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Enlightened aired from October 2011 until ? on HBO.

'Enlightened' is the new offbeat HBO series written by Mike White and starring Laura Dern as Amy, a self-destructive health and beauty executive who has a very public workplace meltdown. After three months of contemplation and meditation at a treatment center in Hawaii, Amy returns rested and ready to pick up the pieces of her old life and reshape the world she left behind. That includes delivering well-meaning, but generally unwanted advice to her mother Helen (Diane Ladd), with whom Amy is now living; her slacker ex-husband Levi (Luke Wilson) whose only solace comes from recreational drugs; and the crew of awkward co-workers Amy finds herself reassigned to. The series follows Amy as she navigates an unconventional path between who she is, who she wants to be...and what everyone is willing to tolerate from her.

A Review from The New York Times

Bad Day? Some Om Will Cure It
Published: October 9, 2011

There is anger management, but does anyone ever do anything about excessive joy?

It’s a question posed by “Enlightened,” an HBO series that begins on Monday and that among other things wittily sends up the self-actualization movement. Laura Dern plays Amy Jellicoe, a Los Angeles sales executive who at 40 actually goes beyond the verge of a nervous breakdown, screeching at co-workers in the office, mascara streaming down her cheeks. She is sent to a New Age treatment center in Hawaii, swims with sea turtles and returns healed — but still insufferable. Instead of screaming at people, Amy suffuses them with her Zen self-absorption and mission to change the world one yoga pose at a time.

It’s a funny, sardonic premise, but “Enlightened” is not just one big joke at the expense of crystal-carrying California narcissists. Comedy thrives on exaggeration, so it’s a credit to the show’s creator, Mike White, that “Enlightened” isn’t an entirely sarcastic title. The series embraces the absurdities of its subject with enough compassion to avoid outright parody.

Ms. Dern plays a career woman who is just this side of crazy, and there is Method acting to her madness. She is a protean actress who can look fairy-tale pretty one second and downright witchy the next. And that mutability extends to her portrait of Amy, who is laughably irritating and graceless except when she stumbles into a moment of good will. Her newfound spirituality flickers wildly and sometimes combusts into ill-suppressed rage, but sometimes she really is full of wonder. More than once she reveals a streak of shrewd self-interest hidden beneath her oneness with the universe.

Victims can inflict misery on others and people who lack self-awareness can still have insightful moments. Someone who is prone to self-pity can still be pitiable.

Amy returns from Hawaii aglow with good intentions, and without asking or even giving advance notice, moves in with her mother, Helen (Diane Ladd). Amy steps into the house and pulls the wary Helen into a long, loving embrace. “Its good to see you, Mom,” she says meaningfully. “Why?” her mother asks.

“Enlightened” joins an ever-growing canon of cable shows that cast revered performers as damaged characters on the margins of society. Showtime alone has Edie Falco as a drug-addicted nurse in “Nurse Jackie,” Mary-Louise Parker as a suburban drug dealer in “Weeds,” Laura Linney as a teacher with Stage 4 melanoma on “The Big C” and, most recently, Claire Danes as an intelligence officer with a psychiatric condition on “Homeland.”

AMC shot the moon with “Breaking Bad,” which stars Bryan Cranston as a teacher with terminal cancer who becomes a meth dealer. All of these shows are clever, well-executed variations on a similarly dark conceit: comedies spelled with a small c and a big D for downer.

“Enlightened” is not as ambitious and allows its heroine to paddle in less exotic territory. Amy is not an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary circumstances; she’s an all too typically self-destructive woman who leans on self-help books and meditation to make her way back into the blandest, most soulless corporate setting.

In that way the series is closer in sensibility to “The Comeback,” which starred Lisa Kudrow as an older actress trying to reboot her career, and which sought the razor’s edge between empathy and mockery.

A lot of people sent to rehab are recalcitrant at first, feeling that they cannot possibly be as unhealthy as the nut cases and weirdoes they first encounter on the ward. One of the jokes of “Enlightened” is that Amy is perfectly at ease in treatment, but when she returns to the office she cannot believe she has been demoted and sent to work alongside the nut cases and weirdoes who fill the basement data-processing department.

Its is, of course, a circle of computer hell unimagined even by Dante or Ricky Gervais, filled with misfits and miserable losers who gawk at Amy as if she were an envoy from an alien species.

