In the pilot of HBO’s new half hour dramedy, “Enlightened,” Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park), has a mental breakdown at work. This is likely due to her co-worker/lover, Damon (Chip Esten, Big Love) dumping her, and quite possibly costing Amy her job. Amy goes to Hawaii for three months and finds inner peace. Returning with a positive attitude, she goes back to her company, who, afraid of a lawsuit, finds a place for her within the building.
It’s hard to know what to make of Enlightened. Amy is in a precarious mental state. Even after her “enlightenment,” she still shows signs of her previous instability. She tries to make peace with Damon, who calls her crazy, sparking her to cuss and yell again. As such, Amy’s character is still an unknown. Has she really begun a new path? Or is the “inner peace” just cover for the turmoil raging within her, being kept bottled up? Or is she, like most people in reality, somewhere in the middle, still figuring out her path? Will she be happy with the crappy little position she takes over at work, or will she rebel at the demotion?
It isn’t hard to see why Amy has trouble connecting and communicating with others. Upon returning from Hawaii, Amy temporarily moves in with her mother, Helen (Diane Ladd, Kingdom Hospital, Chinatown). Amy tries to read Helen a letter she wrote at her retreat about her feelings towards her mother. Helen refuses to listen, making excuses to avoid the confrontation and authentic exchange. Yet, Helen still cares, as evidenced by Amy finding her asleep with Amy’s letter. So no wonder Amy is socially awkward after being raised by such a distant woman. Maybe Amy can find a way to help her while they live together.
Damon will not continue to be a love interest for Amy. In fact, if anything, he is an obstacle. Since he still holds a high position within the company, might he make her work life even more miserable than it’s sure to be? Or might Amy crack a little further and use their affair, and the threat to tell his wife, as leverage against the slimy weasel? The latter would be most welcome, even if it costs Amy some progress.
No, Amy’s love interest is ex-husband, Levi (Luke Wilson, Old School, The Royal Tenenbaums). There is still clearly much affection between the pair, and Levi isn’t, unlike Damon, hostile towards Amy. Unfortunately, Levi doesn’t have his life together either, as evidenced by snorting a line of coke during polite conversation. It is no wonder two such messed up people couldn’t make it work. One must take care of oneself before supporting another. But, maybe if Amy does begin to find a real stability, she can help Levi find himself Enlightened.
Despite the confusion over what Enlightened is about, and the uncertainty whether it will be worth watching or not, there is one thing that can be said for sure: Dern and Wilson are giving amazing performances. They both knock it out of the park separately, and their chemistry together is wonderful. With this in place, it seems the series deserves a chance.
Finally, it’s hard to know what to make of Amy’s co-worker friend, Krista (Sarah Burns; I Love You, Man). Five months pregnant, she’s awkward when admitting such to Amy. Might Krista’s baby be Damon’s, rather than her (former?) steady guy’s? Her evasive speech indicates that something is up, and that could explain the unease around Amy, as their affairs with Damon would overlap. This could be a serious stumbling block to Amy’s readjustment.
Enlightened airs Mondays at 9:30 p.m. ET on HBO.