Enlightened is a show that so few people actually watch, yet I feel like it should be one of the most universally beloved on television. While most mainstream dramas and comedies are filled with pessimism, sarcasm, or elements of regret, doom, loss of faith, or simply sadness, here’s a television show that contains such blind optimism and hope in its main character and her surrounding world that each episode feels like its own little revelation.
Mike White has brilliantly crafted a show that encapsulates our frustration with corporate America, while also slyly mocking its lovable main character in her aspirations toward realization and bettering the world. Her movement to take down Abaddonn, the company that provided her with a job for so long before taking it away, is fueled by her desire to make the world a better place, for she believes that what she’s doing will truly make an impact. She wants to give her life meaning, much like so many Americans seem to want nowadays. Look how easily we back certain movements before we realize that they’re based on loose ideas (i.e., Invisible Children’s Kony movement, to name a recent one).
Laura Dern’s Amy Jellicoe has been the show’s fire, one burning brightly since its inception and growing stronger and stronger as she strives to make a difference. The second season’s final two episodes almost shredded her character to nothing, essentially breaking down all her character flaws and providing us with one of the most intimate looks at any character on recent television. She has become such a wonderfully complex individual, one that has finally reached her self-realization of what it takes to make it in this world, and she’s seen the impact the world has felt.
Enlightened has never been a perfect show. I don’t think it needs to be. White has done wonders behind the camera, creating and writing and even directing episodes, in addition to playing Tyler, the show’s sad sack introvert who finally found meaning in his own life. Molly Shannon’s Eileen has been a triumph since introduced, providing Shannon with the perfect work for a character that accepts Tyler and truly loves him. The show’s shot of them smiling at one another and realizing where their relationship is headed provided me with one of the most satisfying character developments in a long while. Even Timm Sharp’s Dougie became a lovable loser near the season’s end, giving one of the best exchanges of the show calling Amy the worst employee he ever had. It’s only fitting that he followed it up by saying they should hang out.
Luke Wilson’s Levi had a truly magnificent episode earlier in the season where he became aware of the change needed to be with Amy. He tried to get clean, somewhat succeeded, and Amy rejected him because she was falling for the LA Times reporter she fed the news story to. Dermot Mulroney was excellent there, and provided us with a nice dichotomy of the attempts to love Amy. Levi’s aggressive, he’s passive. I’d like to see more of him, for that love triangle is very untraditional and would only be fitting for a show like Enlightened.
This show is a gem. While so many get drenched in pessimism, this show remains bright and heavy. Its title shot of a white screen, and its credits roll over in white. This is a show that provides the audience with an escape to a world where we fight for what we believe in, and the truth and strong willed individuals win out. The final shot of the season could serve as a brilliant closing shot for the show, because Amy was torn to shreds before seeing her name and picture on a newspaper cover.
She’s made a difference in this world. Hers has been destroyed, and now she can start anew. She was reborn. Enlightened, even.