One of them is played by Mr. White, who did a stint as a contestant on “The Amazing Race” and whose writing credits span “Freaks and Geeks” and the movie “School of Rock.” As Tyler, a solitary, socially inept computer programmer, Mr. White makes such exquisite use of silence that he almost steals the show from actors with meatier roles, including Luke Wilson as Amy’s stoner ex-husband, Levi.

As the series progresses, flashbacks reveal more about Amy’s past, adding mitigating reasons for her breakdown. But the fun of “Enlightened” early on is in not knowing too much. Amy seeks a higher purpose, but for the time being she would settle for getting back to an office with an assistant and an expense account.

For Amy, consigned to the basement with all the other lunchroom rejects, moving one floor up would be nirvana.


HBO, Monday nights at 9:30, Eastern and Pacific times; 8:30, Central time.

Pilot written and directed by Mike White, based on a story by Mr. White and Laura Dern; Mr. White and Ms. Dern, executive producers; Miguel Arteta and Edward Saxon, co-executive producers; David Bernad and Jason Weinberg, producers.

WITH: Laura Dern (Amy Jellicoe), Luke Wilson (Levi), Diane Ladd (Helen), Sarah Burns (Krista), Timm Sharp (Dougie), Amy Hill (Judy) and Mike White (Tyler).

A Review from USA TODAY

HBO's 'Enlightened' suffers a breakdown
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
Updated 10/9/2011 8:45 PM

Enlightenment isn't easy. It's hard to achieve, hard to maintain and hard to share.

* She's trying to get it together, but it's not easy for Amy (Laura Dern), who has issues at work and a druggie ex-husband (Luke Wilson).

And the sharing is particularly tough when no one believes you've become enlightened in the first place — the problem facing Laura Dern's Amy in HBO's latest not-quite-comedy, not-quite-drama, not-quite-entertaining offering.

Still, as not-quite-there as it may sometimes be, Enlightened is interesting enough to avoid the increasingly common HBO curse of egregious self-indulgence. Indeed, thanks to a wonderful and often moving central performance from Dern, it can even be strangely absorbing. It is not, however, ever more than intermittently amusing, so don't let that half-hour format fool you into thinking this odd little bit of TV biography is a comedy.

The salvaging flip side of that failure to be funny is that the show does not treat Amy's struggle for post-flameout, post-rehab self-improvement as a cheap joke. Created by Dern with Mike White (who also writes, directs and plays Amy's co-worker, Tyler), Enlightened is a mostly sincere study of how hard it is to change when the world doesn't think you have — or even should.

Certainly Amy's friends, family and co-workers are less than supportive. Her drugged-up ex-husband (Luke Wilson) liked her better when she wasn't trying to reform him. Her mother (Diane Ladd, Dern's real-life mom) wants her to move on with her life and out of mom's house.

Her new, completely inappropriate boss (Timm Sharp) wants her to concentrate on the mind-numbing computer work she's been assigned by her unhappy corporate masters. And considering we first meet Amy as she's having a very public, very nasty breakdown in the middle of the office, you can understand why that corporation is unhappy.

Despite it all, Amy is determined to be an agent of change — and some of the show's best moments come from Amy's realization of how much change her corporation could actually use. Unfortunately, as often as she mouths her Zen-place clichés, the old foulmouthed, ill-tempered Amy keeps popping out.

We're clearly not supposed to side with the old Amy, who refers to the people in her new department as "carnival freaks" and whines "What the hell am I doing here?" ("Not much," is Tyler's appropriate, sotto voce reply.) What's not clear is whether we're supposed to side with the new Amy or keep hoping for an even newer, more improved version — and that lack of clarity does not always seem to be intentional.

Still, if the show doesn't always support what Amy's doing, it does support her desire to do better. Enlightened may be many things, but it isn't smug, cynical or grating, which separates it from most other HBO series these days.

Here's hoping that particular form of enlightenment spreads.

A Review from The San Francisco Chronicle

'Enlightened' review: Worth the effort

David Wiegand
San Francisco Chronicle October 7, 2011 04:00 AM

POLITE APPLAUSE Enlightened: Sitcom. 9:30 p.m. Mondays on HBO.

