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Fall 2011 Review: Enlightened

5 Nov

When I started HBO’s Enlightened I knew less than I do about most shows going on.  The premise is told in the first ten minutes or so of the episode.  Laura Dern is a high-powered corporate manager who has been sleeping with a married colleague and has a high-profile extremely embarrassing nervous breakdown at the office in which she curses out several co-workers.  She goes to breakdown/stress rehab, whatever the technical name for that is, in which she relaxes in tropical climates for a while and learns to access her inner chi and relaxation techniques and shit like that.  She comes home newly centered and tries to put her life right again, back at work, with her ex-fuck buddy, with her mom, played by Diane Ladd, and with her ex-husband, played by Luke Wilson.  The show is created by Mike White who I know best for writing School of Rock, but who has also written such classics as Nacho Libre, Orange County and The Good Girl.

It’s a half hour comedy, but it’s more in the vein of a makes-you-smile Entourage style comedy than a laugh out loud comedy.  That said, it didn’t make me smile all that much.  This is largely because I couldn’t stand the main character.  I have no problem with Laura Dern as an actress, but her character, Amy Jellicoe, when she comes back from rehab has this hippy-dippy, uber-positive, meditative and vaguely cosmicly spiritual personality which I find to be one of the most irritating personality archetypes out there.  Since, so far at least, she pretty was the show, and was in every scene, there wasn’t much else.  Not only would I find her incredibly obnoxiously in real life, I really don’t want to spend a half hour a week with her on screen either.

Enlightened was already off to a bad start and there was simply nothing else that pulled me in about the show.  I could buy feeling bad for someone who had a nervous breakdown, and watching her search for redemption but not when she acts like that when she’s trying to claw her way back.  The supporting characters were fine.  I didn’t have any particularly strong feelings about that one way or the other.

There’s certainly a chance they’ll tone her oppressive personality down as the season wears on and she starts acting more within the realm of the normal, and that certainly wouldn’t hurt the chance of the series actually being good.  In some comedies though it feels like if they could just remove a couple of small kinks, the show would be off and running.  The essential premise here isn’t the problem, but the level of tuning up needed here to make the show a success far exceeds a couple of kinks.  If New Girl is an oil change and a new set of tires from being good, Enlightened needs a new transmission (the analogy is admittedly a stretch, particularly because I don’t know enough about cars; just go with it).

Will I watch it again?  No, I’m not going to.  If I take a peek in later during the season, I’ll hope they’d made her character a little more tolerable, but even then I’d need a little bit more to make it compelling viewing.