Laura Dern attempts to join a long list of strong female characters in TV comedy with Enlightened. The series, which Dern co-created with executive producer Mike White, is about Amy, an executive in a big company who has a nervous breakdown after an affair with her boss (Charles Eston). Returning to work months later, having completed a self-help workshop in Hawaii, she is forced to take an entry-level position in data processing while trying to keep her sanity amid all the zany drama unfolding around her.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing at stake in this show. All of the character’s problems are blown out of proportion inside her own head, and the audience is left to ask why should we care about anything that happens to this woman? A question the series does nothing to answer for us. There’s something reminiscent about Ricky Gervais’ performance in The Office in Dern’s portrayal of Amy. There is something very artificial about the way she seems to care about various issues in different episodes. And also like Gervais’ character, she is so delusional that she has convinced herself that she really does care about these things, and is a good person by extension. The key difference between the two characters is that Amy is not funny; just pathetic.
There are some good thing about the show. I like Luke Wilson’s presence here. He’s a somewhat archetypal drug addicted burn-out, but Wilson does a remarkable job with what he’s given. He strives to defy expectations, and it’s nice having someone to root for in this show. It was also an unexpected surprise to see Jason Mantzoukis turn up in this. I’ve become a big fan of Mantzoukis over the last couple of years, watching him in FX’s The League and listening to his podcast How did this get made?, which he co-hosts with Paul Scheer and June Diane Raphael, and they talk about the worst movies ever made. It’s highly entertaining, but again he isn’t being utilized fully here. There is one episode where he has a little rivalry with one of his co-workers, and that was entertaining, but not satisfying enough to carry the show.
There is a definite predictability to the show. When a situation arises, it’s often clear how it’s going to play out. This makes it all the worse that the situations arising aren’t dramatically interesting to watch. All of this, coupled with a force-fed voice-over narration explaining Amy’s pseudo-tranquil inner thoughts make watching Enlightened more of a chore than I tend to like with my entertainment.
Special features include audio commentaries and behind the scenes featurettes on select episodes. The settings are all fairly ordinary and uninteresting visually, so I can’t recommend Blu-ray over just getting the DVD.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from HBO Studios on January 11.