Forget Jeffrey Tambor, Israel and the West Bank are the real stars of season four of Jill Soloway's "Transparent," if early reviews are to be believed.
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Season four is available to stream on Amazon Prime from Friday. It sees Tambor's septuagenarian transgender matriarch Maura being invited to Israel to deliver a conference speech on Judaism, the Cold War and gender, with the rest of the Pfefferman clan following in Jew, sorry, due course.
In an otherwise mixed review, Uproxx praises the Israeli-set scenes, calling them "thoughtful and poetic in the way 'Transparent' can be" as various Pfeffermans are seen visiting Tel Aviv, the Western Wall, the Dead Sea, and a hipster Palestinian neighborhood and settlement in the West Bank.
"Large swaths of their sightseeing seems designed to alternately move and enrage the audience, regardless of their politics (what will move some will enrage others, and vice versa), as each member of the family finds something different about the place to latch onto," writes Uproxx's Alan Sepinwall.
Den of Geek is more impressed by the new season, giving it four stars out of five. "Much of this season is spent in Israel, with first Maura and Ali and later the entire family except for cousin Simon, who's too busy going to Comic Con (!) to visit the Holy Land. The new setting feels almost like a reset, allowing the characters to reflect and interact in new and different ways," writes Delia Harrington.
"'Transparent' has never shied away from controversial subject matter of course, but the Arab-Israeli conflict is a tough topic, even for this show," Harrington continues. "In the past the Pfeffermans' Jewishness has largely been cultural, a frequent subject of humor for them, or a source of comfort. There have been passing comments about the politics of the State of Israel, but Season four confronts this complex issue head on, from a variety of perspectives, and over the course of multiple episodes."
Harrington notes that the season "felt more contemplative than jaw-dropping or soapy (that is to say, it didn't chew through quite as many plot points as usual), but it was no less enjoyable for it."
Ben Travers at Indiewire may take issue with that judgment. In his review (in which he gives the show a B-), he complains that season four "is the first of the series to feel like a soap instead of its own unique, intensely human self, and it’s doubly disappointing because that genre isn’t intentional.
"As the season builds steam, it starts to feel like emotional grenades are being dropped merely to shake things up – as though the writers don’t trust these characters to be compelling as their authentic selves – and eventually all that shaking unsettles what used to be a grounded, relatable story," Travers adds.
Writing in the Los Angeles Daily News, Rob Lowman says season four "takes the Los Angeles family out of its comfort zones and revolves around questions of secrets, lies and boundaries. 'Transparent' is more ambitious this year. In the first three seasons, all the characters in their own way have been transitioning. This year takes them having to make some new choices, and it leads to some difficult and awkward moments."
Newsday's Verne Gay, meanwhile, writes: "In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, show creator Jill Soloway explained that the Pfeffermans’ trip to Israel is 'like the Bradys going to Hawaii!' That’s probably not the first thought that will come to mind when you watch, but the travel analogy certainly works. Each of the Pfeffermans is on a life journey, together and singly, and what drives the show as much as them are the questions 'Where are they going?' and 'How are they going to get there?'"
A fifth season of "Transparent" has already been commissioned, and all 10 episodes of season four are available to view on Amazon Prime from Friday.