|WHY MORE PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH ENLIGHTENED|
|ARTICLES - TELEVISION|
|Written by Damien O Neill|
|Sunday, 03 February 2013 19:30|
"I will not run away from life my whole life. I will try to really live. I will be mindful. I will be wise. I will change. And I will be an agent of change."
These words spoken by the divisive protagonist of Enlightened in one of her dreamy narrations closed the show’s pilot episode over a year ago, and set up the theme of this beautiful HBO series that very few people are watching. Enlightened has had a lot of trouble finding an audience for a number of reasons. For starters, marketed as an HBO Comedy Series, Enlightened really isn’t a comedy series. Although often laugh-out-loud funny, the series is deadly serious at its core and is seeking to do something much more challenging and meaningful than what viewers expect from a comedy. It is a drama that makes us laugh, but more importantly it makes us think about the problems within ourselves, and the problems devastating our world.
In the opening scene of Enlightened, Amy Jellicoe, portrayed brilliantly by Laura Dern, has a very public breakdown in front of her coworkers at the company she has worked with for fifteen years, Abadonn Industries. It’s a breakdown that will make any viewer cringe and it’s one of the more memorable opening scenes in recent years. This frightening introduction to a destructive character smoothly transitions to a new Amy, an enlightened Amy, as she speaks of the change she has received while in Hawaii getting treatment. Amy is no longer the angry, bitter woman we just saw prying open an elevator door in livid anger. She sees the light now, and she wishes to spread her new-found bliss to the people she left behind. Of course the viewer quickly realizes that Amy has not in fact changed in the way she believes she has. There is still anger within her, there is still fear, there are still all the emotions that drag each of us down to a place of unease. What drives the series’ first season is the question of whether or not Amy is heading towards the path of enlightenment that she so desperately believes she has already achieved. It’s a fascinating journey to experience, and it’s a season of television that is not as concerned with plot in the way one might expect.
Over the course of ten episodes, viewers have the chance to get inside Amy’s head and understand her not just as a character in television, but as a person with very real anxieties and thoughts about the world. Two episodes stand out as particularly strong examples of the show’s willingness to stray from conventional storytelling. In the fourth episode of the first season, Amy and her ex-husband Levi, played by a great Luke Wilson, leave the city for a spontaneous weekend of kayaking and camping in the wilderness with two other couples they don’t know. It’s an episode with a beautiful rhythm to it and it treats viewers with a glimpse into the hardships that have damaged Amy so deeply in her past. The season’s ninth episode takes a break from Amy’s character and focuses on Amy’s mother Helen, played by Laura Dern’s real-life mother Diane Ladd. It’s a painful episode that makes you understand Helen’s behaviour in a way that wasn’t obvious before, and its proof that the half-hour drama is a format that can be very powerful and should be explored more openly.
Amy is a very flawed person, and viewers seem to either love her or hate her for it. She can be selfish, she can be delusional, she is often oblivious, but she is changing. She is recognizing the serious problems that plague our world and she is developing a serious need to do something about that. While the first season of the show is mostly about Amy slowly finding her place in her new enlightened state, the second season is off to a start that promises much more plot. Without spoiling the end of the first season for new viewers, Amy is no longer wandering aimlessly and observing the problems around her. She is no longer searching for her place at Abandonn, or in the society that surrounds her. She has accepted the fact that there is something deeply wrong with the way things are operating and it is her mission to bring about change. Amy’s newfound focus is frightening in a way, and her drive to achieve what she has set out to do is more powerful than anything in her world right now. I fear for what’s to come, as Amy does not have the best track record in thinking about the consequences that follow her actions. Amy has great intentions, and what she is doing is more than noble; it’s important. But what will be the cost in her crusade? Will she take down those that she hopes to take down, or will the rest of her peers also crumble in the process.
Each episode of Enlightened is filled with voice-overs of Amy’s thoughts, and to me they are the most poignant parts of the show. Despite her self-delusion, she has beautiful things to say and very real fears of the world that surrounds her. The second season’s premiere ended with the darkest and most challenging moment of the series yet, in which Amy proclaims that the society we have built is inorganic, and cannot sustain life. “No kingdom lasts forever. Even this will end,” Amy warns us over a collection of cold city shots and it is certainly a heavy moment to end the premiere on, but also a very thought-provoking one. Much of the message in Enlightened is about our tendency to inflict damage upon ourselves, our peers, and our earth, but for what reason is this behaviour necessary? For reasons of greed, and it’s time for a change.
Enlightened is co-created by Laura Dern herself, and her passion for the project is clear through both the story she’s telling and the completely committed performance that won her a Golden Globe. She loses herself in the character of Amy and it is fascinating to watch everything she does. Mike White, Dern’s co-creator and co-star, writes nearly every episode of the show and his ability to create such a rich half hour each week is incredible. In my opinion, Enlightened is the best show currently airing and unfortunately one of the least watched. While it may not be for everyone, it’s a show that should be given a chance for there is nothing else like it on television, and it is shaping up to be something undeniably powerful.