARENT’s second season is well worth the watch. These are some of the most genuine characters you’ll become attached to on TV and it’s impossible to not sympathize with each of their struggles. It’s just a shame that the same can’t be said for the show itself. While season one was sloppy, it was at least earnest in a way that that this season’s manufactured success can’t claim. Amazon has clearly found a winning formula here, but TRANSPARENT, like GIRLS, GAME OF THRONES, and THE WALKING DEAD before it, doesn’t seem willing to take any more risks. While the sun is bright right now for TRANSPARENT, the same can’t be promised for the future. Hold off on your Tambor tattoo for now, let alone the signed poster to place on your wall. Instant is the best place for this show.

Verdict: Recommend

TRANSPARENT is available to watch in its entirety on Amazon Prime

Ed Dutcher is the Video Games Editor here at Crossfader. The last time Ed had a meal that wasn't microwaved, George W. Bush was president. He only learned to read so that he could play Pokemon.

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