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Transparent still has the most real family dynamic you’ll find on television

With season four arriving to Lightbox tomorrow, Sam Brooks previews the return of excellent family dramedy Transparent.

I dilly-dallied on watching the third season of Transparent, which I am ashamed about now. Season two ended with one of the strongest images I’ve seen on TV – the image of a baby being born many decades ago, screaming and crying, followed by a smash cut to a woman being reborn, staring helplessly out at the ocean. It encapsulated what television can do, and especially what this show can do. It can sum up a life in a moment, in a cut, with a humanity that is unmatched by any other show on television.

Season three was another excellent season of television, and it’s to this shows credit that even when it sprawls outwards, it manages to keep such a tight view of the Pfefferman family, as believably flawed and sometimes monstrous as any group of characters on television, and as upsettingly human to watch. When these characters fucked up – and they did so frequently – you didn’t hate them, you understood them. When Josh went on his ill-fated and horrible road trip with Shea and said some stupid things, it was awful and I hated him for it. I also completely believed that this character would say things – when haven’t we said incredibly offensive things out of both anger and ignorance?

The first episode of season four of Transparent (dropping this weekend on Lightbox) widens the scope of the show significantly. Maura is going to Israel, Shelly is moving in with her son as she figures out how to be a new person (the highlight of last season was the Pfeffermans finally, finally recognising Shelly as her own person), Abi’s girlfriend is being investigated, Josh is still the worst, and Sarah is still far, far too relatable.

It is also, crucially, widening the scope of the show past Maura’s transition. The show has always been remarkably dexterous at keeping Maura’s transition as the main focus while examining the other characters and their more metaphorical transitions, and it’ll be fascinating to see the show treats Maura as it proceeds along this path. We’ve seen Maura as a woman in crisis, a woman who has found and is securing her identity, and it’ll be another wall that Transparent is breaking down if it decides to explore Maura and what ‘normal’ looks like for her.

But it’s the performances that make Transparent from a simply great show into something special. Much has been made (correctly so!) of Jeffrey Tambor playing a trans character and the dubious nature of that, and it’s a credit to the show that it has addressed this by including more trans performers in significant roles. Tambor continues to be excellent, and fills out Maura as more than just a tragic character, she is full of life, humour and an incredibly unattractive desire to put herself at the centre of every situation.

The rest of the cast is as good, especially Judith Light, who manages to turn what could be a stereotypical comic relief Jewish mother into a fully-fleshed out person, and Gaby Hoffman, who manages to play Abi’s mixture of not-knowing-what-the-fuck-to-do attitude with a I-don’t-care-if-you like-it mask, and it’s goddamned heartbreaking.

Transparent has turned into more than a show about trans issues (which is a lot and is a great thing), it’s become a show about a family who manages to be made up of a thousand beautiful, disparate parts, but still manages to function as a unit. It’s beautiful, it’s real and it makes me cry and laugh a lot.

I feel more human watching Transparent, which is the point of art in the first place, so go watch it.


Haven’t had a weekend with the Pfefferman’s yet? Catch up on Transparent on Lightbox below before S4 arrives tomorrow (Saturday 28 Oct):

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