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Transparent Wraps Up With the Occasionally Successful “Transparent Musicale Finale”

Transparent returns from its long hiatus for a (mostly) entertaining, occasionally awkward musical finale.

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Transparent Musicale Finale

For a show that reached uncommon heights in its best moments, Transparent seems destined to be remembered as an odd curiosity of the Peak TV era with Transparent Musicale Finale, premiering Friday on Amazon Prime Video. The Jill Soloway-created series, which ran four seasons between 2014 and 2017, was the first major prestige TV series to have a transgender character as its protagonist, and it collected awards in its early seasons. The first breakthrough TV series on Amazon Prime, Transparent was very good in its first season, and absolutely otherworldly in its second, although its quality wasn’t quite up to par the last two years. 

It’s certainly enjoyable to see these characters again, and the Transparent Musical Finale is true to the show and gives most of the characters satisfying endings.

But then, lead actor Jeffrey Tambor, who played family patriarch-turned-matriarch Maura Pfefferman, was accused of sexual misconduct by two trans women, one of whom was an actress on the show. Rapidly changing mores were already making it untenable for a cisgender male actor to play a trans character, but the harassment accusations meant the end of Tambor’s time on the show. 

Two years after its last episode, Transparent is back with Transparent Musicale Finale, a single-episode series finale that’s – as its title suggests – also entirely musical, and brings back virtually every character of consequence from the four seasons of the series- with the exception, of course, of Tambor’s Maura. 

Transparent Musicale Finale

It’s certainly enjoyable to see these characters again, and the finale is true to the show and gives most of the characters satisfying endings. The show references and wraps up certain plots- Ali’s lack of a Bat Mitzvah, Josh’s fear of commitment, and never-ending fight over Maura’s house- that were present throughout the run of the series. The finale isn’t quite up there with the best stretches of the series – and it steps horrifically wrongly at one point- but it’s certainly preferable to no finale at all.

The other twist, as you may have gathered from the title, is that it’s a musical. It features 12 original musical numbers, all written by Faith Soloway, the creator’s sister. The songs are fine, if not quite Broadway-caliber, and with one exception (we’ll get to that), the decision to make the finale a musical was a good one. Even though, for all of its Jesus Christ Superstar homages, Transparent was not a musical series, and none of the original actors were cast on the strength of their singing ability – only Judith Light had any kind of record as a stage performer among the central cast.

Transparent Musicale Finale picks up immediately after the end of the fourth season and begins, naturally, with the death of Maura Pfefferman. We see the reactions of Maura’s three children: Sarah (Amy Landecker), finally happy in her marriage and love life; Josh (Jay Duplass), having come to terms with his sex addiction, and the character formerly known as Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) who, like Soloway, has come out as gender nonbinary and is now called “Ari.”  

Meanwhile, their mother Shelly (Judith Light) is preparing a stage play about her family, featuring a cast of newcomers – some of them played by trans or gender-non-comforting actors- in the roles of her family members. 

The trans characters who became a bigger part of Transparent as the series went on, such as Alexandra Billings’ Davina, get more to do here, and there are also “guest stars,” including Richard Kind, getting a musical number as a lawyer, and Rainn Wilson, playing a mortician, as he did early in is career on Six Feet Under, where Soloway was once a staff writer. 

Transparent, of course, dealt a lot with issues related to transgenderism and other sexual minorities. But it also concentrated a lot of energy on another form of identity: Jewishness. The Pfeffermans, of course, are Jews, and the series’ plots often dealt with synagogues, Canter’s Deli, Israel, and (of course) The Holocaust and its legacy. 

Transparent Musical Finale

The movie is no exception, as there’s Jewishness all over it. Yes, one of the show’s best characters, Kathryn Hahn’s female rabbi Raquel, returns, after sitting out the last two seasons of the TV series, and she even gets a wildly sexy musical number. A major plot point, also, goes back to the early plot in which we learned that Ali’s bat mitzvah was cancelled because Maura was attending a drag retreat. The combination of Jewishness and musical numbers will remind many of the late, lamented Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; there’s even a reference to West Covina. 

What it leads up to, unfortunately, is a final musical number that’s so tone-deaf, so ill-advised, and so foul, that it leaves an unmistakable bad taste. Many of the numbers in the show, such as Light’s “Your Boundary is My Trigger,” are silly and campy but ultimately harmless. “Joyocaust,” on the other hand?

Transparent Musical Finale

Transparent has referenced the Holocaust throughout its run, and one of the most poignant arcs of the entire series involved a series of flashbacks to 1930s Berlin, and the sad fate of Gittel (Hari Nef), a trans woman and Pfefferman ancestor. This final number, which looks like something out of “Hair,” totally dishonors that, and the series itself. 

Those who watched Transparent for its entire run are likely to enjoy the Transparent Musicale Finale, especially if they’re also musical theater enthusiasts. It would have been disappointing to leave the series on the note that it was left on, and the stories of the characters so unfinished. That said, it’s hard to overstate just how much last musical number is an unquestioned dud that it leaves a sour taste. 

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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