Diana Wich­tel

Be­hold the Pf­ef­fer­mans, as they pack up their trou­bles and head on over to Is­rael.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - DIANA WICH­TEL

Like an emis­sary from an al­ter­na­tive but un­nerv­ingly re­lat­able uni­verse, sea­son four of Trans­par­ent has landed. The Pf­ef­fer­man fam­ily con­tin­ues to or­bit around the trans par­ent of the ti­tle, Maura, for­merly col­lege pro­fes­sor Mort. This sea­son, Maura’s grav­i­ta­tional pull drags ev­ery­one – ex-wife, chil­dren, sis­ter – to Is­rael. “It’s like The Brady Bunch go­ing to Hawaii,” said the show’s cre­ator, Jill Soloway. Only more guns.

Maura – Moppa to the kids – is to de­liver a key­note lec­ture on gen­der and Ju­daism. Who bet­ter? “Let’s just hope that I’m bet­ter re­ceived there than the last Jew who went a-preachin’,” she muses to her ador­ing stu­dents.

Last sea­son, Maura threw away her Spanx and evolved her own style. She has a nice boyfriend called Don­ald. He’s not in­ter­ested in her lec­ture. “I’ve got all the gen­der and Ju­daism I need right here with you.”

First, iden­tity-chal­lenged youngest daugh­ter Ali de­cides to flee with Moppa to Is­rael. Her for­mer pro­fes­sor and lover is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing her stu­dents and has pub­lished an eye-wa­ter­ingly unattrac­tive poem about Ali in the New Yorker. “You gorged then walked away fart­ing flat­ware”, goes one of the more print­able lines.

Moppa and Ali get stoned on the way to the air­port on med­i­cal mar­i­juana-in­fused gummi bears. Maura gets stopped at the not-very-woke se­cu­rity scan­ner, which has picked up a “groin anom­aly”. Th­ese days Maura takes no shit. “If you want me to be a man, I’ll be a man. If you want me to be a woman, I’ll be a woman. If you want me to be a ­­­f--ing chicken, I’ll be a chicken,” she ad­vises the agent. Ali videos the in­ci­dent on her phone and it goes vi­ral. This se­ries makes Girls seem like Jane Austen.

“It looks like LA,” says Ali, when they ar­rive in Tel Aviv – a lit­tle in-joke; the Is­rael scenes were shot in Cal­i­for­nia. Soon, a fresh fam­ily rev­e­la­tion has the rest of the Pf­ef­fer­mans fly­ing in, bring­ing their self-in­volve­ment, in­creas­ingly weird sex lives and phantoms from their trou­bled pasts along as ex­cess bag­gage. It’s all go this sea­son.

It’s not all laughs. Ali meets a so­cial-jus­tice ­war­rior called Lyfe, who makes sure she gets some ­school­ing in the Pales­tinian ex­pe­ri­ence. This sort of sto­ry­line on a drama-com­edy is al­most ­guar­an­teed to be a bad idea. Trans­par­ent pretty much pulls it off, gen­er­at­ing some light along with the heat.

The fam­ily goes to pray at the West­ern Wall, eco­nom­i­cally il­lu­mi­nat­ing the sea­son’s theme of per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal bound­aries. Maura makes a bee­line for the women’s side. Ali re­fuses this most bi­nary of sit­u­a­tions and takes her­self and her man bun off to join the men. For once, no drama en­sues.

Will th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences make the Pf­ef­fer­mans less ob­nox­ious? Prob­a­bly not, but the show’s com­pas­sion­ate eye for its char­ac­ters’ ob­sti­nate flaws and their largely doomed at­tempts to over­come them is heart­en­ing in our troll-rid­den, hy­per­crit­i­cal times.

The fam­ily goes on a road trip. What can go wrong?

Josh is al­ready strug­gling with hav­ing his weapons-grade Jewish mother, Shelly, move in with him. In a scene that’s hi­lar­i­ous, alarm­ingly Freudian and ul­ti­mately mov­ing, he gets a gun les­son from the se­cu­rity guard and ends up with the weapon ac­ci­den­tally aimed at his mother.

On Trans­par­ent, fam­ily dy­nam­ics are of­ten played for laughs, but the stakes are high. With so much go­ing on, Maura is less cen­tral. For­tu­nately, the su­perb Jef­frey Tam­bor lends her a vivid emo­tional elo­quence, even when she’s just sit­ting there, breath­ing.

So has the se­ries held up as one of the most sub­lime, dis­rup­tive, au­da­cious prod­ucts of the golden age – or any age – of tele­vi­sion? Yes. Sea­son four is an un­ruly col­lec­tion of dys­func­tion, trans­gres­sions, trauma and knock-about com­edy packed into 10 22-minute episodes that defy you to stop watch­ing. Un­miss­able.

“You gorged then walked away fart­ing flat­ware”, goes one of the more print­able lines.

Un­miss­ably off the wall: Jenny O’Hara, left, and Jef­frey Tam­bor as sis­ters Bryna and Maura.

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