Enlightened Season (Series?) Finale: 5 Reasons HBO Needs to Renew This Laura Dern Vehicle

True confession: I’ve never truly forgiven HBO for canceling The Comeback — Lisa Kudrow’s scathing examination of the Hollywood machine and unflinching/unsettling look at basic human insecurity — that lasted for one brief, dazzling, and painfully hilarious season back in 2005. (All together now: “Note to self: After a long day at work, I don’t wanna see that!”)

Flash forward to 2011 — and more specifically to Monday night’s season finale of the network’s equally brilliant/wince-inducing/honest/infuriating Enlightened — and here I am ready to rage against the network for not yet committing to a second season of this initially challenging but ultimately rewarding Laura Dern vehicle about a woman who returns from treatment for a nervous breakdown to try to navigate murky corporate and family waters. (The show, coincidentally, was created by Dern and her costar, Chuck & Buck‘s Mike White).

If you haven’t yet sampled Enlightened (or haven’t yet warmed to its copious attributes) here are five reasons I think the half-hour meditation — I dare not call it a sitcom — deserves a life beyond its initial 10-episode run.

* The most tantalizingly/unapologetically unlikable lead character in recent memory | “Sometimes you just want to slap her in the head,” my friend Mitch said to me midway through the season finale, and honestly, I can’t disagree. For a woman with a $24,000 therapy bill, Dern’s Amy Jellicoe spends a maddening amount of time on the mechanics of enlightenment — the journaling, the yoga, the rambling therapy-speak — rather than any true internal transformation. Case in point, when Amy’s drug-addicted ex (Luke Wilson) showed up at her door this week desperate, sweating, and finally admitting the need for detox, Amy grinned broadly and declared, “You have no idea how happy I am.” To which he replied, “Well I’m glad you’re happy, ’cause I wanna die.” Indeed, as much as we root for Amy to find a glimmer of self-awareness, score an occasional victory in her sad, treading-water life, the show refuses — even in a possible series-finale situation — to make Amy more palatable by conveniently curing her of her pathological self-absorption. As a result, Enlightened isn’t always the easiest show to watch, but it’s never less than fascinating.

* A stellar supporting cast | Amy’s Cogentiva coworkers rarely get more than a line or two of dialog, but they mine every last ounce of humor from Mike White’s scripts. (Think the Dunder Mifflin crew as viewed through a warped funhouse mirror.) In particular, The Comeback‘s Bayne Gibby — as religious and quietly judgmental colleague Connie — can be wickedly funny with as little as a goodnight nod. And Jason Mantzoukas (as bearded Omar) scored the finale’s biggest laugh with a simple hand gesture: Dramatically pointing Amy’s boss in the direction of the elevator banks to help him chase down his errant employee, as if she was a bank robber making off with a stash of cash.

* Darkly comic details | White (who also penned The School of Rock and The Good Girl) embellished the finale, as he does with every episode, with tiny moments of genius: Amy returning home from work and grappling with a front door left unhinged by the previous evening’s encounter with her unhinged ex; White’s mousy Tyler using the password “Julie_Bitch” (the name of the coworker he once cyberstalked) to help Amy gain access to corporate email accounts; Amy’s frenemy Krista (Sarah Burns) offering a look of silent yet seething disdain when Amy sits alongside her in a conference room; Amy’s mother (Diane Ladd) flubbing a moment of intimacy with her daughter by commenting on her split ends.

* The occasional blast of righteous indignation against soulless corporate life | As Tyler pointed out in a recent episode, Amy is an abyssmal employee, but that doesn’t mean parent company Abaddon — with its giant murals of bumble bees and onion slices feigning regard for natute, its cavernous elevator banks, and its employee-monitoring software — isn’t pretty awful, too. After Amy overhears her former lover Damon mocking her presentation on the company’s environmentally destructive ways — “Do I deliver a show, or do I deliver a show?” he jokes to his team — you can understand Amy’s sudden urge to turn whistleblower, to burn the whole place down, even if she’s motivated more by personal hurt and anger than altruistic reasons. Of course, Enlightened isn’t blind to the relative comfort of ambivalence, either. “We can blow this place wide open!” Amy excitedly tells Tyler, to which he responds, “Why would we want to do that?”

* An ending that finally puts Amy in a position to begin the transormation — or at least attempt the transformation — from unrepentant navel-gazer into a serious woman of action | Those closing moments of the finale — Amy furiously unearthing corporate wrongdoing while the Cogentiva computers blink green behind her — were thrilling. Amy may be as emotionally misguided as ever, but at least she’s directing her energies toward an interesting end goal. That change of direction sets Enlightened up for a second season that should challenge Amy in new and unexpected ways, and advance the action beyond her initial quest to make better connections at home and work. And that’s pretty much everything a sophomore season should do.

What did you think of Enlightened‘s initial season and its finale? Are you rooting for a renewal, or did the show lose you along the way? Sound off in the comments, and feel free to start the petition to renew The Comeback while you’re at it, too!

Slezak on Twitter: @MichaelSlezakTV

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  1. Kesh says:

    I love this show… really hoping for a second season! The writing is what really grabs me!

  2. Kris says:

    I call it Art. Compelling. Outrageous and Daring—Bravo.

  3. GSTalbert says:

    Exactly, I’ve never seen anything like this. The main character is painful to watch because it’s so brutally honest; but that is what makes it so unique because you feel your not alone. It paints a character who has none of the qualities we normally need to find her redeemable, but they pull it off anyway. This is the anti-Seinfeld.

  4. GSTalbert says:

    Failtroll dude, failtroll.

  5. Ron of San Francisco says:

    “Enlightened” is a fantastic show, something so much better than the average or even good type of series. I was shocked that the first year is already over, as I looked forward to what would happen each week.

