HBO // 2012 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // January 3rd, 2013
Meet the new face of tranquility.
Over the last decade or so, HBO has proven itself a network that understands how to create extremely compelling original drama. They don't hit all the time, but their track record more than speaks for itself. What they haven't been able to hammer down, though, is comedy. Their attempts to make people laugh are spotty and, while Curb Your Enthusiasm has its rabid followers, and for good reason, most of the time these entries don't work out so well. Here's another one in the first season of Enlightened. It has a great cast with fantastic performances and good writing, but can't quite seem to find its identity.
Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern, Wild at Heart) is a self-possessed, successful, but extremely damaged woman, with a failed marriage and an affair with her boss that ended with her flipping out and acting like a crazy person. After some time at a treatment facility, she returns, moves back in with her mom (Diane Ladd, The Wild Angels), and tries to restart her life, while trying to fix everybody else along the way.
The ten episodes that make up the first season of Enlightened have a lot going for them. The performances are uniformly excellent; the writing, which mainly comes from Mike White (Year of the Dog, who co-created the show with Dern and who also stars in the show) is pointed and strong throughout; its nearly linear structure is a good fit with modern comedic programming. There's so much to like about it, but there's one problem: Enlightened isn't very funny. Whether it's actually trying to make audiences laugh is an interesting question and if I'm missing the point, then so be it. There are so many times, though, that it verges on genuine comedy, that I have a hard time believing it just doesn't manage to hit the mark.
Probably the most frustrating thing for me about the show is that I absolutely love Laura Dern. Not just in this, but in nearly every movie in which she has appeared. She has one of the most expressive faces I've ever seen and can deliver dialog like few others. All of that is on clear display in Enlightened, but the problem comes in the character of Amy Jellicoe. I've known folks like her; the kind of person with a ton of problems who gets help, only to then believe that she can solve everybody else's problems. In my experience, these are some of the most selfish, annoying people possible, and so it goes with the character.
It's too bad, because it has all the trappings of a quality workplace comedy. Amy was once an executive at Abbadon, the corporation she works for, and is demoted to the basement after her return. Her new coworkers are a motley crew of weirdos that include Mike White, the only real sympathetic character in the show, Timm Sharp (Stuntmen), and Jason Mantzoukas (The League). They're all strong characters and the performances, just like the main stars, are fantastic. The problem is in the storytelling. If the show straight out mocked her for all of this, then you'd have comedy. The show takes her seriously, though, even if most of the other characters think she's still nuts, and just by doing this, it stunts any attempts at humor. She's too earnest and the show doesn't try to tear that down, which puts it somewhere in the middle of hard drama and comedy, making neither side as effective as its potential would indicate.
A show with Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, and Luke Wilson (Legally Blonde), who plays Amy's druggie ex-husband, as its stars and a talented and successful writer/producer in Mike White really should make for excellent television, but it simply doesn't stack up to its potential. I'm very disappointed in what it offers, but have hope that it will find its legs and its identity. I want to like the show, but the result is sadly underwhelming.
The two disc Blu-ray set is strong, however. Each disc carries five episodes and the 1.78:1/1080p transfer looks fantastic. There's great detail and beautiful colors, with absolutely nothing to complain about on any level. The sound isn't quite as dynamic as one might like, but is fairly solid throughout. The dialog is always clear and the music by Carter Burwell (Twilight) in the pilot and Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh (The Royal Tenenbaums) the rest of the time always sounds great.
Extras include a few behind the scenes featurettes and commentaries on four of the episodes, which feature Dern and White on each, along with various members of the crew. They're not the most engaging or informative commentaries, but it's good to hear them discuss what they like about the series, just to get some perspective on where they were coming from with the production.
As I feel about Amy Jellicoe, I hope that Enlightened finds its way. There's a lot of meat to chew on here and the talent on screen speaks for itself; there are plenty of shows that take a year to find their footing and then really take off. Enlightened has the potential to be one of those shows and I hope it finds itself, because there's too much potential to see it fail like so many far inferior productions which have scourged the airwaves throughout the years. Will it? I have no idea, but I'll be watching the second season to see and hoping the very best for this brilliantly constructed, though often confused production.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated