'Transparent' takes a trip to Israel

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Transparent (Photo: Amazon)

By now, you pretty much know what you’re going to get with Transparent. The Pfefferman family — Maura (Jeffrey Tambor), her adult children Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass) and Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), and ex-wife Shelly (Judith Light) — will talk about their frustrations, their miserableness, their fleeting joys. That talk will be directed at each other, words thrown like weapons. Is this the most self-absorbed clan in Los Angeles? It may be. And so the show, created by Jill Soloway, attempts to do something new this season: coming up with a many-episodes-long plot about the Pfeffermans taking this show on the road, with a trip to Israel.

As a change-up intended to place the family in a new, revelatory context, it doesn’t quite work: The Pfeffermans just get on a tour bus and kvetch about the same stuff — their eternal quest for satisfying identities, resolutions to their childhood traumas, and searches for more food to snack on. In the 10th episode of the 10-episode season, Maura accuses a non-Pfefferman of being “privileged,” and I almost spit out my tea. Pot-calling-the-kettle-blacking does not get more blatant than this.

Actually, the series’ most fruitful new storyline turns out to be an L.A.-based one: Sarah’s newly close friendship with a teacher, Lila, played by Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development and Search Party). They bond in a sex-addicts support-group meeting (that meeting, which eventually also includes Josh, turns into its own subplot), and Sarah, Lila, and Sarah’s husband, Len (Rob Huebel), start hanging out. Soloway and her writers try hard to get the characters out of their houses and doing things this season. It requires all of Judith Light’s innate charm to redeem a trite running gag about Shelly’s taking an improv class at the L.A. chapter of the Upright Citizens Brigade in an attempt to locate her truest self.

As always, the Pfeffermans are a constant font of emotional secrets bursting to be revealed, and that’s one of the problems with the new season: It’s almost impossible to believe that, with all the endless jabbering and confessing they do, that there could possibly be anything the family hasn’t already told each other.

Transparent is streaming now on Amazon Prime.

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