We were very happy to see Bored to Death return for a 3rd season, and happier still to see it paired with a new show on Monday night, making for the only non Sunday HBO original programming since our beloved In Treatment went black. HBO, having had to recognize the strides made by Showtime on Mondays, especially with heroine themed dramedies Tara and The Big C, seemed to go that route, tapping Laura Dern to co-create and star in Enlightened.
The Monday schedule however, even with a staple like BTD, hasn’t really gotten rolling. We were not surprised when we heard that Enlightened was on the renewal bubble for a 2nd season, even though HBO usually announces renewals very early on when they are behind a show. BTD has not been the lights out comedy hijinx we have come to know from it which could be part of the reason, along with a non traditional night, for Enlightened’s lukewarm and so far unimpressive numbers. BTD, 1 of our favorites because of both the Brooklyn n the bud, has been a weaker strain this year, and the beauty of the show, the magical ensemble of the Jason Schwartzman-Zach Galafianakis-Ted Danson triumvirate seems more trite and forced this season. The show has picked up in recent weeks with Jonathan’s visit to The Dick Cavett show, and was at its best all season Monday when Ray’s already complex love life took a bisexual turn. The show has drawn on perhaps its all-time best moment, when Jonathan was made to snuggle in bed with his girlfriend’s boyfriend, the signature moment of last season.
We were of course glad to see Sarah Silverman on BTD in the role of friends counseling therapist and thought her funny, though her face has seen better days (sorry Sarah). Hopefully she gets some more run in the role. And hopefully the show gets back to basics. In this case, that would be the bud. We also understand Enlightened’s problems. Truth be told, episodes 1 and 2 were very underwhelming. We sat there waiting for things to happen that never did. HBO’s audience, frankly, must not be used to the pace of this show, which is very slow. HBO’s half hour format is usually sensory overload–so many sights (Entourage), so many jokes (Curb, Flight), so much drama (In Treatment).
Enlightened is practically no jokes, hardly any likable characters, and very slow plot machinations. Dern plays a woman fresh off a nervous breakdown and a stint at a mental health facility, who is grating, forcefully repetitive, and who seems to have none of the LA sensibilities or standard sensibilities of the others in her life, which upon further review, don’t seem so sensible, except for Levi (Luke Wilson), who takes drugs so he “doesn’t have to think all the time”.
Dern’s Amy Jellicoe has a mother (Diane Ladd) who is at best disinterested with her and at worst scared of her. And she lives with her. How depressing and yet common is that? She has an old set of coworkers she thought were friends who are obviously not and a new set of coworkers, a motley crew of company rejects stuck in the basement like her. One of those coworkers is Jason Mantzoukas, our beloved Tim’s bad boy Dr. (“did you take a hurty poopy?”), who also plays Ruxin’s (Nick Kroll, also of Tim fame) hilariously inappropriate brother-in-law Raffi on The League (when sandwich dancing on the outside of a stripper in Vegas: “He has a lot of money and I have huge dick. Let’s do this!”) It would be difficult to make Mantzoukas not funny. Yet Enlightened practically has.
This is probably the most realistic show on HBO’s airwaves right now, the antithesis of shows like Entourage and How to Make It in America that always seem to end on a high note, in fantastical pastry puff worlds. Enlightened would probably be the karmatic balance of Entourage for HBO. If there’s any escape at all for the viewer, it could be that our lives are actually better than theirs. Dern has a meaningless job and only the shell of her former career as some sort of corporate buyer. She has only pretend friends who are pained at the sight of her. She is abrasive and over zealous and a lot of the time you say ‘I can’t even like her.’ She forces her unrealistic therapy inspired ideas on the wrong people at the wrong times and places, and she clutches her new found belief system for dear life, as some in recovery tend to do. You just wanna tell her to save it, not only because the ideas might be bad, but because the people around her are so filled with apathy.
Amy gets every flat tire, is caught in every rainstorm–figurative and literal–and has already chucked her self help bible in the trash. So far though, she has treated every day like a new day, and she is back each morning at her toil anew. So far. We think that’s the point of it all. Life in general. Bad jobs and few real friends and inadequate partners and family members. Bad cars and bad bosses and living arrangements in places where you can walk 10 miles without once encountering a soul that gets you.
But you have to keep going. Should she stumble, foreshadowed by flashbacks of binge drinking and Levi’s ‘Mexican pharmacy’ it would only indicate that Amy is even more like us than we care to admit, annoying personality ticks and all.
This is a very smart show. It’s one you may never enjoy, at least not in the usual sense. Get into the misery. If you give it a long enough look, a satori might be your eventual reward.