'Transparent' Is Transfixing In Season 2 The acclaimed Amazon show about a transgender woman and her dysfunctional family has just returned for a second season. TV critic Eric Deggans praises the show's drama, nuance and complexity.
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'Transparent' Is Transfixing In Season 2

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'Transparent' Is Transfixing In Season 2

'Transparent' Is Transfixing In Season 2

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The search engine Bing released its most popular searches of 2015. More than any other person, people looked for information about Caitlyn Jenner - the former Bruce Jenner.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

People also googled her a lot. And those search results do tell us something. In this year when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, much of the nation has moved on to a mainstream discussion of transgender and transsexual issues.

INSKEEP: Here's another indication - the popularity of the streaming Amazon TV series "Transparent." It centers on a transitioning lead character played by Jeffrey Tambor. It won two Golden Globes and five Emmy awards in its first season in 2014.

GREENE: The entire second season drops Friday. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has been watching, and he finds a show that is less about politics than about a crumbling family.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: As I watched each episode of "Transparent's" second season, the same question kept popping into my mind. Are the Pfeffermans the most dysfunctional family now on television?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRANSPARENT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As photographer) Pfeffermans, come on. If you've got kids, please, I ask you...

DEGGANS: The first episode of the new season begins with a wedding photo. The families gather for eldest daughter Sarah's marriage to her lesbian partner. As the ceremony begins, Jeffrey Tambor's transgender academic Maura Pfefferman has a problem. Her homophobic sister is in the audience. Later, as Sarah's preparing to walk down the aisle, Maura can't help asking her why she invited a hated relative to the wedding.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRANSPARENT")

JEFFREY TAMBOR: (As Maura Pfefferman) How can you do that to me, huh (ph)? I don't understand. And you're Facebook friends?

AMY LANDECKER: (As Sarah Pfefferman) Bryna could have brought Grandma Rose. That would have been beautiful.

TAMBOR: (As Maura Pfefferman) Yes, it would have been beautiful. But Grandma Rose is sick, and she's in a wheelchair.

LANDECKER: (As Sarah Pfefferman) OK, so she's in a wheelchair. People in wheelchairs go places. I was at Disneyland, and we were on the small world ride, and there was a woman with a wheelchair on the ride.

DEGGANS: This is "Transparent's" signature style - to bounce two hopelessly self-involved characters off each other until you're not sure which person annoys you more. Consider this scene. Sarah wins a raffle for a visit to a life coach. But even that good luck quickly turns into bickering.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRANSPARENT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As life coach) For you - for all intensive purposes, you didn't choose it.

LANDECKER: (As Sarah Pfefferman) That's not my fault. But it's not intensive purposes. It is intents and purposes.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As life coach) That's not true.

LANDECKER: (As Sarah Pfefferman) I - well, that you said it or...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As life coach) Are you pretty controlling? People say you're pretty controlling.

LANDECKER: (As Sarah Pfefferman) No, I'm not controlling. I mean, I'm just honest.

DEGGANS: That line is a bit of an inside joke because one of the biggest problems every Pfefferman faces is their dishonesty with each other and themselves. "Transparent's" second season makes compelling drama out of every character's search for personal truth. It's as if Maura's transition from male to female has pushed her entire family off balance. The storylines are so juicy they sometimes overshadow the details of Maura's transition. We do learn this season that she hasn't thought much about the practical side of her gender change, as a conversation in a clinic with a brutally frank doctor reveals.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRANSPARENT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As doctor) Do you plan on getting breasts?

TAMBOR: (As Maura) Two, please.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As doctor) Do you plan on undergoing gender reassignment surgery?

TAMBOR: (As Maura) I'm going to have to get back to you on that one.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As doctor) Mrs. Pfefferman, do yourself a favor and get to know your body.

DEGGANS: In its second season, "Transparent" is employing more transgender people on and off screen. That may be why storylines featuring Maura struggling to figure out her sexual orientation and relationship to her ex-wife feel so genuine. I've watched all 10 episodes of the second season, and it's the story of the entire family that remains at the heart of this dark comedy. Their struggle to live authentic lives makes "Transparent's" second season even better than its first. I'm Eric Deggans.

INSKEEP: You hear Eric's reviews on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

GREENE: And I'm David Green.

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