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After firing its star in the wake of scandal, Jill Soloway's 'Transparent' rediscovers its voice

Yvonne Villarreal, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

On the Los Angeles set of "Transparent," inside a bustling soundstage at the Paramount lot, a three-person chorus is passionately belting a ditty, a cappella. Judith Light, who portrays the show's neurotic matriarch, Shelly Pfefferman, is beaming, while Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass and Gaby Hoffmann, who play her children, serenade her -- powering, and slightly stumbling, through lyrics like "to another it would be too daunting/to take on three kids so wanting" and "Judith brought the light/and made everything al-right."

It's early February and the final day of filming on the Amazon dramedy's series finale -- which unfolds in the form of a feature-length musical -- is in progress. All the song-and-dance that's transpired may explain why, to ring in Light's birthday during a break from production, her fictional offspring have opted to forgo the humdrum "Happy Birthday" in favor of one of the finale's numbers, which they've revamped to be a tribute to Light.

It's a joyful moment for a show that was nearly knocked down.

"Transparent" is one of several Hollywood projects that have had to be reworked because of stars brought down after public allegations of sexual harassment.

Nearly two years ago, as the #MeToo movement was solidifying itself as a revolution across Hollywood and beyond, Jeffrey Tambor -- who portrayed the show's central character, a transgender woman named Maura -- was fired following allegations of sexual misconduct from his former assistant Van Barnes and costar Trace Lysette. (Tambor has denied the allegations.)

"It was just like being in a washing machine, or in a dryer -- or both -- and just this constant tumble and not really knowing what to do, where to stand," says "Transparent" creator Jill Soloway.

 

After months of uncertainty about the fate of the series, the Tambor-less "Transparent" returns Sept. 27 with its swan song, the "Musicale Finale." (Rhyme it out.) It's an unexpected conclusion to the Emmy-winning series, an early contributor to the increased visibility of nuanced trans stories in Hollywood that helped establish Amazon as a serious player in the original programming space.

"We wanted a completion," Light says during a break from her performance. "This is family."

In the finale's opening minutes, Maura's family learns of her (off-screen) passing; they spend the remainder at once trying to cope and carry a tune. A central thread involves Shelly writing a musical about the family's journey -- making use of doppelgangers for full effect, to the dismay of her children, Sarah (Landecker), Josh (Duplass) and Ali/Ari (Hoffmann).

"There are certain things that happen in real life where there are no words ... these moments in life where you just need to sing," Soloway says of the decision to end on a musical note. "You just need to hear poetry, because things are just too complex for regular old conversation, and that's where music has kind of come in to rescue us all."

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