You’re not watching Enlightened. I know you aren’t, because basically no one is. Seriously, I checked the ratings for the latest episode, and I don’t understand ratings, but 0.217 million Americans watched it and, considering an episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo that aired the same night had 1.804 million viewers, I think that’s pretty bad. I also think it’s a good indicator that you probably didn’t watch it.
To be fair, there’s a reasonably good chance you haven’t even heard of this incredible TV show, even though it airs on HBO right after Girls, which literally no one can stop talking about because Lena Dunham’s boobs are the most divisive character to ever appear on a television screen. Based on some in-depth research (I told a bunch of my friends to watch it, and they were like, what even is that?) basically no one has heard of Enlightened. Even I didn’t know about it right away, and TV is basically my only hobby. Fortunately my friend Peter told me about it when the first season was almost over, and I immediately devoured every episode. Now it’s in the midst of the second season, and it just gets better and better all the time.
OK, so I should probably explain why I think Enlightened is one of the best shows that’s currently airing. It started with Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) having a total breakdown over an office affair gone mad. Amy was filled with rage and hate, but after a stint in a Hawaiian rehabilitation centre type place, she finds inner peace. She comes home a changed woman.
Except, not really. Amy wants to change; she certainly thinks she has changed. But as she moves in with her mother, Helen (Diane Ladd), tries to help her addict ex-husband, Levi (Luke Wilson) and befriends her coworker, Tyler (Mike White) it becomes clear she’s still incredibly self-involved. Amy does get rehired by Abaddonn, the company she worked for before her breakdown, but she’s relegated to a shitty data processing position. She strives for some kind of meaning in her life, and finds it when she learns that Abaddonn is up to some practices that could be described as ethically unsound. Of course, this is a giant corporation, and that news comes as a surprise to no one…except Amy.
Amy can be a very unlikable and difficult character. Her intentions are good, mostly, but she obliviously uses the people in her life to get the things she wants. She sees them as pawns or accessories in the whistle blowing drama she’s created. Sometimes her lack of knowledge of how the world works, combined with her often abrasive approach to social interactions, can be off-putting, to say the least. But there’s also something admirable about Amy’s desire to reinvent herself and to affect real change in the world. She’s naive, and probably more than a little crazy, but she’s trying to be better, she really is.
Enlightened is interesting because it feels so intimate – it lets us into Amy’s often distorted worldview, slowly revealing more about her past, and why she is the way she is. It’s also done an excellent job of fleshing out the supporting characters – one of the best episodes from the first season focused completely on Helen, and this season has included episodes from Levi and Tyler’s perspectives. The most recent one was the Tyler episode, and it was one of my favourites, showing the rich inner life of a lonely introvert who didn’t think he was capable of opening himself to human contact.
This might seem like a weird compliment, but Enlightened feels more cohesive than almost any other show I’ve ever seen. This is probably because, in addition to co-starring, Mike White has written every episode, and also directs some of them. This makes all the characters feel so real, with relatable flaws and strengths. And of course, the acting is superb. The whole thing is just a joy to watch, and it’s by far the show I look forward to watching the most every week. Yes, even more so than Girls, which I also really love.
The thing is, Enlightened is unlike any other show on television, and I guess I have to admit that MAYBE it isn’t for everyone. But I do think everyone should give it a shot and watch the first three or four episodes. It’s quiet and weird, but I swear it’s also incredibly compelling. I think at some point, perhaps long after it’s been cancelled, Enlightened is going to gain a much bigger following, and people are going to wonder how they never heard of it before. So jump on the bandwagon now, is what I’m saying, so you can smugly announce you’ve been watching it all along.