I just watched HBO’s pilot for Enlightened, after some suggestions from the Onion’s A/V club that apparently the second season is brilliant. And frankly, I really liked just the pilot.
Dern’s character, Amy Jellico, is really nuanced, and the show is walking a very fine line with her, balancing satire and empathy very well. Like, you look at that title, “Enlightened,” and thinks, is it just an instance of dramatic irony? Well, no, of course not. First, Amy’s “enlightenment” isn’t completely trite, nor is it totally off the mark. She’s not wrong, per se, even if she can be totally insufferable, manipulative, and solipsistic (you know, the opposite of enlightened). The title probably also refers not just to her own change in Hawaii, but to the journey she actually begins — rather than achieves — in the pilot.
For example, you can see how Amy’s experience with the sea turtle in Enlightened’s pilot is kinda trite, and why someone like her ex-husband would scoff at such an experience. After all, don’t we, a bit? But you can also understand how that would be very profound for her, and think, hey, maybe that isn’t so crazy. Even if it is just a very surface-level engagement with various New Agey bullshit, does that make it totally wrong?
Here’s J.D. Salinger summing up the same thing in his short story, “Teddy”:
Life is a gift horse in my opinion.
“I was six when I saw that everything was God, and my hair stood up, and all that,” Teddy said. “It was on a Sunday, I remember. My sister was only a very tiny child then, and she was drinking her milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God. I mean, all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean.”
It’s the same thing, only in “Teddy” we don’t laugh. (We’re puzzled and confused, as though we’ve read a Zen koan rather than a short story.)
I’ve actually seen comparisons between Enlightened and HBO’s The Wire. My opening guess (again, having only seen the pilot, so take it for what it’s worth) regarding any Wire comparisons would be to say that The Wire is to the realities of city life as Enlightened is to the the realities of corporate America. Amy Jellicoe is McNulty, but also the opposite of McNulty. Someone can correct me on this quite probably insane analogy.