When it comes to spirituality, nothing is ‘Transparent’


I need to pour myself another cup of coffee and take a deep breath before I even begin to talk about season 3 of Amazon’s comedy (which in this day and age actually means half-hour drama) Transparent because to say there’s a lot to unpack with the show is the television understatement of 2016. From white privilege and sexual politics to mental health and of course all sides of the trans discussion, the show is like a Vegas buffet for hot button contemporary issues. Thankfully, that’s not all it is. So beautifully shot, masterfully acted and well-written, we often forget we’re ingesting a show that asks a lot of heavy questions. Among the most brazen are the ones Transparent asks about spirituality and religion.

Since premiering on Amazon on Friday, I’ve already sucked down 7 out of the 10 episodes of season 3. Yeah, I know. I have a problem. (Hi. My name is Sean and I’m a tv-oholic.) Season 2 was a not easy to love journey into the family’s Jewish history while giving Maura (always so touchingly played by Jeffery Tambor) a real life. Season 3 asks the question, “So now what?” and it asks that question of each member of the Pfucked Up Pfefferman’s lives and circling back around to spirituality makes a lot of sense. The finding religion or meditation or prayer in times of personal distress is a tale as old as time but oddly one not often told on television. During a break between episodes, Michael and I had tons to talk about– which is another thing to cherish about this show. How often does TV actually do that? And we started talking about how unapologetically Jewish the Pfefferman’s are. The idea of a TV family and one of a sitcom no less being open about their religion still feels pretty revolutionary. After all, we never knew what kind of church George and Weezie on The Jeffersons went to. Ditto with the Stone family of The Donna Reed Show. Outside of safely assuming that Darren and Samantha Stevens of Bewitched were probably your happy, neighborhood pagans, the spiritual lives of sitcoms families have been kept under-wraps until recent years. Not content with lightly dipping its toes in the waters of a subject, Transparent really goes there as it uncovers a modern Jewish family who struggle to keep their faith while wanting desperately to believe in something,anything.

In a benchmark episode entitled “Oh Holy Night”, the family attends “Hineni” a spiritual event organized by the family’s most lost lamb, Sarah(played with wild-eyed inappropriateness by Amy Landecker) and led by Rabbi Raquel (Katherine Hahn), who despite being kind and optimistic continually winds up being Pfefferman family roadkill. It’s Silver Lake Jewishness for millennials. Pretty quickly we see that things aren’t going to run smoothly. In a classic, very LA joke, the tacos for this hipster Shabbat have been replaced by pupusas. And a highly charged conversation about Palestine nearly turns into a fist fight at the aqua fresca station which hilariously crescendos later with Cherry Jones’ character winding face up in a ditch. But it’s during the event’s candlelight prayer led by Rabbi Raquel that the show’s power,beauty and central message become illuminated. “What if the miracle was you? What if you had to be your own messiah?” the Rabbi asks. The candle is passed around for attendees to share their blessing. From the arrival of monarch butterflies to praying for the LA’s homeless, the thoughts are powerful. Naturally, when a woman says, “Guys, I’m seven months sober” I got teary eyed. Of course, even this moment gets high jacked by the Pfeffermans as Maura changes the entire tone to acknowledge the death of one of the show’s more controversial characters. The word “hineni” in Hebrew means “here I am” and in essence this episode and the season at large is about a seeking, an arrival and a wanting to expand spiritually.

As we’ve talked about before, I’m not a formerly religious person. I belong to the Church of Suck Less and Be Nice to People (All are welcome! Enjoy the donuts!) It works for me. I’m more of a believer in magic and nature then I am in some dude with a white beard flocked by angels. But I tend not to get trippeded up about other people’s religions either. I was told early on if I wanted chance of changing and staying sober I should probably have an open mind and I try to do that. Plus, I think the seeking we all have, religious or not, is universal and this is what Transparent taps into so beautifully. There’s no easy answers when it comes to spirituality and the show knws this. Yes, this family is screwed up and yes they’ve got more issues than Life magazine. But it isn’t just the shows lead character Maura who is transforming. Her journey from male to female is just the tip of iceberg. The road to self. The road to enlightenment. The road to transformations are all messy and filled with detours. These are journeys all of the Pfeffermans are on and ones I, as a viewer, can’t wait to see where they end up.

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