Friday, September 30, 2016

Amazon Prime TV Review: Transparent, Season 3 (2016)

Transparent Season 3 poster
Transparent, Season 3 (2016) - Created by Jill Solloway; Starring Jeffrey Tambor, Gaby Hoffman, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, Judith Light, Kathryn Hahn, Rob Huebel, Anjelica Huston, Richard Masur, Michaela Watkins, Michael Stuhlbarg.

By Kenny Howell

It would be easy to dismiss the praise of Transparent because of the important issue it deals with.

There have been movies or TV in the past that have got an extra pat on the back because of how it dealt with social issues, but that would diminish what Transparent has done over three seasons.

In the third season premiere, which debuted last week on Amazon Prime, we see Maura now working in a LGBT suicide prevention hotline when she gets a troubling call of a young trans woman who is at her wits end. When they get disconnected, Maura goes and searches for her, but a health episode puts an end to it.

That brings her family into the mix, which is where Transparent is at its best. It is known as the TV show about the trans woman, and why that is important, it really is a family drama, and a really good one at that. The show works better, at least on most occasions, when the family is together. I could watch a separate show just on Sarah and Josh (Amy Landecker and Jay Duplass), but even they really shine when they are together with the rest of their family. They also take a trip to the past in each season, and the one in the third season with great guest stars Michaela Watkins (In a World) and Michael Stuhlbarg (Blue Jasmine), which comes near the end, is just as brilliant as season 2's look back at Germany during the rise of the Nazis.

In the third season, Maura is preparing for her transition, Josh is trying to come to grips with everything as always, Sarah is chasing her spiritual side by becoming more active in her synagogue, Ali is teaching and traversing a relationship with academic Leslie and Shelly is planning a one-woman show called To Shell and Back, which is really just their ways of self-discovery. Judith Light gets more time to shine this season, and she really rounds out the character of Shelly as we learn a bit more about her, some of which is horribly tragic.

What is great about Jill Soloway's series is that the family is not all good. It would be easy to prop them up as the moral driving force of the show, but they are far from it. They wreck everything episode after episode, sometimes through selfishness, but there is good in them, and you do want them to get things in order. It's the key to the series, that balance that Solloway and all the great actors  like Jeffrey Tambor in the lead have found. You don't pity them necessarily, but you also don't totally admire them all the time, though you do admire the chances they take. They are just like everyone out there, just trying to find their way, but by fault of their own a lot of the time, the road there can be quite bumpy.

Rating: ***1/2

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