    This series is different than (also similar) to a few shows that are also genius and yet all had a hard time getting a mass appeal of viewers. Think of great genius shows like “Damages” (3 seasons on FX, now 2 more seasons on DirectTV only). And the fantastic “Rubicon” (aired just before Mad Men) that was wonderful and yet it was not given a second year, even though it really earned that in my opinion.

    Oh I do hope that “Enlightened” will return for another and then more seasons!!

  6. Michael S. says:

    I watched all ten episodes for the first time today and whoa… this show is effing brilliant! Is it “depressing”? Before you answer that question, consider this: Is BOARDWALK EMPIRE “depressing”? Was SIX FEET UNDER “depressing”? IS LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT “depressing”? That said, perhaps it would be advisable to consider the difference between “depressing” and “DISTURBING.” I, for one, consider challenging, thought-provoking, and yes, even disturbing entertainment to be illuminating, as it dares to shed light upon real human existence and motivation. Sorry, but to my thinking it is the consideration of an increasingly controlled, baaing, and brain-dead American consumer that is depressing.

    At least one more season of ENLIGHTENED, please! Unlike The Comeback (which I LOVED, and now consider a complete, one-DVD miniseries), Enlightened remains less resolved. HBO, PLEASE DO THE RIGHT THING HERE!

  7. Markus says:

    The comeback has to be one of the most genius underrated shows out there! I too am still not over the fact there was only ever one series! Valerie cherish was just such an unbelievable character!

    Enlightened reminds me of the comeback and fills the void (although not as cringe inducingly hilarious) its still a gem of a show!

  8. Ignited says:

    It was simply the best thing on TV this season. The way to self-improvement is a spiral staircase. Amy is struggling with her psyche, but I enjoyed the genuine flashes of insight that sometimes were projected in the voice overs. I did think that Amy’s ex suddenly deciding to enter therapy was a bit sudden and a season ending contrivance. But I agree that it was exciting to see Amy at the keyboard about to put her convictions into action. Is she a self-centered, arrogant character, perhpaps even one with Aspergers Syndrome? Yes. Does that put her beyond salvation? Hey, we all have our quirks!

  9. Jeanette says:

    I love the zany character that Laura Dern plays as well as all of her funny costars. I am happy that it wll continue.

  10. Geo says:

    So glad this show has been renewed. It really is excellent television, and so thought-provoking. Amy is a real piece of work, and annoying as Hell most of the time; and yet I feel some empathy for her every time she just about turns the corner to see HER part in her own messed-up existence. I have been on a similar spiritual path, and notice that so many who take a spiritual path to change are like Amy. Something shifts in them when isolated from society, and they get very zealous as they proselytize to anyone and everyone who will listen; yet they never go that extra mile to look earnestly and honestly at their OWN part of things. Seeing G_d everywhere is a good start; but seeing where we need to change ourselves in order to know more of G_d in ourselves is painful, difficult work.

  11. katherine says:

    I have never, ever made an online comment about television. I’m doing it now because I think this show is spectacular. It is painful, poignant, embarrassing, inspiring, brilliant. Beautifully written and performed. Breathtaking and meticulously balanced.

    HBO–pleaaaaaassssse keep this series going!!! We have to find out how this story unfolds!!!

    Thank you, Rambling Rose!!!

  12. Beth says:

    I love this show, it’s real life, not a pretend of what a writer thinks might be happening, I love mike white’s writing, just when you think Tyler kinda turned his back on her, he leaves her a hacker password!! Wow, who wouldn’t want to have that. When Levi says, I need those times to not think, how true, into the minds of our society, not all are straight, there is a subculture who live their lives like this every day, hold jobs, raise families, and get high or knows someone that gets high. And a society that also has no clue some people live like this. Love the hr part when she says whatever comes to her mind, whatever happens happens, but she’s true to herself, and things go her way!! Yeah who saw that coming. Mike white, how does a Tyler write so well! Love luke Wilson, I have been a big fan of yours for so long (bottle rocket, home fries) typical loving f…up! That’s a compliment to all the fruity,f..ups, you meet on a daily basis. Love the fact it’s been renewed.

  13. james ngyuen says:

    I can’t believe they canceled two better shows to keep this on. How to make it in America and Bored to Death were great shows that did not deserve to get chopped. Id rather of kept on of those shows and liked to see Enlightened canceled.

  14. Castro says:

    Here’s a show that to me accomplished something really great. A story and characters that I would follow around for a second season, but also be content with the way the first one was capped. Perhaps her character’s arc was what we saw happen in that basement in those last few minutes. Maybe her biggest decision was to either come unhinged or take some practical action that served her purpose. Both scenarios were cleverly demonstrated in those final moments with her course of action being clearly defined in the end. Maybe that was the story to be told. But it sure might be nice to see those smug characters upstairs face the aftermath of her decision in a second season. Only issue with that would be where to go from there? But with Mike White’s writing talent, I’m sure it wouldn’t take long to figure that out.

  15. Toni VanBuskirk says:

    The first few episodes were good, but pretty depressing. I didn’t know if I wanted to feel sorry for Amy or hate her for being so self-centered and obnoxious. So I stopped watching for a while but continued to record them. I’m so glad I did because I just finished a 4 episode marathon ending with the finale and it was brilliant. I was especially touched by the episode which focused on her mom and the loss of her dad. That one explained so much. I hope HBO gives it a chance to find a larger audience. We need clever shows like this one. (Oh, and I totally agree about The Comeback! Funny stuff!)

  16. p miller says:

    great show. we all feel the same as Amy does in so man work and social situations- all this show needs is a young – very hot beefcake to get our fix- come on all the HBO shows have a young heartthrob- we need ours- all the young women watchers- please season 2

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