Laura Dern doesn't make it easy, either for her character's co-workers in the new sitcom she created with Mike White, or for the show's viewers. The fact that her character is difficult and at times, insufferable, is one reason "Enlightened," premiering Monday on HBO, is worth it for viewers.

Dern, who is always great when she plays off-kilter characters, plays Amy Jellicoe, who has a total meltdown at work after she's told she's being transferred to a less desirable job in the Riverside company known as Abaddonn. Yes, the name almost sounds like "abandon" and that pretty much summarizes Amy's fluctuating character motivations.

First she abandons her senses and accuses her married boss, Damon (Charles Esten), of punishing her because they've slept together. She then abandons the company to go to a place called Open Air in Hawaii, where she supposedly learns to be more accepting of the real world by memorizing all kinds of New Age aphorisms in place of actual psychological growth.

Aglow with her newfound inner peace, and armed with books about embracing change, she returns to the company, expecting to get her old job back, but nothing works out the way she planned, which leads her to abandon her newfound tranquillity, at least temporarily.

Between disappointments at work, continuing struggles with her detached, disapproving mother, Helen (Dern's real-life mom Diane Ladd), and her druggie ex-husband, Levi ( Luke Wilson), unwilling to give her room to change, Amy keeps slipping back into her old habits, and then trying to regain some equilibrium by spouting airy philosophy.

The supporting cast is terrific, especially co-creator White as a nerdy, deadpan co-worker, and, of course, Ladd's Helen, who embodies a potent combination of resigned love and thinly veiled resentment toward Amy. When Amy returns from Hawaii with a letter she's been asked to read to the person with whom she has the most difficulty communicating, Helen is not only more interested in watching TV, but interrupts Amy to ask why she can't just read the letter herself.

Talk about a buzz kill.

HBO is actively looking to get its half-hour shows to "pop a little bit more," as the channel's Michael Lombardo put it during the summer at the TV Critics Association press tour. The nice thing for viewers about half-hour shows is, obviously, you don't have to commit to them for an hour. That also enables premium channels like HBO and Showtime to play around with envelope-pushing concepts for shows like "Entourage," "Episodes," "Web Therapy," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and, yes, "Enlightened." Some of these shows were fairly easy to love right out of the gate. Others may have taken some viewers a bit of time to warm up to. But the half-hour show is worth exploring, both for the premium channels and for viewers.

Unlike other shows, "Enlightened" doesn't give you obvious guidelines to when you're supposed to laugh and when you're supposed to feel something else. If Amy really was enlightened, there'd be no show, but the fact that she's wearing her enlightenment like an ill-fitting coat gives the show both its comedic and plot trajectories. We stick with her, though, because, in her heart, she really wants to be a better person, if only the rest of the world would let her.

A Review from The LA Times

Television review: 'Enlightened'
Laura Dern stars in a promising HBO series that casts spiritual rebirths in a new and deeper light.
October 10, 2011|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic

"Enlightened," which premieres Monday on HBO, is to my mind the most interesting and ambitious series of the fall season. (And when I say ambitious, I mean emotionally ambitious, though it is beautiful to look upon as well.) You can't really reckon it by anything else on television.

Co-created by Laura Dern, who stars in it, and Mike White, who wrote it, it is a satire shot through with poetry. (The two previously worked on White's "Year of the Dog.") Its directors include White, co-executive producer Miguel Arteta ("Cedar Rapids" and White's collaborator on "Chuck & Buck" and "The Good Girl"), Jonathan Demme, Phil Morrison ("Junebug," Superchunk videos) and Nicole Holofcener ("Please Give"): an indie-flick super-summit.

Dern plays Amy, a corporate executive who as we meet her is in the middle of a noisy breakdown, having learned that she is being transferred out of her department into a lesser one — possibly, as she loudly declares, because she has slept with her boss, though she is not the most reliable guide. Having burned her bridges, she retreats to an oceanside spiritual spa, where she meditates and communes and finally, snorkeling in clear blue waters, meets a sea turtle and sees God.

"Or it was better than God," she later tells ex-husband Levi (Luke Wilson). "Something was speaking to me. It was saying, 'This is all for you. And everything is a gift, even the horrible stuff."

