It’s a shame that Mike White & Laura Dern’s winning and unusual comedy/drama hybrid Enlightened met such an untimely demise, axed by the often-lenient HBO after its brief second season. Treated if not ignobly, than indifferently in life, the show’s final season has been given an unceremonious sendoff — no more Blu-ray for you, Enlightened.
The eight episodes of season two represent a subtle shift in the show’s priorities from the first season. Centered on Amy Jellicoe’s (Dern) mission to expose the corrupt behavior of her longtime employer, the show is a little more driven by plot in this set of episodes. Clearer narrative goals don’t hurt the show’s signature blend of emotional grace notes and cringe-inducing comedy — Dern is still in top form here — but some of the show’s brilliant smaller moments, like Amy’s interactions with mom Helen (Diane Ladd, sadly barely around in season two) are missed.
Still, the show does find time to essentially devote entire episodes to Amy’s ex-husband Levi (Luke Wilson) and his search for sobriety in the Hawaiian rehab facility that changed Amy’s life, and to co-worker Tyler (White), and the possible penetration of his calcified shell of isolation. White, who wrote all these episodes and directed a number of them, might just have given himself the best of the season, taking the familiar scenario of the awkward guy wasting away in his bare apartment, and poignantly exposing and treating the numbed wound of loneliness.
Part of what makes Enlightened so appealing is its optimism and belief in its characters’ abilities to change, and although the glimpse is so tantalizing and brief, we get to see that for all of her self-delusion and misguided energy, real change is a reality for Dern’s Amy. Dermot Mulroney provides a nice counterpart as the LA Times journalist who’s up for helping Amy blow the whistle on her corporation, simultaneously acting as a foil and an enabler.
Although White was able to satisfactorily wrap up Enlightened from a narrative perspective, it feels like we only got to see a bit of what he and Dern were capable of from a character standpoint. I guess we’re just going to have to learn to live with that.
Again, it’s frustrating that season two was relegated to the DVD-only stack after the very nice Blu-ray release of the first season. The two-disc set includes audio commentaries on selected episodes and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette for each episode with thoughts from White.