HBO’s “Enlightened” just finished airing its AMAZING second season… but did you guys watch? The answer is probably not, since this small show has an even smaller audience. It aired right after “Girls,” HBO’s more buzzed-about half-hour dramedy, but didn’t seem to keep the same amount of viewers. WHY NOT?! Guys, this show is AWESOME!
Let me break it down… Where do I begin? I love “Enlightened.” At times, yes, it is hard to watch… almost like HBO’s short-lived, yet also amazing, series “The Comeback.” From the first time I saw the posters around town showing Laura Dern’s scary, wild face with tears and mascara running down her cheeks, I knew this was a show I’d fall in love with. The beginning of the series, which started in the fall of 2011, showed us Amy Jellicoe (played by the award-winning Laura Dern) having an explosive, embarrassing, and downright insane nervous breakdown at work. She’s worked at Abaddonn, a huge (fictional) corporaton, for over a decade, but because of an affair with a married colleague, and because she can’t help but be self-destructive, her bosses are letting her go. This catapults her into a messy, memorable, darkly comedic breakdown – she even tries to pry the elevator doors open as they close her out of her nice life as an executive – and from that, she checks herself into a month-long rehab program. Once she’s out, and living back home with her mother (Diane Ladd, Dern’s real mother!), we follow Amy trying to do the best thing for her and for humanity. Her new outlook on life is almost too hippie, too positive, too crazy… but each week we can’t help but root for her and to pray to God she gets her shit together!
I don’t want to give too much away – because, seriously, you need to watch this show. The first season is only 10 episodes, and the second season is only 8! They’re all on demand, on HBO Go, and I’m sure on other sites, etc. Because Amy threatens to sue Abaddonn for firing her, they decide to give her a job again now that she’s calmed down… but, it’s not her old job… no, no, her former assistant Krista now has that job. (This is a constant problem for poor Amy to deal with). She’s been assigned to work in the basement with other weirdos who sit all day plugging in numbers and mope around until 5pm. Her new boss Dougie is a complete moron, yet does a great job at keeping her down. She immediately feels out of place among these rejects, but becomes fast friends with Tyler (played by Mike White, who’s the genius that co-created and executive produces this show).
As Season 1 moves along, Amy builds a resentment towards Abaddonn, not only because they’ve treated her like crap, but because she’s finding out more and more that there’s a lot of scandal going on. Her new job may be demeaning, but it gives her access to finding private emails and files, and therefore learning more about the corporate abuse, greed, political ties, and environmental damage that the company is involved in. CEO Charles Szidon isn’t looking so good after all, at least to Amy and Tyler, who is so bored with his lonely, repetitive life as a “ghost” that he joins her in her crusade.
Once Season 2 begins, we see that Amy’s mission to expose Abaddonn is going forward. All the thinking she’s done in the first season is now being brought to action. As a viewer, you can see there’s a definite shift in tone and feeling – in the first season, Amy is constantly meditative and spewing out silly self-help monologues. We constantly worry she’ll snap and be sent over the edge again. In the second season, there still is that constant worry because she can be set off and/or become disappointed so easily at times. But her mood has changed – she’s more confident, and more calculated. If she really is crazy, then we’re crazy too!
This confidence is brought on by a team, basically. She has Tyler, who’s still on her side and can access private information quickly without leaving much of a footprint. She also has Jeff Flender (Dermot Mulroney), who’s a reporter from the Los Angeles Times interested in Amy’s claims that she has some classified stuff that can destroy the Abaddonn CEO. Jeff, a hopeful California liberal like Amy, although a bit more down to earth, wants to bring down any corporate asshole he can find, so when he sees Amy’s files and realizes that they really could change everything, Amy is beyond happy (and in love…)
Speaking of being in love, so is Tyler… with a new Season 2 character, Eileen (Molly Shannon in a great role for her). The trouble is that Eileen is the CEO’s dedicated assistant, and Tyler only knows her because Amy wants to get closer to her and pretend to be her friend. This makes things very complicated, especially when Eileen starts falling for Tyler. They’re the perfect couple, because they’re so sweet and lonely. Episode 5 of Season 2 is one of the strongest of the series, titled “The Ghost Is Seen,” where we see everything from Tyler’s point of view, and how he is both hopeless and hopeful. (The show did this in season 1 with a great episode about Amy’s mom, titled “Consider Helen.”) Amy doesn’t see how much Tyler and Eileen need each other though, and is unfortunately too involved in her agenda to understand that now her friends could possibly get hurt because of her actions.
