Next Friday (December 11), the Los Angeles-based Pfeffermans -- Maura (Jeffrey Tambor), Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), Josh (Jay Duplass), Sarah (Amy Landecker), and Shelly (Judith Light) -- will make their way back to Amazon, in 10 brand new installments of the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning "Transparent." The first episode will be released nationwide tonight (November 30), meaning it's finally time to tell you what MTV News thought of the season, which we were able to screen in its entirety in advance.
In short? It's awesome. In long? Well, here's what we thought of series #2, which finds Maura dealing with the fact that, for a trans woman, there's so much more that comes after coming out to one's family.
It deals with a big trans question in a thoughtful-slash-heartbreaking way.Amazon
Throughout Season 1, we saw Maura tackle what she probably assumed would be the toughest challenge in her entire life: Telling her family and friends that she is trans. However, now that she's out, we now find her tackling the same kinds of (ridiculously intrusive) gender reassignment surgery questions that plague real-life trans figures like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox.
These moments -- where Maura is hit with issues she never in a million years thought she'd deal with, after living 70-ish years as a privileged cisgender white man -- are some of the season's strongest, especially since they include Maura's trans friends, who are easily the most interesting people on the show, and currently the most important people in her life. There are moments of tenderness between these women that Maura can't really have with anyone in her family; moments that show how important it is to know people who are Just Like You.
I could have easily watched an entire season with just Maura's trans posse, if it wasn't for...
It deals with feminist exclusion in a thoughtful-slash-heartbreaking way.Amazon
Ali's plot line largely deals with her journey at UCLA (or is it USC?), as she discovers radical feminism, and specifically a radical feminist who used to know Maura when she was Mort, played by Cherry Jones ("24"). These scenes often feel like a distraction from the Maura stuff -- yes, we know that Gaby Hoffmann has natural body hair and likes saying "vagina," we've seen it on "Girls" -- but the payoff in episode nine (the series' strongest, IMO) is spectacular.
A quick Google search on "feminist trans exclusion" will tell you that this is a painful and ongoing issue, and that "Transparent" took it on so beautifully and thoughtfully -- at a women-only music festival! -- will probably put another Emmy in Jill Soloway's capable hands come next fall.
Again, one of the best things about "Transparent" Season 2 is its central theme that coming out is only step one, and never is this more apparent (and appalling) than when Maura realizes that those who should be most accepting can actually be the most blind to the pain of others.
It deals with trans dating in a thoughtful-slash-heartbreaking way.Amazon
When "Transparent" premiered last year they never could have known that Maura's journey would coincide with Caitlyn Jenner's -- but boy, does it ever, especially when it comes to the presumably awkward, occasionally awful issue that is dating-while-trans. Maura's fear of rejection is awful to watch, but we also get to see some moments of triumph from her, however small.
Tambor is spectacular at conveying just how awkward and occasionally demeaning -- or alternately, empowering -- it is for Maura to flirt and sexually engage for the first time as a woman. It looks like being a teenager all over again, just without the Flash-quick metabolism and tight skin, which is something that literally no one wants, ever.
Flashbacks reveal a hidden Pfefferman family secret.Amazon
You thought I was going to say "thoughtful-slash-heartbreaking" again, didn't you? Well, to be fair, the flashbacks to Pfefferman family ancestors in Weimar-era Berlin were exactly that, but still. What stood out about the dreamy, Michaela Watkins-led flashbacks were that some issues -- family issues, mostly -- are eternal. That's all I can really say without exposing a whopper of a Pfefferman secret, but know that the moody Berlin scenes include some of the best music you've heard on "Transparent," which is saying a lot.
The rest of the Pfeffermans are all (slightly) more tolerable.Amazon
If there's any reasonable complaint about Season 2, it's that Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass), and even Shelly (Judith Light) don't see Maura as often as they did in Season 1, so sometimes their scenes (like Ali's) felt like a distraction from the truly meaty stuff happening with Maura. But on the positive side, all of them -- especially Josh, who DEAR GOD I wanted to slap in the face last year -- are seemingly doing their best to become better, more caring people in Season 2. (Except for that one time when Sarah spills a $495 makeup palette on the floor and doesn't tell its owner -- but, like, would you?)
Josh's story in particular has some strong beats, as Kathryn Hahn's Rabbi Raquel is a pretty great (and unusually lovable, for this show) audience surrogate into Pfefferman life, and Sarah's journey has some... interesting... payoff. Still, my main hope for Season 3 is that they'll find a way to more heavily integrate the rest of the Pfefferman family into Maura's life, as those moments play better than the rest.
It's really, really funny.Amazon
Much like Season 1, "Transparent" isn't a laugh-a-minute kind of show. But there are at least a couple of belly laughs in each episode -- Shelly asking the photographer to say Jewish stuff to get the family to smile during the awkward family photo had me in stitches -- and even though this is not a traditional comedy, there is tragicomic humor in almost every Pfefferman family situation.