In the past six months, anyone mentioning HBO is usually talking about hipster wunderkind Lena Dunham’s “Girls.” Obviously, they’re turning the channel as soon as the Dunham-saturated credits start rolling, and I suspect they’re probably leaving a bit hungry: “Girls” is a great appetizer for the rich and hearty entrée that is “Enlightened,” the much less-buzzed-about show that follows at 9:30 p.m. EST. I like to think of “Enlightened,” the brain child of Mike White and Laura Dern, as the hot, sad widower you meet in a tavern on a rainy night, while “Girls” is that guy that got to be “The Bachelor” twice.
Sadly, instead of both of these quality shows being touted and discussed equally, the “shocking” nudity and “brave” if not gratuitous sexuality featured on Dunham’s show has overshadowed the quietly profound gem that airs right after, and is quite sexy in its own way.
Yada yada, It’s my favorite show on television and it really deserves a thorough look-see! Why? I’ll tell you why…
1. Mike White. Anyone reading this has probably seen a movie or televison episode written by Mike White. He started his career writing for “Dawson’s Creek” as well as “Freaks and Geeks,” but is most well-known for penning the Jack Black vehicles “School of Rock” (which he also starred in, playing Ned Schneebly) and “Nacho Libre.” And remember ‘The Good Girl,” that movie with the only critically acclaimed Jennifer Aniston performance to date? Yeah, that was all Mike White too.
I’ve never come across a style of writing that I can compare to his. It’s all at once fast and slow, casual and fancy, street and poetic, and often just deeply touching.
Mike White also plays the character of Tyler, Amy’s fellow office drone. Tyler is one of the most interesting male characters I’ve ever seen. He’s the guy you see on the subway or in the grocery store that looks so gentle and sweet that you instantly feel sad for him and hope his life isn’t lonely. I can’t even get into it, it’s too fucking spectacular.
2. Strong, Complex Women. You’ve never seen a broad like this represented on television. Laura Dern plays the endlessly complex and fascinating character of Amy Jellicoe. Once a high-powered corporate executive, Amy is brought down in a big way by a messy workplace affair gone wrong: this results in a hilarious public meltdown.
She is sent to a Hawaiian rehab facility to deal with her “anger issues.” The show is about what happens when she returns to the company, now “fixed” and “enlightened.” Only problem is, the real world is messy and often disappointing, making it very challenging to stay in a peaceful state of mind.
The character of Amy Jellicoe is not so cut-and-dry. She’s a truly three-dimensional human being, someone you really might meet or already know. There are times that you will find her so frustrating that you will yell at her through the television, and then times you’ll find yourself rooting for her, wanting to give her a hug, defending her to your fellow watchers.
Besides Dern, there are more face-rocking female performances from Dianne Ladd, Molly Shannon, and Bayne Gibby. We need strong and real women represented like this on television, and I’m-a preach it.
3. The Cast. “Enlightened” is a clusterfuck explosion of phenomenal talent. Even people who haven’t yet seen the show (who, by the way, I’m personally tracking down on Twitter) know that the show centers around an unusual character played by the inimitable Laura Dern of “Jurassic Park” fame. She’s already won a Golden Globe for her work on “Enlightened,” and once you’ve seen the show, we think you’ll agree they should award her an Emmy large enough to live inside of.
Then we have Luke Wilson. Yes, that Luke Wilson and no, he’s not fat anymore. You’ll notice the show getting better and better with every episode, while also feeling the gentle grip of Luke’s boyish hand reclaiming your heart at the same time. He plays Dern’s character’s ne’er do well ex-husband and delivers a “Royal Tenenbaums”-level performance on this show, at times even surpassing that.
Supporting players include Timm Sharp (from the great but prematurely cancelled “Undeclared”), Diane Ladd (“Wild at Heart”), and many more.
4. It’s The Underdog. This is a show about underdogs for underdogs. The show itself is fighting for its life. Though almost unanimously acclaimed by the critics (I seriously can’t find one bad review from a legitimate rag), late reaction and low advertising has left the show’s future uncertain.
5. It’s On HBO. As you know, it’s not TV, It’s HBO. With the exception of “Arliss” (shudder), HBO has really never aired anything but straight up, Grade-A quality original programming. Ten years from now, people will still talk about “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Enlightened” (and maybe “Sex and the City” because it’s still rerunning on E! every day).
6. There’s A Love Triangle That Surpasses That One In “Twilight.” Soon you’ll be wearing “Team Levi” shirts. I don’t want to give too much away … but there’s a great Pride and Prejudice-style Darcy vs. Wickham type sitch that will make you swoon.
7. The Guest Stars. As if the talent of the mainstay cast wasn’t already downright shiver-giving, the guest actors on this series are so choice. I’m talking Molly Shannon (famous for her work on “Saturday Night Live,” of course) like you’ve never seen her. I’m talking Dermot Mulroney (“The Wedding Date”, “My Best Friend’s Wedding”) as a sexy reporter, I’m talking the beautiful Robin Wright (“House of Cards”, “The Princess Bride”) as a new age Hippy-Dip that Dern meets in rehab.
8. In Memory Of “Freaks and Geeks.” At some point, either you or the person sitting nearest you has probably lamented the untimely cancellation of the brilliant and before-it’s-time “Freaks and Geeks.” Ditto “Arrested Development,” “The Comeback,” “Undeclared,” take your pick. (I know that I, for one, still hold weekly séances for Sam Weir and Valerie Cherish … too creepy?)
We all wonder how on Earth these cancellations can happen, when creative atrocities like “According to Jim” run for eight (EIGHT!) soul-poisoning seasons. “Enlightened” is a chance to partially right these past wrongs. It’s our flux capacitor.
9. It’s A LOT Of Amazing Things In One. It’s at different times a story of love, loss, sex, infatuation, loneliness, frenemies, cocaine and addiction in general, corporate evil, revenge, mother issues, and even the freakin’ environment.
10. It Will Move You. I like to say that “Enlightened” is television for humans that like to feel things. I always thought “happy tears: were a myth before I saw this show. Seriously, it pulls all strings of your emotional capacity – good and bad.
BONUS: Cool Celebrities Love It! Ben Stiller has urged his Twitter followers to check out the show. Currently Patton Oswalt (“King of Queens,” “Young Adult”) is loving the shit out of “Enlightened” on Twitter, and he’s obviously awesome. Rainn Wilson says it’s “currently the best show on television” and yes, he is the star of another show that is currently on television. That’s high praise. Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, also from “The Office,” are huge fans as well. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim (better known as “Tim & Eric,” maybe the most brilliantly weird people in the history of comedy) have also done their part to spread the word.