Lastly, we can add another person to Amy’s team… and that’s surprisingly Dougie, her surfer dude boss. He once was an asshole, and still sort of is, but when he discovers what Amy and Tyler are up to, he’s all for it! Now that Abaddonn is laying off all of the basement people, including him, Dougie wants to take the company down, as well, and almost has too much excitement doing it. He gladly helps woo Eileen into the circle of misfits, and loves doing whatever he wants in his final days in the office, from blasting music to smoking indoors. In the last episode of Season 2, titled “Agent of Change,” it’s Dougie who is the last person Tyler and Amy individually see before they’re taken by the HR department up to Charles Szidon’s office. He has now become not just an accidental ally, but a friend. He helps Amy with her box of personal things and says, “You were the worst employee I’ve ever had.” Amy says, “You were the worst boss I’ve ever had.” Then Dougie says, “Let’s hang out some time,” and Amy replies, “I’ll call you!” before the elevator doors close in her face.
Amy’s experience from trying to flee the building to having to sit with the CEO (after he surprisingly praised her in the previous episode at his country club) is nerve-wracking, awkward, and exciting. The way that conversation ends is reminiscent of the very first episode when Amy was in trouble in the first place… I would tell you more, and what I thought about it, but I really want you to watch first!
All throughout the series, there is Levi (Luke Wilson) who is Amy’s ex-husband. His story is mostly separate from hers… he doesn’t work with her at Abaddon, nor does he see all that frequently, especially in Season 2. He’s trying to get over his addictions and demons, and after some conflict with Amy in Season 1, decides to follow in her footsteps and go to a rehab center. Episode 3 of Season 2 is all about his experience there – let’s just say he doesn’t follow the rules. In one of the best episodes of the whole series (Season 2 Episode 6, titled “All I Ever Wanted”), Levi comes home to Amy when she leasts expects it. She’s focused on something (and someone) else, while he can only focus on her, now that rehab and his bad decisions have opened his eyes to what he really wants. She’s completely thrown off, as is her confused mother. It’s fantastic television – so many well-written surprises that make you cringe, laugh, gasp, and even cry occur on this show frequently.
Although season 2 wraps up somewhat nicely, we aren’t sure what the future holds for Amy and Levi… When she wants him, he doesn’t want her, and when he wants her, she doesn’t want him. But we do know that they are alike in many ways, which is what probably brought them together years ago when they got married. In the last few minutes of the Season 2 finale, Amy goes to Levi’s house saying that she may have done something extremely stupid, but Levi tells her that it’s a beautiful thing to have a little bit of hope. I think it’s this line, coming from a man who she has disappointed and inspired, that helps her remain confident.
Before the last episode of season 2 ends, we see how everyone’s doing. I read that Mike White wanted to put this epilogue in just in case HBO doesn’t grant “Enlightened” a third season. PLEASE GOD PLEASE AT LEAST ONE MORE SEASON! EVEN IF IT’S JUST 4 MORE EPISODES! It’s all a very nice, hopeful montage of how everyone’s getting by with the decisions that either they have made, or that others have made for them. Amy’s meditative voice-over plays over the shots, along with an upbeat song by the band Portugal. The Man that has the lyrics “So who broke the rules? who broke the rules? who broke the rules?” The best moment is when her mom Helen reads the newspaper… we’re worried she’ll be disappointed yet again with her daughter and what Jeff’s story says, but… she smiles. I think this is foreshadowing for Season 3. Amy Jellicoe might be a little crazy, a little too desperate, and a little unrealistic, but she’s a hero! She might not be ready for what the repercussions are, but she did what she felt was right. In her own words, “I’m just a woman who’s over it.”
Now I want to watch it all over again. Go catch up on this great show!