She returns home with mermaid hair, loose clothing, a vocabulary newly charged with "awesome" and "amazing" and an attitude that might be described as aggressively mellow. Though she has been filled with the spirit of the turtle, she has not lost the instincts of a shark and blackmails her way back into work. But instead of the job she has imagined for herself — a community liaison to make her irresponsible employers newly responsive to the Earth — she is sent to a sort of corporate detention, where the staff (including the wonderful Timm Sharp and White himself) do not so much do a job as inhabit a metaphor: A Basement of Misfit Tools.

Above ground, there are Amy's former assistant (Sarah Burns), now occupying her old office; Levi, whom Amy loves but does not trust, and her mother (Diane Ladd, Dern's own mother), who loves but does not trust her.

"I meditated on you, Mom. And me."


White and Dern might have settled for lampooning a certain strain of spiritual striving and the blindness the convert mistakes for sight, in which case they would have done nothing new. But they're out for something more, it seems to me, something as deep and deeply moving as what Amy herself wants to feel, and they bring you every so often to the same ecstatic, painful place their heroine inhabits. You might weep a little.

This is a show about reaching for the light, and as such it runs counter to the many cable comedies whose characters are drawn down to darkness. Amy has had a different vision: "You can be kind and you can be wise and almost whole." Her creators will throw stones in her way, gleefully, but they don't discount her experience or belittle her quest. (Indeed, withholding judgment — which Amy must learn to do, even as the viewer must — may be the real theme of this show.) She's inconsistent, but no hypocrite; deluded, but not dishonest. And if for the moment she has mostly replaced one sort of egotism with another, there is something sparking within her.

"If we can change," she tells her mother, "the whole world can change for the better."

"I don't know what that means, honey," says her mother.

A Review from Entertainment Weekly

Nov 8 2011 04:07 PM ET

Contrarian Corner: Why 'Enlightened' is the best show nobody's watching
by Melissa Maerz

There’s a general feeling among cable TV fans that television needs to be dark in order to be taken seriously. And I get that. Most of my all-time favorite shows are about meth dealers and undertakers and stylishly dressed alcoholics. So there’s something pretty brave about a show that’s not cynical or sarcastic or defeatist, one that’s not set on a street corner in Baltimore or inside Al Qaeda’s torture barracks, and still manages to be absolutely heartbreaking. HBO’s Enlightened is the most genuinely moving TV show that’s debuted this fall. And none of the characters get cancer.

Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean it’s all kindness and light and Kumbaya singalongs. In fact, the pilot was pretty bleak: the very first scene shows Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) on an ugly-crying jag in a bathroom stall, hurling the C-word at the ladies who are gossiping about her outside, and screeching in full-blown smeared-mascara hysteria at the married boss who slept with her and then quickly demoted her. Amy ends up getting shipped off for some New Age anger management rehab in Hawaii. When a sea turtle swims by her, filling her with awe, she has an epiphany. Returning to the office feeling spiritually rejuvenated, she’s ready to change the world.

There’s just one small problem. When she returns, her company, Abaddon, demotes her again, to some data processing center for misfit employees. (It’s fitting that, in Greek mythology, Abaddon is an underworld for lost souls; in Enlightened, the data processing center is located on the sub-basement floor “H,” possibly for Hell.) Plus, Amy’s still a few rage-aholic meltdowns away from achieving oneness with humanity.

Perhaps it’s a hard sell to get viewers to come home from a hard day at work and watch… a show about trying to rise above another hard day at work. The ratings for the pilot were pretty dismal, and they haven’t gotten much better since then. But I wish people would pay attention, because the more maniacal Amy’s antics, the funnier and more poignant Enlightened gets. Watching her swing erratically between total half-lotus serenity and unconstrained rage is a big part of what makes Enlightened so fun to watch: I laughed out loud when Amy drove to her boss’s house, ostensibly to make amends, and ended up crashing repeatedly into his car.

Some of the best jokes come from Amy trying, and failing, and trying again to be a good person, one who really, truly connects with others. In one episode, she returns home to her mother (Diane Ladd), full of compassion. “It’s good to see you, Mom,” she says. “Why?” her mother asks, totally deadpan. In another episode, Amy visits her drug-addict ex-husband Levi (Luke Wilson), gushing about how great it is that they can reconnect in such a meaningful way without cocaine. “Yeah,” he says, smiling. And then he leans over and snorts a massive line.

