Mark Barry and Shreya Durvasula
Enlightened, Sunday nights on HBO
Laura Dern, Luke Wilson, Mike White
Created by Laura Dern & Mike White
SD: Everyone and their mother (including mine!) has been telling me to watch Enlightened, so here goes. Enlightened, which debuted 2011 on HBO, was met with critical acclaim. Laura Dern won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Amy Jellicoe. But as any TV executive will tell you, great reviews don't mean a whole lot when it comes to getting viewers. Which is too bad because show creator Mike White comes with a ton of experience (Freaks & Geeks, Dawson's Creek, The Good Girl) and the pilot has potential.
We start with a shot of Amy Jellicoe, an executive at Abbadon Industries (interesting reference there) having a breakdown. After spending some time in "Open Air", a rehab center in Haiwaii, she comes back a whole new person but finds that returning to her old life is not as easy as she thought.
As someone who grew up in India, I've definitely seen my share of new-age, hippie, self-help lifestyles. I'm usually irritated by people who claim they're "more spiritual than religious" (and I've definitely been guilty of this as well) and who think that a 2 week stay in an ashram has taken them to a higher plane of existence. I was excited about the show taking a critical look at a character that does exactly this, and how they apply their new "enlightened" beliefs to the daily grind of corporate drudgery.
But I was surprised that the show indulges Amy's fantasies rather than criticize or satirize. The shot with her in the yellow dress surrounded by people in suits suggests that we should be sympathetic rather than skeptical of Amy's new attitude. See also, sea turtle in the elevator. I'm hoping this isn't the case. The brilliant way Amy manipulates HR into getting a job at the company tells us she was probably really good at being cutthroat, and she hasn't lost those skills.
What do you think Mark? Do you think Amy's really changed?
p.s.- I also love when a hairstyle change is used to convey a new attitude. Do all stylists think that straight hair means you're uptight and curly hair means you're easygoing?
MB: Well I've already permed my hair into curls so as to imply my easygoing-ness, so I suggest you get on this train before it's too late. I was relatively optimistic after the pilot, being that most pilots are stilted and tough to get through. It really takes a few episodes to let a story arc take shape, so I see it as a good sign that I already want to make the journey.
Most of this episode revolved around introducing characters, not that many are exceptionally likable. We are supposed to relate to Amy and like her, I think? I found the opening scene interesting. Thrust into a tense situation immediately - Amy having a breakdown at work and watching both her personal and professional lives crumble - we are confronted with Amy's rage. I loved the comic scene with her forcing the elevator open through sheer will so she could tell Damon (Chip Esten from Whose Line is it Anyway!) off some more. We are left uncomfortable. Amy is out of control and we, as viewers, don't know how we should feel. Having to relate to the archetype of the 'hysterical woman' is a genius move on the part of Mike White. So often we're supposed to laugh at or look down upon a woman displaying this sort and amount of emotions, but I found myself wanting to force those doors open and getting into that elevator. Plus, it helps that Damon is an asshole. Seriously. Fuck that guy.
I'm going to get on a bit of a soap box here about Luke Wilson's character, Levi. He seems almost ripped out of a Judd Apatow movie, where he'd be the wise happy stoner and be played by Seth Rogen. The plot would revolve around his and Amy's relationship and Amy would change to facilitate him... in fact the only lesson Levi would learn is that sometimes he should smoke pot slightly less copiously. Ugh, I'm sure that Mike White isn't going that way, but I just hate that kind of character so I'm hoping to be surprised.
As a pretty staunch atheist, as well as someone who grew up adjacent to the hippy commune that is Eugene, Oregon, the 'spiritual,' 'self-help,' 'self-actualization' path is one that annoys me thoroughly. It didn't bother me that much up to this point. If it begins doing so, I'll never stop whining about it... so for everyone's sake I hope that it doesn't go down that road. Has Amy changed? I'm not convinced yet. My favorite bit in the entire episode was during her return interview at Abadonn Industries, when it was clear that they weren't going to give her a job, her not-so-subtle threat of a lawsuit was what finally got the point across. The insight, the anger, that was so clear in that moment is what I hope this show is going to be about. Will Amy become some kind of emotional arsonist tactically using her rage to get what she wants all while preaching that she's this new sort of Enlightened (title reference!) person? I really hope so.
SD: I wasn't as bothered by Levi as you were Mark, but it takes a lot for me to dislike Luke Wilson. It seems like Mike White is playing with characters we've seen before, so I'm looking forward to seeing them getting fleshed out in new ways. Being forced to relate to terrible characters is uncomfortable and jarring. But I love it. I call this the Walter White Experience.
MB: I agree that I may have been too harsh on Levi. I love me some Luke Wilson and I'm sure that he'll eventually be my favorite character and you can point to this post and justifiably mock me.
So, that'll do it for now folks! Come back next week for our analysis of episodes two and three, and we'll continue on this pace (two a week) through the continuation of the show. Feel free to watch along with us and give us your feedback as well!