There’s nothing else on TV quite like HBO’s Enlightened, a unique blend of comedy and drama that could easily slip through the cracks when compared to its more flashy basic and premium cable peers. It’s not the easiest show to categorize, and its 10-episode first season lets its scenarios unfold slowly. The half-hour show doesn’t conform to typical sitcom or drama structures, often eschewing overt conflict altogether, and while it has undeniable affection for its lead character, it’s not afraid to focus on her extremely frustrating characteristics either. In short, this is a show that could only survive on HBO. One hopes its currently airing second season won’t be its last.
Co-creator Laura Dern stars as Amy Jellicoe, an executive for a health & beauty company who loses her job in a humiliating public meltdown. She rehabs at a spiritual-healing retreat in Hawaii and returns to her life positive, centered, and determined to make the world a better place, armed with an arsenal of New Age knowledge. She’s ready to get her old job back, reconnect with her mother (Dern’s actual mom, Diane Ladd) and help out her addict ex-husband (Luke Wilson). This isn’t exactly what happens, and shades of hypocrisy, overbearing interest in others and an utter lack of self-awareness begin to crack through Amy’s positive exterior.
This is an exceptionally tricky role to play, and Dern does it beautifully, creating a woman who clearly means well, but possesses a wide range of cringe-inducing behaviors. She is deeply flawed, but Dern’s performance isn’t condescending or cynical, and neither is the show’s tone. Co-created by Mike White, Enlightened is probably the most auteurist piece of television this side of Louie. White and Dern balance a warmly humanistic outlook with an unflinching look at the way we fool ourselves when it comes to interpersonal relationships.