I usually pick up on any new HBO shows, but somehow 'Enlightened,' starring Laura Dern, slipped under my radar. Truthfully, it wasn't until Dern won a Golden Globe for her role that I even knew the show was around. With so many other worthwhile programs on television it got lost in the shuffle. I'm glad I was able to experience it on home video though.
Dern plays Amy Jellicoe. Amy used to be a big-wig buyer for a large cosmetics company until she up and lost it one day. After sleeping with her boss, things spiraled out of control rather quickly. We enter Amy's life at the climax of her crisis. All the hate and rage she's been bottling up over the years spews forth in a workplace tirade that stuns everyone she works with. She's let go from her position and seeks treatment for her depression and anger issues at a swanky rehabilitation clinic in Hawaii. After going through the course there, she comes back a new person, except most of her crazy is still lingering just beneath the surface.
Amy reminds me of Carrie Mathison from 'Homeland.' She's an unpredictable mess, which makes her fascinating to watch. Writer Mike White (who also plays Tyler) suffered a mental breakdown of his own while working in Hollywood, and he nails this character. At times 'Enlightened' is almost too uncomfortable to watch. You know those moments in life when you're around someone that you'd rather not associate with, yet you try to be polite? That's everyone in Amy's life. She rubs people the wrong way, so we get scene after scene of uncomfortable pauses, awkward silences, and far-too-familiar experiences that we can all relate to. The way Amy's so-called friends and co-workers squirm when she's around is painfully real.
When Amy comes back from the clinic she's given a job back at her old company. Not because they wanted her back, but because if they let her go because of her pre-existing condition of depression then she'd have grounds for a lawsuit. So, the powers at human resources figure the best way to deal with her is to stick her in the basement, on a project no one's heard about, and hope she doesn't cause too much trouble. Their plan fails miserably.
Amy is full of all sorts of chaotic emotions which she projects at full volume. She comes on way too strong. When she thinks she's being friendly other people thinks she's being creepy. The way the show simultaneously shows us both sides of the coin is due to White and Dern's masterful writing.
'Enlightened' isn't without its faults though. It can get lost far too often in itself. Amy's flowery introspective soliloquies at the beginning and end of almost every episode become a little much. There's also the fact that the show falls into that familiar trap of modern TV where each episode has to end in some kind of musical montage as we catch up with what all the characters are doing.
The best part about the show, besides its built in awkwardness, is the relationship that Amy has with her ex-husband Levi (Luke Wilson). He's dealing with his own drug addiction troubles, but is the only one who really seems to not mind putting up with Amy's craziness. Even though they're divorced, he's still there for her in a somewhat twisted way.
Amy is an explosive character simply because you have no idea what she's going to do. There's a sense of unpredictability when it comes to this show; a sense that anything can happen at any time because of her condition. That's what makes the show worth watching. That, and Laura Dern's make-up smudged freak-outs. Seriously, don't get on her bad side.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
HBO has provided two 50GB Blu-ray Discs for this 10 episode season. There are five episodes per disc. They're packaged in a tri-fold cardboard foldout with each disc having a proper disc hub to be held in. The tri-fold fits snugly into an outer cardboard slipcase. This release is coded for Region A use.
HBO has a great track record bringing their shows to Blu-ray and 'Enlightened' carries on with that tradition. The 1080p video presentation is bright, warm, and detailed. Even though the show doesn't provide astounding visual effects like 'Game of Thrones' or 'Boardwalk Empire' is still manages to wow in its own special ways.
The sun-drenched visuals sparkle with color and detail. There are plenty of close-up establishing shots of Amy's mother's tranquil flower beds. The detail in the flower petals is extraordinary in those close-up shots. Facial detail is just as impressive. The very first sequence where Amy loses it and mascara is running down her face, is made all the more impactful by the striking detail provided by the high definition. Every wrinkle in her brow, every age line around her sad eyes is perfectly visible and helps us understand her character even more.
The show sports a very warm color palette. The modern coziness of the corporate offices where she used to work are juxtaposed against the stark white, cubicle farm where she now works. Whites are bold, whereas blacks are always as inky as they should be. Shadow detail has great delineation also. In other words, just another day at the office for the HBO home video staff.
'Enlightened' is a talkative dramedy that doesn't feature much in the way of spectacular sound effects or ear-bursting action sequences. The show is pretty much all dialogue and therefore, by its nature, won't wow many people. That said the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix is no slouch.
With 90-percent of the show being dialogue it's important that the center and front channels do their work. They provide clarity when it comes to characters' lines. Directionality is also very important as there are numerous times where characters speak when they're not in the frame. This is due to the show's penchant for framing character faces with extremely close shots, where nothing else is visible.
The surrounds, like expected, are quiet. The show's soundtrack does bleed into them from time to time. They do a good job at providing the light ambient sound for a busy work environment with employees walking the halls constantly and having their own conversations. Traffic noise is also piped through the rear speakers along with nature sounds when Amy and Levi go for a rafting trip. There's some great audio moments here, even though by the very nature of the show it's subdued.
There's a lot of talent behind this show. Not only is White a prolific writer, Dern is an accomplished actress, and they've even got notable directors like Nicole Holofcencer and Jonathan Demme to take on directorial duties on a few episodes. The awkwardness can be almost unbearable at times because we all know, or have experienced, people like Amy. Her unpredictability makes the show worth watching though. Honestly, you have no idea what she's going to do at any given moment. With strong video and audio, 'Enlightened' is another recommended HBO show.