Those of us who love Amazon Prime’s dramedy “Transparent,” as both a transgender story and a master class on modern Judaism, ran out of breath praising it. And then we were dealt a sudden and difficult blow when its star, Jeffrey Tambor, left the show in 2017 (and was later formally fired) after sexual harassment allegations.
Following a suitable shiva period, creator Jill Soloway came up with a risky but enticing idea for a proper way to end the story with and without Maura Pfefferman, the late-blooming woman played by Tambor. Why not transform “Transparent” into a musical?
The result, a 100-minute send-off titled “Transparent Musicale Finale” (now streaming), features a lot of song and dance, some of which is drenched in self-absorbed sap and some of which is wildly and satisfyingly jubilant, with thoughtful and often clever music written by Soloway’s composer sister, Faith Soloway.
Upon finding out that Maura has passed away in her sleep (aortic aneurysm), Maura’s family, friends and ex-wife Shelly (Judith Light) burst unnaturally into song — songs about L.A. traffic, songs about shocking grief, songs about long-bottled resentments. And, as Maura’s body is prepped for cremation at a nearby funeral home, songs about letting go.
The stage is second nature to Light, who lends “Transparent Musicale Finale” all the performance panache it needs, as Shelly channels her grief into a loony autobiographical musical at her nearby community center, replete with amateur actors cast as her troublesomely neurotic adult children. To round out her story, Shelly needs a new Maura, and fate provides her one. (I won’t spoil the details of it.)
Livid at their mother’s stab at catharsis, the Pfefferman children (Amy Landecker as Sarah; Jay Duplass as Josh; and Gaby Hoffmann as Ali, who has come out as non-binary and now goes by Ari) revert to some of the original unlikable petulance they showed in Season 1. The show struggles to find a way to meaningfully wrap up the Pfefferman siblings’ stories, whether sung or spoken, but the actors put considerable effort into bringing “Musicale Finale” to its fullest vision.
“Transparent’s” extended cast also delivers, including Alexandra Billings as Maura’s best friend, Davina, and Kathryn Hahn as Josh’s ex, Raquel the Rabbi. Hahn is great in a sultry number that breaks down the Jewish grief ritual: “You can’t run away from your sadness, it’ll always find you,” she sings. “You can’t get through this s— unless you sit in it.”
Sitting shiva for Maura turns out to be the wrong prescription, however, leading “Transparent” to end on a giddy, extravagant note of celebration. “We Jews have a painful history, that we choose to convey in minor keys,” Shelly sings, disrupting the polite reverence. “Never to forget the shame, so our songs all sound the sa-ay-ay-ame.”
“Transparent’s” send-off is an alternate message of unrestrained happiness — the only antidote, Shelly proclaims, to the burden of the Holocaust (one of the show’s long-running preoccupations). Everyone joins Shelly in the refrain: “Joy-a-caust, joy-a-caust! Hell, yes, we’ve crossed the line. That’s why we’re feeling fine.”
Loyal viewers may find themselves wishing for a less silly way out. But that’s not what’s on offer. “Transparent” is urging its viewers to spread their wings and try some happiness for a change. After they shared so much gloom and depression, it seems rude to deprive the Pfeffermans of their moment in the sun.
Transparent Musicale Finale (100 minutes) is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. (Disclosure: The Washington Post is owned by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos.)