After more than a year, the Pfefferman clan returns for a new season with 2×01 ‘Kina Hora’. Let’s bitch it out…
Going into the first episode of Transparent‘s second season, I’ll admit that I was wary. How could the show possibly recapture the magic of that amazing first season – a batch of episodes so full of warmth, so genuine and so topical that it automatically vaulted into the annals of the best television of the year (it took home first place in the 2014 Bitch Awards). Surely there’s no way that S2 could reach the same heights?
I’m pleased to say that judging from the premiere, Transparent is just as good as ever. ‘Kina Hora’ accomplishes the challenging task of reintroducing the characters and launching the new season and series creator Jill Soloway manages to do so with style, wit and the series’ trademark family dysfunction. We start back with in a stunning four minute long take, filmed by Soloway (also in the role of director) in a static shot that puts all of the emphasis on her talented cast. It’s immediately clear that the Pfeffermans have gathered for a wedding (in contrast to their last reunion when they came together in black for a funeral). The scene is filled with bickering, tardiness and griping aplenty as the core cast, including Maura (Jeffrey Tambor), Shelly (Judith Light), Ali (Gaby Hoffman) and Josh (Jay Duplass), stand with brides Sarah (Amy Landecker) and Tammy (Melora Hardin), waiting interminably for more people to join them. The scene plays like an extended comedy rift as “non-family” members like Raquel (Kathryn Hahn), Josh’s new son Colton (Alex MacNicoll) and Bianca (Kiersey Clemons) join in, but it also imparts crucial information. The scene clearly communicates that the series is no longer simply about Moira and her transition (as much of S1 arguably was). Instead the family photo confirms that S2 is everyone’s story, with particular interest in how this unruly group comes together (and breaks apart) to form a family.
The idea is pervasive throughout ‘Kina Hora’ as each character has an opportunity to shine. If anything the premiere is a showcase for Landecker, whose Sarah suffers a panic attack during the ceremony and then abandons her bride during the reception to seek refuge in the bathroom. Sarah’s never been the most stable person (though she often seems more in control than her siblings) and her sudden realization that a marriage to Tammy isn’t what she wants is effectively communicated by Soloway’s editing decisions. The majority of the episode is filmed in a naturalistic approach that favours long takes and long shots. When Sarah has her breakdown during the ceremony, Soloway increases the number of cuts and shifts to tight focus shots that make everyone look sweaty and a little trippy.
There are plenty of other stand-out moments and more than a few narrative kernels to set the stage for conflicts to come, including the news of Josh and Raquel’s pregnancy (which spreads like wildfire thanks to Ali) and hints of a long-simmering conflict between Maura and his sister Aunt Bryna (Jenny O’Hara) involving their mother Rose. Overall, however, ‘Kina Hora’ is less about plot and more about feeling: the dancefloor sequence is infectiously celebratory, the warmth between former husband and wife Maura and Shelly is palpable, and the fight between Josh and Raquel, although brief, feels achingly real. Transparent doesn’t need the fiery pyrotechnics of other family dramas because it is etched in authentic moments. Soloway’s first season may have arrived just as the cultural zeitgeist was welcoming a wave of trans-friendly pop culture content, but that was never the series’ true raison-d’etre. What makes Transparent memorable is its sharp writing and painfully lived-in performances. That was true of S1 and, judging from this first episode back, it is true of S2.
Welcome back, Transparent. I’ve missed you.
- At one point, the verisimilitude of the proceedings is completely taken over by a surreal flashback. The detour occurs as Bri’s “strange boy” Simon’s (Bashir Naim) dance routine gives way to an extended sequence in a queer (or Jewish?) club in 1933 Berlin. AV Club identifies Bradley Whitford among the dancers (he was lost to me), though it is clear that there is at least one character that we are meant to pay attention to. Soloway’s camera may cut repeatedly during this sequence, but one individual dominates the proceedings: an exuberant dancer IMDB.com lists as Gittel (Hari Nef). The character also appears like a phantom in the final scene with Ali, which suggests that she has a major role to play in Ali’s season two arc. What that role is remains unclear for now.
- The final slow pan across each of the Pfefferman’s rooms – Josh and Raquel fighting, Shelly confirming Maura’s worthiness of love, Sarah and Tammy silently gripping each other’s hands and Ali walking outside alone – is beautiful and evocative. It plays out like the melodramatic closing montages of less competent series, but without the historionics or reliance on a moody pop culture song to infuse it with meaning.
- Maura may not be the center of Transparent‘s attention, but when the thoughtless photographer accidentally refers to her using the wrong sexual pronoun, she takes control of the proceedings and immediately ends the photoshoot. Naturally Tammy’s WASP-y clan then parades in and gets the shot in a single take.
- My favourite moment of Sarah’s breakdown? A tie: 1) her horrible out-of-the-blue comment that she hates Tammy and her entire family and 2) the look on her face when a plane with a WeBuyUglyHouses.com banner flies overhead during the ceremony.
- Finally, it’s hard to tell if Barb (Tig Notaro) will be a significant character this season or if she is only given some significant screentime because she’s played be comedienne extraordinary Notaro. I mean, you wouldn’t hire Notaro just to be a background player, right?
- One member of Tammy’s family: “I feel like Sister Wives” Another (in response): “Yeah, she’s collecting us like Lesbian Pokemons”
- Ali (when Maura incredulously inquires about Sarah and Aunt Bryna being friends on FB): “Yes, they’ve been playing Bejewelled Blitz for months!”
- Shelly (justifying how Colton is Josh’s child): “That builds comes from Rita’s father. He was a Norweigan shot putter apparently.”
Your turn: Are you happy to have the Pfeffermans back? Are you glad that Shelly seemingly has a larger role this season? Do you think we’ll meet Maura and Bryna’s mother? What did you think of the 1933 flashback scene? Will Josh and Raquel break up? Sound off below.
Transparent‘s entire second season is now available on Amazon. Check back a week Sunday for our review of the entire second season.