- Mondays, 9:30 p.m., HBO
Showtime specializes in half-hour shows like Nurse Jackie, Weeds, United States of Tara and The Big C that are billed as comedies but rarely attempt to be funny, showcasing unpleasant middle-aged women living unfulfilling modern lives. The format seems to have jumped premium cable networks to HBO with Enlightened, a new dramedy with many of the unappealing elements of those Showtime staples.
Laura Dern plays the off-putting protagonist, a former corporate middle manager named Amy Jellicoe, who had a workplace meltdown and went to an all-purpose rehab center in Hawaii to regain her sanity. Now Amy has returned with a more serene outlook on life, ready to spread the good vibes to her former co-workers, her distant, critical mother (Diane Ladd) and her drug-addict ex-husband (Luke Wilson). But nobody wants to hear it, and Amy is kind of an inarticulate hypocrite anyway. The show alternates between sympathizing with Amy’s hippiefied view of the world (some of the sequences as she ponders the meaning of life are wonderfully cinematic) and laughing at her cluelessness. The result feels more condescending than transcendent.
Created by Dern and writer/director/actor Mike White, Enlightened is like a twee indie movie that never ends, with its moments of beauty and clarity surrounded by far too much mean-spirited dark comedy. The first four episodes already have trouble sticking with Amy’s newfound worldview, without which the show is just wallowing in unpleasantness. On Showtime it would probably last for years, but maybe HBO will have the decency to wrap up the story while Amy still has a little dignity left.