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‘Transparent’ Drops Jeffrey Tambor — Why That May or May Not Put the Show in Jeopardy

IndieWire's TV staff debates what Tambor's exit might mean for the Emmy-winning series. 

Jeffrey Tambor

Daniel Bergeron

Jeffrey Tambor is now officially out of “Transparent,” and he’s not happy about it.

“I am profoundly disappointed in Amazon’s handling of these false accusations against me,” Tambor said in a statement. “I am even more disappointed in Jill Soloway’s unfair characterization of me as someone who would ever cause harm to any of my fellow cast mates. In our four-year history of working together on this incredible show, these accusations have NEVER been revealed or discussed directly with me or anyone at Amazon. Therefore, I can only surmise that the investigation against me was deeply flawed and biased toward the toxic politicized atmosphere that afflicted our set. As I have consistently stated, I deeply regret if any action of mine was ever misinterpreted by anyone and I will continue to vehemently defend myself. I also deeply regret that this ground-breaking show, which changed so many lives, is now in jeopardy. That, to me, is the biggest heartbreak.”

The sexual harassment scandal surrounding Tambor’s exit, and Tambor’s counter allegations that he was railroaded by Amazon and Soloway, will cast a pall over the next season of “Transparent,” no matter what the series now does. Nonetheless, there is plenty of precedent for series continuing without their top star (Netflix’s “House of Cards” is undergoing similar adjustments). But what will that mean to the series and its fans? IndieWire’s TV team discussed where “Transparent” might go from here.

LIZ SHANNON MILLER: The news that “Transparent” has officially parted ways with its Emmy-winning star isn’t a huge shock, given that the allegations of sexual harassment regarding Jeffrey Tambor have circulated long enough without being disproved, and that creator Jill Soloway doesn’t seem like the type to tolerate that sort of behavior. But it does mean that the Amazon dramedy has a massive hurdle in front of it, as so much of “Transparent” was built around the personal journey of Maura.

Of course, the show has a strong ensemble behind it, featuring amazing performances from folks like Gaby Hoffman, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, Judith Light, and Kathryn Hahn. But Tambor competed in the Lead Actor in a Comedy category for a reason, and so many shows that have lost their default star have struggled to recover. From your perspective, Jude, if “Transparent” chooses not to move on and recast Maura, will the show survive?

JUDE DRY: I think the show has a loyal fan base that is eager to see if Soloway can rise to the challenge. Even though Season 4 did not rake in as many Emmy nods as previous seasons, Amazon still renewed the show, which means the viewership must be significant enough. Maura is the heart and soul of the show, and Tambor was excellent in the role, but fans have become equally as attached to the other characters. Maura is the backbone, but Ali (Gaby Hoffman) has been exploring gender fluidity throughout the last two seasons, wearing suits and beginning to use “they/them” pronouns.

Ali could easily take over as the show’s central trans character, although that still leaves the problem of Hoffman being cisgender. At this stage of the show’s life and the evolution of trans storytelling, there are far fewer genderfluid characters on TV, making it a ripe subject to explore. “Transparent” always took flak for the fact that Tambor is cis, and in a bittersweet way his departure may help the show with audiences who were critical for this very reason. If nothing else, audiences will be curious to see how the world of the show takes shape without Maura — at least enough to tune in.

"Transparent" - actress Gaby Hoffmann

MICHAEL SCHNEIDER: Looking at this from a strategic perspective, the departure of Tambor should at the very least conjure up some fresh interest in a show that had fallen out of the pop culture zeitgeist (much similar to what Netflix is about to experience with the final season of “House of Cards,” now that Robin Wright is the lead and Kevin Spacey is out of the picture). “Transparent” was an early critical and awards success for Amazon Prime, making it a valuable property in that sense — but it wasn’t believed to be a heavily viewed show, especially in its later seasons.

Amazon is moving somewhat away from character study shows like “Transparent” as it chases broader audiences with splashier franchises like “The Lord of the Rings.” That means series similar in scope like Tig Notaro’s “One Mississippi” and Soloway’s “I Love Dick” have already been canceled by the service, and “Transparent,” once the darling of Amazon Prime, is now more of a legacy show than a priority. But at least this now gives Soloway a chance to conjure up fresh interest in “Transparent” by seeing what comes next, and with it, more media attention.

Still, in the history of TV, these curiosity bumps are usually temporary. Series that lose the No. 1 on their call sheet mid-run can continue to carry on for some time after a switch in direction, but it’s often times never the same. (Usually it’s a death — like John Ritter in “8 Simple Rules” — or a contractural dispute, like Valerie Harper in “Valerie,” that forces such a change.) “Transparent” needed to mix things up, so this could be a blessing for the show — but the pressure’s on to come up with something big. (I personally liked Ben Travers’ idea of keeping Maura as a character, but replacing Tambor with an actual trans performer — not only would that make an important statement, but it would be a great opportunity to cultivate a new star.)

HANH NGUYEN: Approaching this purely from a recasting perspective, this is not the first time a main character has needed to be replaced in recent history. Recasting can be done, just as long as everyone else is in place and the story is strong enough. As Ben Travers had outlined, Maura could be recast with a transgender actress, which would be a win for representation. Another option could be to write out Maura and refocus on another, new transgender parent’s story. In particular, we can look to broadcast for successful ways to plug a new person into the ensemble.

On “Two and a Half Men,” the erratic Charlie Sheen was written off and replaced by the more reliable Ashton Kutcher for an additional four seasons. And over on “Kevin Can Wait,” the CBS comedy spent less than a minute explaining the death of the character played by Erinn Hayes before subbing in Leah Remini. Both instances worked with the formula that was in place but used recognizable names as draws. Also, keep in mind that while Maura was the beating heart of the show, let’s not forget that Pfeffermans as a clan have offered up some affecting storytelling, and how they continue to deal with their various challenges, which ended in cliffhangers last season, need to be addressed.

BEN TRAVERS: As always, it’s important to remember the past when discussing the future. “Transparent” began as a personal story based on Soloway’s own experience with a trans parent: To move away from that central figure would be to change the show entirely, which certainly factors into the argument for recasting Maura, preferably with a trans actor. While it’s exciting to think about what Soloway & Co. can do with a new creative challenge — especially coming off their weakest, though far from bad, season yet — Maura’s story demands closure, and that could be hard to pull off without Maura returning in some form.

One maybe-not-too-crazy idea: If Maura died, moved, or otherwise left the show, “Transparent” has had great success using flashbacks. Perhaps the writers could use them again to provide closure for Maura’s final fate, using the past to frame what happens to her in the present.

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