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Friday, March 1, 2013

Here's What I Love: Enlightened

I was talking about Enlightened (the Laura Dern/Mike White HBO dramedy now in its second season) with a friend the other day and she said, "Oh yeah, I have HBO Go now, I should watch that."  And I immediately shouted at her, "YOU SHOULD!  IT IS GREAT!"

I haven't really talked about it before (except in this post about the awards' tendency to undervalue comedy) and there's a reason for that:  literally no one I know watches it or talks about it or is even aware of its existence.  But I've been watching steadily and if you are into incredibly good actors being very raw and vulnerable and dealing with some very intense yet universal aspects of being human, then you will definitely enjoy Enlightened.  The first season MAY leave you feeling empty and hopeless and full of despair, but know that the second season moves in a more optimistic direction without sacrificing any of the tumultuous emotion or complex characterization of the first.

This is gonna be a short post because I don't want to ruin any of it for all of you who almost certainly haven't watched the show, but here are some basic highlights:

- Laura Dern plays Amy Jellicoe who, after having a breakdown and losing her executive position at a corporate pharmaceutical company, returns from her spiritual rehabilitation full of platitudes and unbridled aspirational do-goodery and clueless selfishness, only to find herself demoted to the most depressing underground workspace ever.

- Mike White plays Amy's awkward co-worker Tyler, who lets Amy basically use him because of an unrequited crush he has on her

- Timm Sharp (Marshall from Undeclared making a most-welcome resurgence) plays their boss Dougie (everyone on television should be named Dougie), a single-minded hard-ass with unusually complex aspects we eventually discover

- Luke Wilson plays Amy's ex-husband Levi, a sad, sweet man in the throes of an all-consuming drug addiction

- Diane Ladd plays Amy's mother Helen, a direct and somewhat stoic woman who loves her daughter but refuses to put up with her crap

- Dermot Mulroney (NOT Dylan McDermott) and Molly Shannon both become regulars in the second season, to my unending delight

Episodes of Enlightened are bookended by an omniscient and often blithe narration from Amy, but some of the strongest episodes are the ones where we get to see the world from another perspective; shifting the focus to Helen or Levi or Tyler allows the audience some breathing space from Amy's all-absorbing narcissism and single-mindedness.  The show draws focus to its characters' flaws, lingering on them, unraveling them, until the audience is forced to dislike the characters, be embarrassed by them, but ultimately relate to them in a very honest way.  It's one of the most honest shows on television, which is probably why I love it.  So if you're not afraid of examining a world where there are no flat characters, only complex humans...if you're not afraid of feeling something real, then this is the show for you.  Yes, the acting is superb and the direction is entrancing, but it's Mike White's masterful writing that makes Enlightened into the artistic triumph that it is.

Image via NYTimes

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