HBO’s ‘Enlightened’ was the TV show that got away

article-2392313-1B47F130000005DC-996_634x478As I’ve written many, many times before, I became a huge fan of New Girl just a few weeks before losing my job in NYC. I watched the first season during Fourth of July weekend, and the series was enough to make me want to move to LA and pursue TV writing two months later.

New Girl brightened my spirits during the depressing dog days of summer in Manhattan. It gave me the courage to return to my home state and have a more peaceful, balanced existence. I don’t yell, talk, or walk in my sleep anymore. I am always in bed before midnight. I do sun salutations every single morning. I’ve vowed to never be drunk again, as I hate what inebriation does to my body and how it makes me feel. Things aren’t perfect, but six months after feeling like my whole life had been flipped over, I’m in a healthy place mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

That’s why I’m glad I didn’t watch HBO’s Enlightened until last week. The show, which received glowing writeups and reviews, was canceled after two seasons. There weren’t enough viewers, and some ventured to say the buzz surrounding Girls negatively impacted Enlightened, which is miles above Dunham’s program. I’m a huge Girls fan, but there truly wasn’t anything on TV like Mike White’s Enlightened. The writing is amazing, performances hilarious and weird, and subjects tragic yet relatable. Laura Dern’s character Amy is extremely hard to like much of the time, especially as she continuously goofs off at work and takes advantage of nice people like White’s character Tyler, but she has so much light, verve, talent, and spirit that you just can’t help rooting for her.

Enlightened follows Amy, a corporate buyer who has a nervous breakdown at the office after her boss demotes her following their affair. She partakes in a spiritual rehab program in Hawaii and returns to southern California a changed woman, or so she thinks. The company takes her back due to a legal obligation but sends her to work with the data entry team in the basement. She can’t believe how mindless and unrewarding the new job is, and she feels sorry for her “sad” new co-workers who don’t know any better. Meanwhile, she doesn’t understand why her former colleagues — those who witnessed her public meltdown — don’t want to make nice on her terms. Her former assistant Krista is a fairweather friend and the people who once looked at her as a respected equal view her as a nutjob liability the corporation was forced to rehire. She doesn’t get any love from her mother, with whom she’s temporarily living. The two have never been close, and when Amy needs someone to talk to, she visits her drug addicted ex-husband Levy, who is decent company but far from stable or capable of helping her grow.

The best influence in her life is Tyler, her meek new co-worker, at least in the first season. She’s energetic and bubbly whereas he keeps to himself and does his work. She wants more out of life and will break the rules to get what she wants, and he lets this slide until he realizes she’s mostly out for herself. This changes though, and I still think it’s a really good thing that the unlikable female lead is becoming more accepted in pop culture.

I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy Enlightened six months ago. Though amazing, it’s incredibly sad and hits close to home in a lot of ways. I have an easier time watching it now that I have my own house in LA, am no longer living in my grandmother’s Long Beach condo, have a couple writing gigs and two entertainment internships under my belt, love with the best person I’ve ever met, and have cut off all toxic relationships. That wasn’t the case in July, when I was confused, directionless, low, and crippled by failure. Things will never be perfect for me, but I’m feeling great right now, and that’s why I can appreciate Enlightened. As Amy says in the pilot episode, you can walk out of hell into the light, and it’s much easier to look at from the light than in the darkness.


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