While network TV has shown some signs of promise ("Nashville"), the cable channels still continue to both dominate the awards season and attract top talent, with shows like "Game Of Thrones" getting both commercial success and critical acclaim.
"Enlightened" is another fine effort from HBO - a relevant, entertaining and well-acted effort from co-creators Mike White ("School of Rock") and Laura Dern. The series stars Dern as Amy, a woman working at a drug company who rises up after a breakdown with the singular focus of going after the wrongdoing of her company.
The series opened with her suffering from a breakdown and heading to a treatment center, only to return and find that she has to work her way entirely up the ladder again from a basement office that's like something out of "Dilbert", only real. Still, while her return is full of both disappointment and difficulty, her stay at the treatment center has at least brought her a spiritual awakening that she needed. While trying to get her life back together, she finds dirt on Abaddon, he company (interesting that Abaddon is also a name used in "Lost", as well as its historical significance - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abaddon).
Helped along by fellow worker drone Tyler (co-creator/writer Mike White, who could easily fit in somewhere if they ever made a live-action version of "Dilbert"), Amy goes on a crusade to bring the wrongdoing to light. While White would be perfect if they ever made a "Dilbert" movie, "Enlightened" is often more starkly real than funny and when it does find humor, it often finds humor in the darkness and reality of the situations.
Dern's performance is detailed, moving and compelling. This, despite the fact that the character is difficult, flawed and real, to the point where she's rather off-putting at times. Her singular focus on her quest sometimes comes at the expense of how she interacts with people. White continues to be remarkably skilled at creating memorable characters that feel - uncomfortably, at times - real and multi-layered.
While best known for "School of Rock" (and not a bad run on "Amazing Race"), White remains an under-appreciated talent. Luke Wilson is particularly good as Amy's troubled ex, and it goes to show that he's capable of more than the "aw shucks" guy he frequently played. The other performance of real note is Diane Ladd (Dern's real-life mother), whose performance as Amy's mother is subtle, layered and incredibly memorable. The two - not surprisingly - have terrific screen chemistry with each other.
The series unfortunately has been cancelled despite critical praise and some discussion that White and Dern had had plans for a third and (then final) season. Still, the series does a nice job wrapping things up at the close of this season.
11 2-01 13/Jan/13 The Key
- Amy turns to a reporter to expose her company's unethical practices.
12 2-02 20/Jan/13 Revenge Play
- When a team comes in to find out who hacked into company emails, Tyler comes to Amy's aid.
13 2-03 27/Jan/13 Higher Power
- Levi's time in rehab improves.
14 2-04 02/Feb/13 Follow Me
- Amy starts to find out about the power of social media.
15 2-05 10/Feb/13 The Ghost is Seen
- In an attempt to expose the CEO, Amy tries to befriend his assistant (Molly Shannon)
16 2-06 17/Feb/13 All I Ever Wanted
- Levi returns as Amy continues to work with a reporter.
17 2-07 24/Feb/13 No Doubt
- Tyler pushes Amy to get a meeting with the company president.
18 2-08 03/Mar/13 Agent of Change
- Amy faces the head of the company as the article on the company heads out.
Video: HBO presents "Enlightened" in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is pretty good - sharpness and detail are not remarkable, but consistently above-average, with only a couple of minor instances of softness here-and-there. No pixelation or other faults were spotted and colors remained accurate and natural.
Audio: The show's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation sounded just fine, with clear dialogue and crisp, well-recorded music.
Extras: Audio commentaries on "Higher Power" (Mike White, Luke Wilson), "The Ghost is Seen (White, Molly Shannon and producer Doddy Dorn) and "All I Ever Wanted" (Dern, Mulroney and Wilson.) For a series that's not always "cheery", the commentaries are actually a good deal of fun as the groups provide some light banter and good insights into character development, stories and production issues. We also get "Inside the Episode" short "making ofs" for the episodes within.
Final Thoughts: "Enlightened" is genuine, flawed and fascinating, as White provides a difficult (and I think White's willingness to really explore people's flaws and layers makes for not always easy viewing, but ultimately compelling viewing), occasionally darkly funny and sometimes moving portrayal of a woman awakened and finding a sense of purpose in her findings about the company she works for. The performances by Dern, the underrated White and Luke Wilson are strong. This is not an easy show to watch at times, but I think it's ultimately a satisfying and memorable one. The DVD offers fine audio/video quality, as well as some nice extras. Highly recommended.