Still, it’s to the credit of the show’s creator, the talented Chuck and Buck scribe and Amazing Race competitor Mike White, that when Amy does become unhinged, it’s never just an easy punch line. (White also appears in the show as Amy’s painfully awkward coworker, Tyler.) Maybe that’s because White actually understands what Amy’s going through: Back in 2004, he checked into a psychiatric hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown. (Ironically, he was working on a TV show called Cracked Up at the time.) “In a way it was kind of Buddhist,” he told the New York Times of the breakdown. “It was the worst thing that could have happened. I embarrassed myself in front of all these important people, I proved myself to not be strong enough to figure this out. I felt weak and lost, like a screw-up, and at the same time, coming out of it, I felt like I’d been given a huge gift.”

On Enlightened, that’s how Amy feels, too. And one reason why her behavior will make you cringe is that it’s so easy to relate to her. Who doesn’t understand just how difficult it is, every single day, to refrain from repeatedly crashing into someone’s car?

Watching Amy work so hard to become a better human being is wrenching, especially since one of the show’s messages is that it should be very easy if you stop struggling to align the world’s chakras with a rose quartz crystal and just learn to think small. The season’s phenomenal third episode, “Someone Else’s Life,” begins with Amy thinking about the secret lives of the people she works with. ”I imagine the love that they’re getting,” Amy says in the opening voiceover, “and the relief that comes from being really known, the private pleasures they share, the friends they have, and the pressures they don’t. Their sense of importance, the satisfaction of their work … ” But by the end of the episode, after making a simple gesture of kindness to a coworker (I won’t spoil what happens), she looks at things a little differently. “I realize how much I have,” she says, again in voiceover, “and how much I have to give.”

Now, those words might sound like something from Dr. Phil’s Life Script when you’re reading them on the computer. But when I saw that episode, I cried. And when I watched it a second time, to write down those words so that I could quote them here, I cried again. And I’m not the only one. Recently, a friend of mine admitted that his sister called right after the episode aired, and he was so choked up, he couldn’t talk to her. I’ll ask you this: when was the last time you were so moved by a voiceover?

And while we’re at it, when was the last time you really cared about the characters in a dark comedy in a totally unironic way? Much credit goes to the cast, which is uniformly fantastic. As Amy’s former assistant Krista, Sarah Burns is a truly sublime face-actor, her expressions switching from pity to annoyance to extreme mortification whenever Amy stops by to “chat” during Krista’s lunches with much cooler coworkers. Timm Sharp, who you might recognize from Undeclared, is a master of subtle comedy as Amy’s wannabe-homeboy boss, Dougie: the more tragic he becomes — losing control of the office even as he’s shouting, “Let’s be professional, aiiight?” — the funnier he is (and the funnier he is, the more tragic he becomes). Diane Ladd, who happens to be Laura Dern’s mom in real life, brings an almost uncomfortable level of authenticity to her role as Amy’s cold mother who reluctantly tolerates her daughter. As Tyler, the pale, deep-blue-eyed, man-boy who eats lunch at his desk by himself, Mike White embodies loneliness better than anyone who’s currently on TV.

And then there’s the deeply absorbing performance of Laura Dern, who’s irritating and self-serving and hopeless — that is, when she’s not full of earnest goodwill. Initially, you might be so annoyed by her character that you no longer want to watch. But very quickly, you come to love her, both for her sense of wonder (which is amazingly undaunted by her cubicle-drone life) and for her belief in the basic goodness of everyone, even the disrespectful skateboarder who swears at her while she waits for her bus, in the rain, on the worst day ever. Judging Amy is all too easy. But, as the critic Robert Lloyd has pointed out, withholding judgment — a challenge that Amy’s still struggling with, right along with you, the viewer — may be the real theme of this show.

So c’mon. Set your preconceptions aside and watch it. The sea turtles are counting on you.

For more on Enlightened go to

For a Website dedicated to Laura Dern go to

Fore a Website dedicated to Luke Wilson and his brothers go to

For the Official Site of Diane Ladd go to
� Date: Sun October 9, 2011 � Filesize: 41.3kb � Dimensions: 400 x 300 �
Keywords: Laura Dern & Luke Wilson


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