×

TV Review: ‘Transparent’ Season 4 on Amazon Prime

This year’s Emmy Awards provided a potent reminder of how fickle voters can be. After collecting multiple statuettes in key categories over its first few years, Amazon Prime’s “Transparent” got shut out in 2017. What once seemed as buzzy as a TV show can get has cooled off, as if the snubbed third season was indication of a show past its peak.

But diehard fans of Jill Soloway’s acclaimed dramedy can take heart in its fourth season: “Transparent” is as strong as it’s ever been, judging by the 10 episodes the streaming service released Friday.

A good chunk of this year’s episodes take the Pfefferman clan to Israel, where the baggage they unload doesn’t stop at Ben Gurion Airport. Three generations of Pfefferman get to squabble when Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) discovers the father (Jerry Adler, who played Hesh Rabkin on “”The Sopranos”) he was told had died is actually alive and very well in the Middle East, where he reinvented himself as a successful air-conditioning mogul. If being transgender hadn’t complicated Maura’s life enough, her confrontation with the father who abandoned her gives Tambor opportunity to prove all over again he can convey emotional agony with the best of his peers.

Were two Emmys really enough for this guy?

Meanwhile, the Pfefferman kids are as troubled as ever. Josh (Jay Duplass) is so haunted by the suicide of the babysitter who was his teenage love that he hallucinates her. It’s grim territory, but the beauty of “Transparent” is how it offsets the weight of its darker elements with such delightful humor that it never feels too much (and 22-minute running times also helps). The reunion of Sarah (Amy Landecker) and Len (Rob Huebel) plays much more for laughs as they revitalize their comatose marriage by taking on a third lover (“Search Party’s” Alia Shawkat). Complications ensue.

Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) has her own life messes to clean up, but her story this season — a West Bank romance, no less — takes an unexpected turn when Soloway uses her presence in Israel to ask some pretty pointed questions about the country’s treatment of its Palestinian neighbors. After seeing “Homeland” cover similar story this past season via Saul Berenson’s encounter with his settlement-dwelling sister, it’s interesting to see anti-Israel criticism pop up on American screens.

“Transparent” is certainly among the most Jewish-minded TV shows, and this season is a new watermark. But there is something incredibly authentic about its recreation of the emotional temperature of upper-middle-class American Jewry, its uneasy intimacies channeled with eerie authenticity.

If nothing else, “Transparent” succeeds this season as a travelogue that makes the country so entrancing that the Israeli Ministry of Tourism should give Soloway a medal. Not since Hannah Horvath packed up her pals for an adventure in Japan has a series made such good use of a vacation storyline.

If anything has changed about “Transparent” over the years, it’s a trend that seemed to pick up steam last season and continues into its fourth year: A show that once seemed to be Tambor in the lead role sucking up more oxygen than his supporting cast has gradually transformed into a more evenly distributed ensemble. That’s a natural outgrowth of how focused the first few seasons was on Tambor’s transformation from Mort to Maura Pfefferman.

Now that his character is more comfortable in Maura’s skin, he seems to have ceded scene time to the rest of cast, which works all too well. The best thing that can be said about “Transparent” is there isn’t a weak link anywhere to be found among its players. Even Judith Light remains remarkable even though she is saddled again with a weaker storyline involving improv comedy; it’s a credit to the actress that she elevates a role that could lapse into stereotype all too easily.

In the peak TV era, it’s easy to get enraptured by all the shiny new things that never seem too stop moving off the assembly line and neglect still vital shows just because the novelty wears off after a few seasons. “Transparent” demonstrates that being four years old doesn’t mean there isn’t still a lot of life left.

More TV

  • Love Island - Pictured: Kyra Green,

    TV Ratings: Is 'Love Island' Deserted?

    Two weeks have passed on “Love Island” and plenty of singles have coupled and uncoupled in their bid for love and a fat $100,000 pay check. However, there’s one couple that doesn’t seem to be hitting it off: CBS and “Love Island.” Ratings for the show have been far from paradisiacal, and with the network [...]

  • Jenny Wall Eryk Casemiro Nickelodeon

    Jenny Wall Named Nickelodeon CMO, Eryk Casemiro Named Senior VP of Nickelodeon Preschool

    Nickelodeon has hired two new executives, tapping Jenny Wall to become chief marketing officer and Eryk Casemiro to become senior vice president of Nickelodeon Preschool. Most recently CMO at Spotify-owned Gimlet Media, Wall will be responsible for all on- and off-air consumer marketing, brand creative and content launches across all of Nickelodeon’s platforms, including Nicktoons, [...]

  • Liz Garbus on Why We May

    Liz Garbus on Why The World May Never Know 'Who Killed Garrett Phillips'

    By the time Liz Garbus’s two-part documentary “Who Killed Garrett Phillips?” debuts on HBO, there could be a new public lead in the case of the murdered titular 12-year-old. As least, that’s what many may hope after the new St. Lawrence County district attorney admitted a new tip earlier this spring. Garbus says she would [...]

  • Mike Fleiss

    'Bachelor' Producers in Wait-and-See Mode Amid Police Probe Into Fleiss Incident

    Those working on “The Bachelor” and its sister shows are in wait-and-see mode as a domestic incident involving creator Mike Fleiss continues to be investigated in Kauai, according to sources close to production. The results of the police investigation are still pending, after Fleiss’ wife, Laura Fleiss, had accused him of attacking her in their [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Cable Blackouts Growing More Common, Even If Subscribers Get Angry

    Among media companies, “going dark” was once a matter of last resort. Now it’s an option that is seeing more light. CBS is not currently available on DirecTV or AT&T’s U-verse, the result of a battle over how much the two outlets’ owner, AT&T, ought to pay for the right to send CBS into millions [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content