‘Transparent’ Season 3: Everyone Is Always Changing

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large

Back and as impressively irritating as ever, the Pfeffermans return for a third, 10-episode season of Transparent. The wealthy Los Angeles family, headed up, more or less, by Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura, remains a diverse group of entitled twits whose family crest could be the comment Maura says early on to Anjelica Huston’s Vicki: “I’ve got everything I need. So why am I so unhappy?”

Exactly. The new season finds everyone changing, constantly, usually transitioning into a new phase of depression and regret. (Is this the right time to remind you that Transparent won this year’s Emmy as a comedy?) Maura is considering medical steps in her transition. Her ex-wife, Shelly (Judith Light), is trying, as she says, to make her own transition — turning Maura’s experience, and its reverberations in her own life, into a one-woman autobiographical show. Josh (Jay Duplass) is at loose ends because — well, who knows why one of the few guys who still seems to be prospering in the music business would be melancholy, but Duplass certainly does melancholy really well.

His sister Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) is now teaching and involved with Leslie, the commanding writer-professor played so wonderfully by Cherry Jones, but Ali’s character makes little sense: One minute she wants to be adored by Leslie; the next, she wants her space. And sister Sarah (Amy Landecker) — well, this whole open-marriage thing with Len (Rob Heubel, also excellent) isn’t really working out.

I could feel some sympathy for the suffering Pfeffermans if just about every one of them weren’t so damn rude and condescending to any non-Pfefferman he or she encounters — invariably folks lower down on the economic scale, from store employees to strippers (excuse me — sex workers). Maura has a mild health scare in an early episode, and instead of waking up in the hospital grateful that she’s being taken care of, she goes into a sputtering rage because “some arrogant a**hole [is] calling me Mister Pfefferman” on her medical chart. I confess: I have more pity for the sincere, overworked hospital employee.

Credit show creator Jill Soloway with a great deal of inventive ambition: A lot happens in Transparent, all the time. There are parties and religious debates; there’s a suicide and a road trip; there are nitrous-oxide hallucinations and a cameo appearance by Wheel of Fortune. So, to paraphrase Maura, why is everyone so nonstop unhappy? Because one thing never changes in this always-shifting series: Once a Pfefferman, always a Pfefferman.

Transparent is streaming now on Amazon.