Enlightened, the HBO show about Amy Jellicoe, an aspiring agent of change, ended its second tremendous season with Jellicoe royally fucking with the status quo of corporate America. Her radical whistleblowing — while sometimes a world-class annoyance — made her a hero to beleaguered employees and social justice warriors everywhere. She was David, and she cooly swept the floor with Goliath. However, the show itself didn't have the same glorious fate.
Airing every Sunday after Girls, Enlightened left critics — including us — effusing praise over creator Mike White's pioneering vision. However, the viewers didn't follow, and last night, word got out that HBO cancelled the show.
And that's a damn shame, because Enlightened was a tv game changer, and we needed more of it.
"It was a very difficult decision," HBO said in a statement about their decision not to renew. "We've decided not to continue Enlightened for a third season. We're proud of the show and we look forward to working with Mike White and Laura Dern in the future."
Respectfully: Thank you, HBO, for giving us two magnificent seasons, and fuck you for not letting us see a third. Fuck you to everyone — myself included — who didn't tell everyone every damn day to watch the show lest it be cancelled. Why didn't we get all Amy Jellicoe on HBO's ass before it was too late?
What would Amy Jellicoe do? She'd shout it from the rooftops. She'd write HBO and demand to reconsider, she'd join Patton Oswalt on Twitter and demand Netflix or Amazon buy it, and, OK, she might even hack into HBO's mainframe and dismantle those motherfuckers from the inside.
That's what we need — we need Amy Jellicoe. We need Mike White, who has since shuttered his Twitter account, and disappeared. In grieving, no doubt, and for good reason. His (and Laura Dern's) creation was one of the few beautiful, perfect things that has ever been on TV. And perfect in a new way — a hopeful way that made everyone who watched it a better person. That might sounds like a ludicrous statement about a television show — but it's not.
Tony Kushner once wrote:
But hope isn't a choice, it's a moral obligation, it's a human obligation, it's an obligation to the cells in your body, hope is a function of those cells, it's a bodily function the same as breathing and eating and sleeping; hope is not naive, hope grapples endlessly with despair, real vivid powerful thunderclap hope, like the soul, is at home in darkness, is divided; but lose your hope and you lose your soul.
So much TV is either romanticized delusions, or smart and honest, but cynical as hell. Our culture excuses and even exalts selfishness and self-interest because of our distressing undercurrent of nihilism. So many stories we receive have the subtext "but nothing fucking matters anyway," and anything with genuine heart is dismissed as dumb. It takes some serious guts to be open and earnest without people thinking you're a little stupid — and that's heartbreaking.
Enlightened is the one show that was truthful about the limits of human endeavor and how fucked the world is in so many ways — about how we all can be so stupid and frail — but it didn't lead to the conclusion "so why bother caring about anything." It was honest about the scope of the problems we're facing, and the difficulty of making change, but it didn't absolve us of the responsibility of trying. It didn't look at how little any one of us can do to make the world better and round it down to zero. It chose empathy, compassion, and, yes, at the risk of repetition, hope, and it was revolutionary because of it.
It's a show that made you feel both uncomfortable and introspective — and that's a valuable thing in an age where everything is designed to tell us that we should just relax into this couch built in China and eat some chemical garbage food that was created and packaged by someone who was paid next to nothing — just ignore that this is all a weird spinning top that is gonna have to eventually fall. Because holy shit, that's monumental and impossible, but isn't it also so lucky? Isn't there so much opportunity there? Because goodness exists, and we can access it — and ourselves — through change.
Enlightened was cancelled, and I'm gonna have to come to terms with it. But it's really, really hard to say goodbye to something that made the world a better place, and that created art that empowered change — and was really fucking funny, too.*
Much like with every episode of the show, I feel all the feelings. I'm angry and withered, and I'm also thankful for the fact that I got to spend two seasons inside its weird, brave, kind, loving world. My world, and a world I rarely see reflected in media — especially anything mainstream.
Let's pray HBO was serious about working with Laura Dern and Mike White again; even if it's not on season 3 (it's not too late, HBO!), I'm hopeful for more of whatever those two big brains imagine. I'm hopeful for art that exercises my empathy, and entertains me so much that I don't even notice how fucking good it feels to feel it all.
Everything can be transformed. Every single thing. Goodness exists. It is all around. It's just sleeping. It can be wakened. I will not be afraid, I will be bolder. I will go straight to the top and breathe light into the darkest hearts.
Thank you, Amy Jellicoe. Thank you, Laura Dern. Thank you, Mike White.
I'm off to find my sea turtle.
*Krista, you have fucked me for the last time!