As the controversy surrounding the conduct of Jeffrey Tambor on the set of “Transparent” deepens, the speculation intensifies that the Amazon Prime series could conceivably move on to its next season without the star in tow.
It’s a possibility that might seem unthinkable to even the casual observer of this groundbreaking, critically acclaimed dramedy. Tambor has multiple Emmys and Golden Globe awards-that testify to how integral he is to “Transparent” — no small feat coming from a series on what was then a new streaming service.
But given the show is centered on Tambor’s role as a middle-aged professor who learns to embrace her transgender identity, removing the character of Mort/Maura Pfefferman is a high-risk move were “Transparent” to continue.
But it’s also possibly the only way Jill Soloway could go should the misconduct Tambor is alleged to be responsible for become an unacceptable distraction. The creator and executive producer of “Transparent” is an outspoken advocate of the progressive politics at the heart of the show, right down to the production that employs many transgender people at all levels. Unfortunately, it’s two transgender employees who are now stepping forward to accuse Tambor of behavior that Soloway would undoubtedly regard with zero tolerance.
However, a fifth season of “Transparent” without Tambor’s character is more conceivable when you consider the evolution of the series over the years.
What started out a series in which Maura Pfefferman was the clear focal point in its earliest days has made a subtle shift in ensuing seasons. “Transparent” has become more of an ensemble with every passing year, and the spotlight that shone so brightly on Tambor in the beginning has dimmed over time as his cast mates began to command more attention.
It’s a transition that has worked well for the series because the supporting cast behind Tambor may not match the rapturous level of acclaim he’s garnered, but they’re no slouches, either. There’s nary a weak link among Jay Duplass, Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker, Judith Light and a growing roster that fill out the universe the Pfefferman clan inhabits.
Now that “Transparent” is a more evenly distributed display of talent, it can withstand the loss of such a pivotal character.
But what’s also true about the series is that the departure of Maura Pfefferman can make sense as an organic extension of where the narrative was already headed. As “Transparent” explores in its fourth season, the gender confusion that Tambor’s character has pretty much come out the other side on is just beginning to take root in Pfefferman’s daughter Ali, played by Hoffmann. On a series that is so heavily geared toward exploring intergenerational themes, the notion that transgender issues could be examined from a fresh perspective through Ali’s eyes could actually be just the shot in the arm “Transparent” needs.
Like any series heading into a fifth season amid the crowded competitive field of the Peak TV era, “Transparent” needs to find a way to seem fresh. Truth be told, the groundswell of love that critics lavished on the series in its early days that was so crucial to its success has dissipated considerably (count me in the minority as someone who found the fourth season to reflect a show still at the top of its game).
All that said, removing Maura Pfefferman remains a gigantic risk for one simple reason: the star is the star is the star of the show. The chemistry of any great series is so fragile that even the slightest adjustment has repercussions.
But don’t be surprised if “Transparent” manages to pull off such an unlikely feat.