When season three of Transparent ended with a Passover seder aboard a luxury cruise ship, it appeared that television’s most overtly Jewish show couldn’t get any more, well, Jewish. But the new season, which appeared on Amazon last Friday, proves it can.
Jill Soloway’s show has always played at the intersection between queer and Jewish pathos, particularly on the ways the experiences of both trans and Jewish folks are passed through generations, like heirlooms. Watching the Pfefferman family – Maura, Shelly, Sarah, Josh and Ali, each of whom have sadness and secrets aplenty – navigate their fraught past and present has been one of the joys of the series. But it’s been equally fun watching them wait for their standing order at the local Jewish deli or rendezvous with the family rabbi or exchange Yiddish witticisms at family gatherings. Transparent understands Jewishness as something not wholly religious but cultural, too. Past traumas seep into the present, coloring Pfefferman get-togethers with a poignant blend of humor and melancholy that few other shows replicate; as Judith Light’s Shelly puts it in season three, it’s “a swamp pit of mishegas”.
In season four, Soloway’s turbocharged that mishegas (craziness) by moving the Pfefferman family from its comfortable dwellings in Los Angeles to Israel, where Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura is delivering a lecture on Judaism, gender and the cold war. At first, only Maura’s youngest daughter, Ali, tags along. She thinks a trip to the Holy Land will shake her out of a spell of angst and depression. It’s a malaise made worse by a poem about her nether regions, written by her former lover Leslie, appearing in the New Yorker.
Meanwhile, the other family members are stuck in LA, each attempting to find happiness – via polyamory (Sarah and Len), sex addicts anonymous (Josh), and improv (Shelly). When Maura discovers – spoiler alert – that her father, long presumed dead, is an old, rich Israeli television personality, with a pristine mansion in the suburbs, the whole family is soon flown out to join them. That plot twist ensures that the bulk of the season is set in Israel: a place replete with meaning, tradition and conflict. In other words, it’s a perfect foil for the Pfeffermans, each of whom seeks a certain spirituality in both authentic and artificial ways.
Maura’s long-lost father plays tour guide to the Pfeffermans as they journey to the sites of Israel – there’s a…