An honest and subtle show that makes you love and hate the characters, whilst pondering your own life and personality traits along the way.
Enlightened is an edgy TV show created by Laura Dern and Mike White – both whom also feature. The episodes are only 26 minutes, but pack more themes, ideas, human observation and emotionally jarring moments than most feature films. At first glance its about a woman who has gone through a spiritual journey, after being “let go” from a company, via a bunch of esoteric groups and zen retreat holidays. Feeling enlightened, aware and in control, she tries to get her life back together by first getting her old job back. At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a daytime kind of annoyingly ignorant show – but that’s where you (and definitely I when I started watching) would be very surprised.
Because this is where it gets honest, brutal and compelling. Her mind is actually now a contradictory, conflicted and hypocritical cluster-fuck, yet absolutely human. The painful situations she both causes and attempts to manage can be cringe-worthy, compelling and endearing all at the same time. The show’s ability to throw you from one corner of your mind to another with just a few words is astounding – and its rare that I actually don’t want an episode of a TV show to finally finish. The co creator/writer Mike White also stars as colleague Tyler. Appearing like a younger Wallace (Wallace & Gromit), his character trajectory illuminates yet another brilliantly three-dimensional and acutely observed corner of humanity.
Its a program where there is far to discover between the lines – a little thought about any of the episodes in terms of motives, decisions, realizations, ignorances, denials and behavioral patterns in terms of the characters reveals plenty of insight about the human condition. For example, you start to notice how she rarely listens to people – or pretends to take something on board to please them, then completely ignores it. The need to please betrays a huge underlying insecurity, which she seems completely blind to yet distracts from by having one useless-yet-excitable idea another. The fine lines between significance and attention, enlightenment and denial, are scary places. One of the episodes managed to take me to a pretty deep and dark place of sadness with barely a word of dialogue.
Enlightened is exactly the kind of refreshment that the overly optimistic, fickle and fragile world of self-help and therapy sorts needs. Its a slap-in-the-face of becoming self-obsessed to the point where you forget the feelings of others. People’s desire to have “more” and be happier whilst trying to sidestep the actual hard work and brutal self-awareness required. That place in people’s minds where emotional greed, ignorance and impatience blend into something that thinks its somehow enlightened and superior – but actually irritates the fuck out of everyone else around.
You’ll find yourself changing sides for and against Laura Dern’s character multiple times through the series, whilst never doubting her character’s credibility. And learning (or reflecting) a lot about human nature at the same time.