Amazon sneaked out the first episode of “Transparent’s” second season via its Prime service last night, and although the other nine won’t premiere until December 11, that was the cue for critics to release the first reviews of the full season. Plot details are kept to a minimum — except by new Time critic Daniel D’Addario, who perhaps not coincidentally is the least enthusiastic about the new episodes — but it’s enough to know that the show does in its second season what it ought to do, which is to continue expanding the focus beyond Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura Pfefferman and giving the other members of her family stories of their own. Creator Jill Soloway, who directed nine of the 10 episodes herself — although names like Andrea Arnold and Stacie Passon were reported as guest directors for the season, only “The Diary of a Teenage Girl’s” Marielle Heller made it onto the call sheet — is singled out for developing a visual style that’s not like anything else on TV, allowing scenes to breathe in long and medium shots rather than pushing in for close-ups, most dramatically in the unbroken four-minute take that opens the first episode and the season. While some find the Pfefferman’s self-obsessions starting to wear thin, the show holds them to account as the season goes on, reminding us that their experience is constrained by variables of race, class, and cultural background, even if they can’t always see the privileges they have that others lack. TV critics who’ve started putting together their year-end lists have already remarked that getting it down to 10 titles has been exceptionally difficult this year, and for many, “Transparent” is going to force them to remove another name from the list.
Reviews of “Transparent,” Season 2
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter
Soloway’s ability as a writer and director to capture the nuances of a family in flux — a family whose members’ own searching is amplified by one very big change at the center of it all — is masterful, and gives “Transparent” its delightful depth. Maura’s bold transformation is as much a personal triumph as it is a catalyst for the rest of her family. And season two proves almost immediately that this family, shaken up and set in motion, continues to hurdle forward even now that Maura is fully out and the family is both fully aware and fully supportive. This continued propulsion is immediately evidenced by the wedding — an event, not surprisingly, primed for both implosion and explosion (and both happen). But while the big reveals are exciting and dramatic and something for Soloway to build the rest of (or most of) the season around, it continues to be Soloway’s mastery of little things — the idiosyncracies of her characters and their world — that make this series so special and fuels its emotional intensity. In the world of “Transparent,” this personal searching can often be frustrating and overly-dramatic; there is a certain kind of emotional carnage that the Pfeffermans both create and endure with annoying consistency. This show is not for everyone, but those who stuck with the journey in season one are the core of the fan base that will return for season two, eager to jump back into that carnage.
Maureen Ryan, Variety
Each episode is packed with incidents, confrontations, revelations and ruminative flashbacks — Soloway freely borrows from soap operas, sitcoms and serious dramas, depending on the story being told — and yet the show’s greatest accomplishment may be that it unfailingly gives important moments enough space to breathe. Soloway is particularly interested in how people relate to each other physically and how pain and pleasure reverberate through bodies; the age, gender and physical appearance of the participants in a sex scene don’t matter to her as much as their emotional connection, an approach that infuses the entire series with a sense of sweetness and wonder.
Soloway’s willingness to perform what amount to careful emotional autopsies puts her in the top rank of directors working today, in part because she pokes around inside the tough moments, not just the tender ones. Josh Pfefferman (Jay Duplass) is the ultimate L.A. music-industry dude-bro, and yet the actor and the showrunner expertly find ways to expose the terrified little boy underneath his hipster demeanor. Several standout scenes depict Josh silently reacting to emotional devastation and wrenching confusion; Soloway’s camera stands a respectful five or 10 feet away, but that distance is soaked in clear-eyed compassion.
Mark Peikert, The Wrap
Season 2 plays as if Soloway took a look at her deep bench of supporting actors and realized that she had one of the best talent pools in the business. In addition to Hahn’s continued presence as Josh’s increasingly bemused partner, Light is also given much more to do; a scene early in the season with Tambor’s Maura will surely be among the most talked-about of the year, but there’s nothing salacious or gratuitous about it. Likewise, Hardin’s performance as Tammy, limited mostly to brusque forthrightness in the first season, has grown exponentially as Tammy becomes one of the more potent victims of the Pfeffermans’ obliviousness to others. But towering above them all is Tambor’s Maura, a momentous creation and the role of a lifetime. Maura’s storylines are even richer this season, as she ponders fully transitioning, navigates her new life in the family, and learns how to correctly say “yas queen.” The show is often laugh-out-loud funny, and Maura is a large part of that, but Tambor never allows you to forget that this is a very real, painful situation and human lives are at stake. For a TV show, the stakes don’t get much higher and Soloway nails it all with ease. Here’s to what she does to top it all in Season 3.
Daniel D’Addario, Time
In “Transparent'”s second season (whose first episode streams tonight before the whole season drops on Amazon on Dec. 11), a character whom the Pfefferman family has treated somewhat shabbily crashes a party they’re hosting to deliver a message: “You are all monsters!” They’re not. But there’s a reason the line is so thrilling. It’s too rare that any perspective on the Pfeffermans other than the show’s own extremely forgiving one sneaks in.The family is now more than ever a closed circuit, and “Transparent” may be running out of things these people can teach us in the vacuum of their intra-family affairs. Midway through the season, we get another outsider’s perspective, when one of Maura’s friends points out her privilege. “We don’t all have your family. We don’t all have your money. I’m a 53-year-old, ex-prostitute, HIV-positive woman with a d-ck.” She’s right—there are certain experiences Maura can’t intuitively understand. And they’re less widely covered and more interesting than upper-middle-class anomie. In confining such painful realities to brief moments, “Transparent” retreats from its initial promise.