It’s Not Easy Being Enlightened

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Created by actress Laura Dern and writer/actor Mike White, Enlightened is a blend of cathartic drama and caustic comedy that revels in life’s raw and uncomfortable moments. The series centers on burnt-out corporate executive Amy Jellicoe (Dern), whose spectacular meltdown and subsequent rehabilitation at a Hawaiian retreat empowers her to remold her life–and the world–in her newly enlightened image. But as the show progresses it becomes clear that Amy’s blissful recovery wasn’t the end of her struggle; it was just the beginning. She is the cog in the wheel that refuses to turn smoothly, and Dern gives a powerful, vanity-free performance that captures the idealistic anger and genuine compassion of a woman whose continual attempts to do the right thing often come off the wrong way. Each episode, whose raging emotions are grounded by a naturally fluid camera style and bouyed by composer Mark Mothersbaugh‘s sparsely melodic score, grants Amy small victories, most gratifyingly with her reproving, distant mother Helen (Diane Ladd) and her self-destructive ex-husband Levi (a surprisingly emotional Luke Wilson). White, so shyly earnest and dryly humorous as Amy’s friend Tyler, has managed the rarest of feats; Enlightened is both infuriating and soothing, trivial and significant, and a devastating look at the high costs of living.

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