Enlightened – Season 1 + 2
Years ago, YAM Magazine wanted to see Laura Dern moving to cable… and HBO provides that with Enlightened, a female-driven dramedy show that can easily hang around with the female-centric Showtime comedies and stars Laura Dern as a self-destructive woman who has a spiritual awakening becomes determined to live an enlightened life, creating havoc at home and work.
Season 1 begins with a spectacular meltdown from Amy Jellicoe (Dern), whose affair with supercilious boss Damon (Charles Epsten) causes her to lose her job. Following a rehab stint in a Hawaiian treatment center, Amy returns home and decides to stay positive with her life and rebuild her life into something more meaningful. However, she has obstacles to face at home in the form of her not-so-communicative mother Helen (Diane Ladd, Dern’s mother) and her drug-abusing ex-husband Levi (Wilson).
And her professional life isn’t much better. Amy manages to blackmail her way back into her former workplace, only to be located in a less prestigious office. It is there when Amy decides to “make a change” after getting picked on constantly by her new misogynistic boss Dougie (Timm Sharp) and developing hatred towards corporations.
Enlightened works very well as a character study on Amy, who is greatly played by Laura Dern and backed up by strong screenwriting as well as a great supporting cast. Season 1 was mostly about building up Amy as a person while exploring her “agent of change” gimmick. Despite her good intentions, Amy ends up rubbing off most people wrong at work and at home. But you can still root for her because she’s resiliant and won’t give up on being good and not wanting a mundane life. One of the persons who benefits from meeting Amy is her co-worker Tyler (White), who at first was very anti-social and had a crush on Amy, but later turns out to be an interesting character to watch through his interactions with Amy, who made him see that there’s a world beyond his vision, as well as him not always putting up with her stuff.
Despite Dern being great as Amy, some of the show’s best episodes are the ones who gave other characters the main spotlight over Amy instead. First, Tyler and Dougie share the spotlight in Lonely Boys when Amy tries to get on Doug’s good side by setting him up on a date (which goes wrong) while Tyler’s loneliness is explored. Then, there’s Consider Helen in which we observe Amy and Levi through Helen’s eyes as well as she dealing with her own problems. Later during Season 2, Levi’s rehab (and the causes of addiction) is fully explored on Higher Power and then Tyler’s mind is explored again in The Ghost is Seen when he dates co-worker Eileen (Shannon) and later they become lovers.
The biggest problem with this show is its extreme slow pacing, especially in the first season. I can watch shows with slow buildup that leads to great payoffs such as Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, but Enlightened takes slowpacing to a different level through its meditative observation to the point where it feels hard to watch because the comedy value feels very hard to spot (and there’s good amounts of comedy value in the show) as well as Amy coming across as a very unlikeable person. At the same time, however, the slow buildup also works in Enlightened‘s favor as Amy’s likeable characteristics starts to flourish midway through the first season and by the time Season 1 is over — which sees Amy in a greatly shot dream scene fullfilling her goal in comical fashion — all the main characters are interesting to watch… even Dougie who at first felt like your typical asshole boss character, but Timm Sharp’s acting — he’s changed a lot since his days on Judd Apatow’s Undeclared — made him funny to watch. In stark contrast to Season 1, the corporate-driven Season 2 is much faster paced, 10 times funnier, easier to watch since it doesn’t deal with Amy’s spiritual exploration and directly straight to the point story-wise as Amy is already set on her mission at taking down her corporation with the help of Tyler and reporter Jeff Flender (Mulroney) — a character who is a mix of battered idealism and self-aggrandizing ambition — who also strikes a relationship with Amy while they try to take down Abbadon.
With only two seasons available (the show got cancelled by HBO because of low viewership despite the critical acclaim), I suggest to watch Enlightened given how it approaches characters and corporations in such an interesting fashion and with great payoffs despite its slow pace.