The new season of Transparent starts on Amazon Friday, Sept. 22, and creator Jill Soloway says having cast member Gaby Hoffman direct an episode is a highlight of the new season. Season four has the Pfeffermans venturing to Israel, checking out the desert on a spiritual journey. “The family’s out in the landscape, the sand, the hills, the mountains,” says Soloway, “and having these huge questions—Who am I? Am I alive? What do I do now?”
The impact Transparent has made on culture across the previous three seasons has been “amazing” for the creator.
“I meet people who were able to come out because of the show,” Soloway says. “They saw themselves and felt like they could be themselves. That’s just humbling and honoring.”
The show of course features Jeffrey Tambor as Maura Pfefferman, formerly Mort Pfefferman. Soloway started writing Transparent to help deal with her own parent going trans. “I wrote this to calm myself, to feel better,” Soloway says. “I created a world I could control, I guess.”
Soloway pitched a number of networks on the project, and did not get a buyer. Until Amazon. “What was left was my online shopping portal,” Soloway quips.
The creator gives Amazon Studios high marks for its end of the partnership, saying there’s “feedback at every level,” and it’s a meaningful dialogue.
Tambor says the streaming platforms have the storytelling mojo right now. “Actors and writers and directors and creators are coming over to streaming,” he says. “It’s where the stories are being told now.”
He says, when he first signed on to be in Transparent, other actors would ask him if he was being paid to be on the show, so low was their view of the digital platforms.
His highlights for the new season include Shelly, his ex-wife played by Judith Light, out in the desert (“that scene absolutely wrecks me,” he says), and Maura’s humiliation at the airport, when TSA guards debate whether a male or female should pat her down. “There’s something so human about that whole thing,” Tambor says. “Jill does not wag her finger didactically. She just shows life being lived.”
He mentions how freeing it is that shows on streaming services, and premium cable, don’t have to write with commercial breaks in mind. “We can weave it out in a novelistic say,” says Tambor.
It’s fitting that Tambor describes the Transparent storytelling as “novelistic”—after all, he is an owner of a bookshop, Skylight Books, in Los Angeles. He also authored the memoir Are You Anybody? If you’re looking for a recommendation, Tambor raves about George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo. “It is amazeballs,” he says. “Once that hook gets in, it’s a life changer.”
Tambor was up for an Emmy for outstanding actor in a comedy, which went to Donald Glover of Atlanta. He says the awards get people to watch Transparent. “It’s very important for me because I want people to watch the show,” he says.
Soloway is “broken-hearted” that Transparent was not nominated for top comedy. “It’s painful,” Soloway says. “Even though Modern Family is a great show, you look at the lineup and say, what happened? Why aren’t we there anymore?”
Jill believes Emmy nominations for Transparent are good for “queer people,” and good for women.
“We want all the nominations, as many as we can possibly get,” Soloway says. “If it doesn’t work for us, we want to fix that and figure out how we stay in there.”
Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.
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