Early on a Sunday morning in Hollywood, stars of Amazon’s Transparent gathered at the Milk Studios this summer for a photo shoot, in full costume and makeup. Jeffrey Tambor wore Maura’s moomoo and long gray hair. Melora Hardin was inked, coiffed and butched-up. Judith Light transformed herself from blonde bombshell to bubbe.
And we know this because The Advocate was granted exclusive access to share insights into what happens next after the last episode of season one, depicting the funeral of Shelly’s second husband, Ed.
“Shelly is someone who so desperately doesn’t want to be alone,” Light says, “and yet every action she does pushes everybody away.” That desire for connection repeats among the other flawed self-centered characters this season: Sarah’s life goes into a spiral, Maura comes to terms with her sexuality and what transition means in terms of her physicality, and her other daughter explores love unlike she’s ever encountered, with her oldest friend.
“Syd is kind of testing the waters of being close to someone,” says Carrie Brownstein of Syd’s development, and reveals, “Ali is doing a lot of experimentation, hair and clothing wise,” in describing Gaby Hoffman’s character. “She has to go through a hazing period with Syd before letting her freak flag fly. That’s how she gets back at Ali for all the heartache she’s put her through over the years.”
“Josh starts to wake up in season two,” says Jay Duplass of his immature, sex-addicted character, who at the end of season one discovers he is a father, and who will now face fatherhood in new ways. “He is coming to terms with things he was subconsciously aware of in season one, but he is now consciously coming to terms with the fact he feels betrayed by his father who is now a woman and was always a woman.”
“There are a lot more surprises,” says Alexandra Billings, whose character Davina served as a conduit for Maura’s transition, going from sherpa to her own storyline that she says viewers won’t see coming. “They’ll be shocked. It’s pretty shocking, and it’s so true to our community.”
Although we weren’t allowed to photograph the goings on, and for months have had to keep mum about what we learned about the new episodes dropping today, now it can be told — and readers should note, there are spoilers. What lies ahead is a dynamic change for each and every member of the Pfefferman clan.
“You’re going to see some scenes that are sexually revealing, and are revelatory in terms of what people get to know about who these people are,” Light tells The Advocate, discussing what she calls the “challenging” filming of Shelly’s first sex scene.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever seen television deal with the sexuality of a mature woman,” Light says of the season two episode in which her character intimately reconnects with her ex, Maura. “It was Jeffrey in the room, and (Jill Soloway, the series creator and executive producer) in the room, and Jimmy Frohna, our cinematographer, photographer, in the room, and that was it. Jill cleared the set. It’s a bubble bath, and she came in and put the bubbles on me to make sure I was covered.”
Light considered not doing the scene herself. “I was nervous, I was scared,” she says, “but I tell this all the time to the LGBT community: you make me brave. You make me courageous. What does it mean to come out, as any of those initials, and you do it in the face of the negativity of the world, and your religion and your family and your culture and your workplace.
“You say, this is who I am, and I am this person and I refuse to not live my life as this person. Do you know what that does for people like me?”
Light and all the Transparent characters get their mojo from the writers, of course, and this season’s episodes have the added bonus of a transgender person on the writing staff.
“Now that we know the characters, season two digs deeper into each of them and their relationships,” Our Lady J tells The Advocate. “Everyone gets a little messier, while figuring out who they really are. Also, given the fact that our culture is much more educated on transness now than at the debut of season one, we haven't had to worry about catching people up on trans 101, giving us the ability to explore more complex stories for our trans characters.”
But as Light points out, “this is not a show about a transgender person, this is a show about a family in which one member is transgender and how everyone deals with that.”
AfterEllen summed up the Pfeffermans as a family “full of women in relationships with other women, and that is cause for intense tragedy, trauma, drama and comedy.”
Guest stars this season include Academy Award winner Anjelica Huston as a “new friend” of Maura’s, one Soloway told our sibling Out magazine has “a lot of chemistry… palpable chemistry” with Tambor’s character. Out actress Cherry Jones plays a women’s studies professor based in part on Soloway’s recently revealed real-life girlfriend, iconic poet Eileen Myles.
That summer day The Advocate visited the set, each actor took a turn posing this way and that, in character, for publicity pictures to promote the next adventures of the fictional Pfefferman family. Season two of their hit show was in the can.
“If you liked season one, you’re going to be, like, WHAAAAT?!” says Melora Hardin, who marries Amy Landecker’s Sarah in episode one, and finds her life in shambles before the credits roll. As Hardin was talking, Landecker walked up to Hardin and surprised her and, not unlike their characters, they embraced warmly — without the sex. “I haven’t seen you in forever!” said Hardin.
The Pfefferman family is fictional, but this looked like a family reunion to anyone watching as the stars hugged and kissed and talked to one another for the first time in awhile, ready for another try at bringing an oddly entertaining combination of comedy and drama to life on the screen — what the writers of Transparent have dubbed “traumedy.”
Before shuffling off in slippers to get out of his housedress and makeup, Tambor tells The Advocate about those validations and accolades, “They’re not for me. They’re for you. All of you. You and the people who are the real stars. We all win.”