Enlightened is the HBO comedy-drama series that comes on every Sunday night after Girls. You might not have heard of it because it's not Girls, or because you don't want to have anything to do with Girls. Either way, it seems Enlightened's renewal status is far from guaranteed, and that's a shame because it's possibly the best show currently on television.
Enlightened follows the seriously flawed but deep-down decent Amy Jellicoe (brilliantly played by Laura Dern); a high-powered executive who has a breakdown, and subsequently heads to rehab. The experience changes her life, and she returns to Los Angeles as a spiritually-awakened vessel of peace, hope, change, love, and light. She's an environmental warrior princess whose burgeoning altruistic ways are... well, awful for everyone else. Not everyone needs to dismantle the Matrix to find meaning; most people want something a little more... normal. Witnessing Amy navigate the world in her embarrassing, unruly way can be difficult, but it's also hilarious, touching, and often times heartbreaking.
The series is now in its second season, and what started as a character study of an interesting woman, has majorly ramped things up, plot-wise. It's getting so fucking good, and you have to start watching immediately so we can all talk about it.
To further convince you of this necessity, here's a list of the reasons Enlightened is mandatory viewing:
1. You will feel all the emotions.
All of them. In every episode.
2. A strong, unique female lead.
Mike White is a gifted writer; he crafts dynamic, weird, and wonderfully fascinating female characters. He excels at capturing people who want something different from what society dictates we should want — it can start off as unbearably difficult to watch, and ends in a deep empathy for that person. These characters are for anyone who's ever cared deeply about something that's not necessarily what we're supposed to care about. Year of the Dog is a good example of this; Molly Shannon's character is considered crazy because of her passion to help animals, but everyone else's single-minded pursuits go unquestioned because they're socially acceptable. For example, her coworkers are obsessed with making money, getting married, etc. We tolerate single mindedness when it comes to those things, because that's what we're all supposed to want. But when Molly Shannon's character goes vegan and literally rescues an entire shelter worth of death row dogs, she's a nut ball. And she IS a nut ball, but there's something relatable about it*, and endearing about a person striving, sometimes uncontrollably, for something substantive from life.
Enlightened examines a somewhat similar character in Laura Dern's Amy Jellicoe. After communing with a sea turtle and finding her "true voice" on her spiritual retreat, she returns to her life in Riverside, determined to continue on her path of awareness. However, when Amy's thrust back into the real world, it ain't pretty. Watching her cope with her reality as "New Amy" is beyond uncomfortable and very fucking funny. Like an undersocialized but enthusiastic puppy at a dog park, it's a near-constant shitshow.
3. It's hilarious, and it has heart.
A comedy that loves what it skewers; it languishes in Amy's obnoxious righteousness, and yet you (mostly) can't help but root for her. Also, it's the rare show where you're so entrenched in the moment that an amazing joke will blindsides you, and you laugh and laugh. For all the talk of how complex the show is, it's got some really fantastic, incredibly stupid jokes. It's delightful.
4. It's turning into a straight-up corporate thriller.
A comedic, heart-wrenching corporate thriller. Forget
Homeland, and get right with Amy Jellicoe.
5. The cast is perfect.
It'd be easy to write a paragraph about the greatness of each individual, but I'll focus on a few right now because this is already really fucking long. Diane Ladd as Amy's mom, Helen Jellicoe. She's unimpeachable — if you have any mom issue whatsoever, she'll make you cry. Timm Sharp as Dougie Daniels is so fucking funny; a goddamned delight. Bayne Gibby is gold in everything she's in — and if you haven't watched The Comeback, you need to go out and rent it right now. RIGHT NOW! Oh, and Molly Shannon is so sweet and lovely in her recent guest role.
6. Because you always wondered what happened when Eat, Pray, Love ended. (?)
Enlightened is dealing with the fallout of spiritual enlightenment in a world that's not setup to support that path — especially if you need a job. White says, "... I felt like it would be more interesting to look at what happens when you come back to your reality with all of these evangelistic notions of what goodness is or how to live, and then try to apply it to a world that isn't really interested." It's like finding out what happens after Dorothy leaves Oz... the wreckage can be more compelling than the initial journey.
7. The finale of Season 2 is supposed to be mindblowing.
Like, the best-television-ever levels of greatness.
8. Because TV this good should stay.
A show this wonderful deserves enough time to grow and evolve. Or, forgiving that vague bullshit, it deserves more time to live! We can't let Enlightened become another Freaks and Geeks, Arrested Development, or The Sarah Connor Chronicles. (What? It was good!) It's not too late for Enlightened, and we can save it! You just gotta watch.
*And I don't think that's just because I'm a vegan who volunteers with a dog rescue! But it might be!
Mike White Interview [Huffington Post]