ENLIGHTENED (2011-2013)

(HBO Max/VOD) The tagline for the first season of ENLIGHTENED was: ‘A woman on the verge of a nervous breakthrough,’ which does a damn fine job of succinctly setting up lead character Amy Jellicoe’s (deftly portrayed by co-creator Laura Dern) trajectory as a woman who thinks she has it all together, then a corporate affair destroys her world.

Mike White* (CHUCK & BUCK, SCHOOL OF ROCK), the other co-creator and head writer, does a great job of showcasing Amy’s attempts at becoming well-adjusted, trying to re-insert herself into her old positions only to find that they don’t fit. While flailing to find some kind of constant to hold onto, she reaches out to her addict ex, Levi (Luke Wilson).

What follows is a melancholy story of growth that, to some, may feel overwrought, but you’re seeing life through Amy’s eyes, and Amy is so well-realized between Dern and White that it’s worth enduring a few wide-eyed, over-earnest monologues. In fact, my favorite moment of the show occurs four episodes into the first season. She reflects on her life during an outdoor weekend retreat that doesn’t quite go the way Amy had hoped, and it’s the first time that she opens up to the audience:

(This is a combination of three monologues, just in case the segues feel abrupt.)

(The score really heightens that monologue, so it shouldn’t surprise you that Mark Mothersbaugh (DEVO) was responsible for it.)

ENLIGHTENED is Amy trying to course-correct her life, trying to become a better person, but frequently screwing it up with her own navel-gazing and endless hope for external accolades to tell her she’s on the right path. It’s a mature character study that’s rarely told through TV nowadays.

Dern & White had hoped to tell a three season arc, but the critical acclaim wasn’t enough to make up for the paltry ratings, so they only received two seasons. Nonetheless, the second season ends satisfyingly enough.

“There’s time. There is time. There is so much time.”

Season one trailer:

Season two trailer:

  • Fun fact: Mike White was on two seasons of THE AMAZING RACE with his father, and they were delightful although — spoiler alert — they never came close to winning.