Now that Dancing With the Stars is over, I was able to spend a Monday night with the second most illuminating show on television: HBO’s Enlightened. (I dare them to use that in a promo.)
I caught up with the first seven episodes over Thanksgiving weekend and found that my general reactions towards Laura Dern’s protagonist, Amy, often closely resembled those of Amy’s former assistant Krista (Sarah Burns, pictured), who makes the same terrible facial expression (also pictured, apologies) whenever Amy says something that attempts to equalize the two women or at least throw them back on the same side. Which is really crappy of me, because obviously Krista sucks!
Dern’s Amy probably frustrates me more than the average viewer, and I think it’s because I see some of myself in her. We’re not fundamentally similar, but we’re both tall, blonde, in many ways self-destructive, and altogether pretty crazy. I think the main difference between us, aside from me thinking all of that New Age stuff is crap, is in self-awareness: Amy doesn’t seem to realize that she’s still a disaster in everyone’s eyes, which affords her this eternal air of hope and enthusiasm that seems so jarring considering that her current personal and professional life is in shambles. Amy’s response to impending misery is to read self-help books and attend rallies; mine is to roll my eyes, hate myself some more, and do my best not to subject other humans to the train wreck that is me. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
The point is this: I want to root for Amy, but I also want to smack her in the face.
I think that’s the point of her, though? Virtually no one is black or white on this show. Laura Dern and co-creator Mike White (who plays Amy’s deskmate, the sweet, befuddled, tragic Tyler) have built up a set of characters — Amy’s mom (Diane Ladd), her ex-husband (Luke Wilson), and employees in multiple departments of the soul-sucking Abaddon corporation — most of whom are more frustrating than sympathetic at any given time. We’ve only seen flickers of humanity in Krista. Timm Sharp’s Dougie is a total bastard of a boss, and Wilson’s Levi has been an unreliable mess. We keep waiting for Ladd’s Helen to make some sort of concession to her strung-out daughter.
But I guess that’s how life is. Enlightened is pretty much one big Mike White movie chopped up into bits. Here is life, it says. It’s awful. But if you look at it differently, it could be beautiful. White’s Tyler is perhaps the least frustrating character of the bunch, but of course he’s frustrated enough with himself to make up for that. “I’m just tired of being alone,” he said softly to Amy in his car last week, after misreading their situation and trying to kiss her in the office. Also, I just realized, we still don’t have his backstory on why he got demoted to the Cogentiva basement in the first place. I assume that’ll be coming up in one of the next (and last) two episodes of season 1.
We see all of the plot from Amy’s perspective and hear her thoughts as voiceover, but I’ve actually come to consider Tyler, the most likable character, as sort of the silent heartbeat of the show. He sees the good in everyone — even Dougie, who’s only lonely too, after all. They are all lonely together.
Tyler’s attempt to define the term “cock block” via hand gestures: AMAZING.
Last night’s episode, “Comrades Unite,” advanced the season’s slow-burning plot so far I wasn’t sure if I was watching the same show. To avoid losing her job, Amy ratted on Dougie to HR. I mean, she’s terrible at her job, but he’s been sexually inappropriate, so. Nobody/everybody won. I’m interested to see what will happen now that Amy’s distanced herself even further from her biggest ally, Tyler. And is it possible she can rebuild somewhat of a professional relationship with her former boss, human oil slick Damon?
Somehow I’ve written a lot of words about the show but feel like I’ve barely addressed anything at all. Are you frustrated by that? Am I crazy? “Is everyone here as trapped as I am?” Agggghhh!
Oh, and are any fans of HBO’s ill-fated The Comeback as amused as I am that Amy found a new female confidant of sorts in Bayne Gibby’s conservative, morally righteous Connie? Gibby played the lone lady-writer for the dreadful sitcom Room and Bored on The Comeback. Is Amy Jellicoe the new Valerie Cherish? Discuss.
Or to put it another way…. Enlightened: After a loooooong day at work, do you wanna see that?
And listen to my theme song — it’s depressing and lovely, like Enlightened and life.
Ask Annie what it’s like to be such a disaster in the video player below. To see her answers to previous questions, click on the text links below the picture.