Now and Then: 'Enlightened,' HBO's Masterpiece of Heartbreak

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by Matt Brennan
January 7, 2013 2:01 PM
1 Comment
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These voiceovers, epigraphs to the story she hopes to write, can seem both a life raft and a sinking ship. I've fallen in love with them, their run-on affirmations and soft-spoken hopes — at times they seem a design for living that she can speak but not yet will into existence, always "almost" but never quite whole. The scene that first won me over follows one of these monologues, at the conclusion of the pilot. Amy sweeps into work on the strains of Regina Spektor's "Human of the Year" sporting a yellow dress, a beam of light amid the charcoal suits. The way the camera catches the sun on the glassy skyscrapers, the way she runs the last few steps to the elevator, imagining an ocean of joy before her: it's one of those small, perfect moments you're sometimes lucky enough to glimpse before the spell is broken.

And perhaps it is, or will be. Like the river Amy kayaks with Levi or the black-stained tears on her face, the central reason I am so excited to see where the series goes in Season 2, that makes "Enlightened" such compelling viewing, is its fierce current of regret. It's Amy's mother (Dern's own mother, Diane Ladd), staring wistfully at an old photograph in her cheap pink robe. It's the omnipresent feeling that Amy's words are tricks, empty even to her, gauzy dressing on a deep and unhealed wound. I suppose I mean to say that I started watching "Enlightened" as a comedy and ended up seeing it as an unfinished tragedy, tending away from the happy ending. The heart broke, she says, past tense.

Season 2 of "Enlightened" premieres Sunday at 9:30 ET/PT on HBO.

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1 Comment

  • CR | January 9, 2013 12:51 PMReply

    Great article - ENLIGHTENED is a drama, a tragedy really, marketed as a comedy, isn't it. Laura Dern and Mike White have done fascinating work for years, from CHUCK & BUCK and YEAR OF THE DOG to Dern's understated turn in THE MASTER. I'm glad HBO has continued with the show, and can't wait to see what they do this coming season.

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