October 10, 2011

TV: Enlightened (HBO, Mon 9:30)

Enlightened may be from HBO, but it feels kind of like the comedies Showtime's been doing in recent years, with a not-quite-middle-aged actress struggling with  an emotional/physical crisis in a show that's never really laugh-out-loud funny.

This one gives us Laura Dern as Amy, who we meet in the midst of a nervous breakdown at work. After an ill-advised fling with her boss, she's being transferred to another, less prestigious division, and isn't taking the news well.

Cut to Hawaii, where Amy is attending some sort of New Age-y meditation/therapy retreat. She's writing in a journal, she's gone off her anti-depression meds, and she seems immensely calmer. So much so that when she returns home, no one knows quite what to make of her. Her mother (Diane Ladd, who happens to be Dern's real mother) and ex-husband (Luke Wilson) are both skeptical of the new Amy. Amy even manages to get re-hired by her old company, though we don't yet know what her new position will be.

It would be easy to laugh at Amy, but I think co-creators Dern and Mike White are after something more complicated than just another "let's make fun of the New Agers" joke. Amy's transformation seems to be genuine and sincere, and I think that as we watch her struggle to face the world in a more open-minded, less judgmental fashion, Enlightened is challenging us: Can we give Amy the same benefit of the doubt without giving in to the easy, reflexive, cheap laughs at her expense? This one could be very interesting.

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