‘How can I be home and feel so alone?’ This is the burning question each member of the Pfefferman family is trying to answer, as a unit and as individuals, following the news of their Moppa’s death. Seemingly quotidian moments are interrupted only to change their lives, their concept of home and identity forever.
Their parent has left them with so many questions, unhealed wounds and a plethora of feelings Transparent’s musical finale attempts to examine, and finally discard under a rainbow-coloured flag of Jewish guilt and misery. And while we still get to feel the unsaid and read between the lines of the said, so much of what made this incredibly self-involved, traumatised and sexually liberated and oppressed family so intriguing, is lost in its brilliantly composed yet poorly executed musical numbers.
Moppa’s death was a decision brought on not by a natural evolution in the show’s storyline, but the violating behaviour of the man who brought her to life, namely Jeffrey Tambor. For a show as pathbreaking and loudly proud as Transparent, the accusations against Tambor were particularly hard-hitting and caused audiences to question the series as well as creator Jill Soloway’s integrity and loyalty towards the LGBTQ community. Soloway has been criticised for the show’s lack of trans representation and diversity, but they deserve great respect for attempting to give fans a worthy send off.
The decision to kill off Moppa and focus the finale on how her death affects the nuclear family and their deeply rooted transgenerational guilt is a fine one. The same can’t quite be said about the decision to make a song-and-dance out of it. The 90-minute special is indeed special – turning an established tone and that distinct mumblecore-feel into a glitzy Hollywood-style musical complete with bright stage lights and costume changes can’t have been an easy feat.
Therefore, one can only admire the cast’s dedication to a revolutionary project they evidently firmly believe in, even if it means breaking out of their comfort zones and not quite hitting every note. Faith Soloway, Jill’s older sister and the musical’s composer and co-producer, has done a fantastic job – the songs, lyrics and melodies feel true to the rawness fans of the show have grown to love. Yet many moments simply aren’t affecting in the way they are clearly intended.
This is especially true of Shelly’s (Judith Light) musical number ‘Your Boundary Is My Trigger’, in which she tries once more and, to seemingly no avail, to express how her children’s keeping her at arm’s length affects her. What is a beautifully honest lyrical expression of what it means to be a mother of a certain generation is somehow lost against the Broadway-esque backdrop, and the distraction of a troupe of middle-aged backup dancers wearing skin-toned leotards and bunny slippers.
It’s the same for Rabi Raquel’s (Kathryn Hahn) moment in the spotlight. As exciting as it is to see her back on the show for this final reunion, her performance of a song that – quite rightly – urged the Pfefferman’s to “sit in it” (i.e. their shit, their grief) is hampered by a clumsy transition from typically intense family discussions and frustrations into an unnecessarily sexy, modern cabaret spectacle that was uncomfortable to watch. Given the show’s knack for creating uneasy tension, perhaps this was precisely the point – but if it was, it doesn’t really come across as such.
Transparent’s musical finale is a study of identity, family (“Mom, I’m not you, I’m me!”) and grief that comes to a colourful crescendo during the Shiva-turned-Bar mitzvah with the song ‘Joyacaust’. This daring, somewhat distasteful yet fitting track perfectly encapsulates pretty much everything this show is about: the clashing of cultures and identities, the (mis)interpretations of rules and liberties, and the ability to make light of even the darkest moments in (family) history.
Published 27 Sep 2019
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