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09 Dec 2015

True TV: 'Transparent' Returns for Season 2; 'The Expanse' Puts the Sci-Fi Back in Syfy

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Long before Caitlyn Jenner demanded your instant approval, Mort-turned-Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) earned that respect and adoration on Jill Soloway’s Transparent. Long before Caitlyn Jenner demanded your instant approval, Mort-turned-Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) earned that respect and adoration on Jill Soloway’s Transparent.

Transparent (Friday, Dec. 11, Amazon Prime), season premiere: Long before Caitlyn Jenner demanded your instant approval, Mort-turned-Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) earned that respect and adoration in the wildly fantastic debut season of Jill Soloway’s Transparent, a family dramedy like nothing ever seen on TV (or streaming service, app, etc.). Season 1 introduced the hilarious-to-heartbreaking-and-back minefield that is the Pfefferman clan through Maura, but also made it clear that this isn’t a one-woman show: Co-stars Judith Light, Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker and Jay Duplass are all equal players in the chaos, and Season 2 makes even greater leaps in spreading the dramatic wealth now that Maura is “out.” The small moments of Transparent are more real than anything that will ever, ever, ever happen on I Am Cait; catch up—patiently—on the first season before diving in.

Becoming Santa (Saturday, Dec. 12, Lifetime), movie: It’s Christmas, and Holly (Laura Bell Bundy, last seen enduring Charlie Sheen in an astonishing number of episodes of Anger Management) decides it’s finally time to introduce Connor, her toy-designer boyfriend (you probably see where this is headed), to her parents who “live up north.” Sure enough, they turn out to be Santa and Mrs. Claus (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter—yes, the Keatons of Family Ties). But wait! There’s more! Holly’s ex … Jack Frost … is sniffing around and being a dick (as Frosts are wont to do), and Connor is not only passively aggressively pressured to propose to Holly, but also become the next Santa (such sexism, Lifetime—why couldn’t it be Holly?). The Christmas TV-Movie War is getting ug-ly.

The Expanse (Monday, Dec. 14, Syfy), series debut: Syfy’s ambitious new The Expanse could either be the network’s next Battlestar Galactica (a long-running, critically acclaimed, fan-beloved landmark) or its next Ascension (not so much). Set 200 years in a future where humans have colonized the entire solar system, dwarf-planet detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane) sets out searching for a missing woman (Florence Faivre), but inadvertently uncovers a vast conspiracy—and it is vast, because, you know, it’s the entire solar system. The Expanse, based on a book series that’s essentially Game of Thrones in space, is a major player in the continued “unbranding” of Syfy, a slow and deliberate process to return the network to its sci-fi roots. Just reinstate Mystery Science Theater 3000, and we’ll call it good, Syfy.

Childhood’s End (Monday, Dec. 14, Syfy), miniseries debut: Technically, Ascension was a miniseries meant to become a proper series, but the story—and the viewership—ran out in the first couple of hours. There’s probably no such backdoor plan for Childhood’s End: Arthur C. Clarke’s benevolent-aliens-with-a-secret-agenda plot has been ripped off so many times since 1953 that, even though this is the first-ever filmed adaptation of the novel, it already feels like a remake. Also, there was a certain, uh, finality, to the book. (Just The End of Humanity, that’s all.) As a six-hour miniseries, Childhood’s End is loaded with stunning visuals and an impressive cast (including Charles Dance, Yael Stone and Julian McMahon), but it also attempts to add new characters and plotlines to an already overstuffed story; it also wastes too much sentiment on the demise of religion. (Come on, it had a good run.) At the very least, it could make for a great future episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Adele: Live in New York City (Monday, Dec. 14, NBC), special: I get it—Adele has a great voice. But her sadder-than-a-thousand-sacks, two-chord-meander songs? Pass. The idea of a bare-bones, one-hour concert special centered around just her is also about as appealing as being trapped in an elevator with someone else’s distraught, bawling girlfriend. Sure, I appreciate an honest performance, but this will be the rare instance where The Only TV Column That Matters™ is actually going to advocate for backup dancers, pyrotechnics, boob-lasers and whatever the hell else it takes to make the average Katy Perry/Taylor Swift/Insert Pop Diva Here concert tolerable. The Queen of Waaa standing in front of an orchestra for 45 minutes and change? Hard pass. Then again, I’m not the target audience for Adele: Live in New York City—I’ll leave you and your cats to it.

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