HBO’s Enlightened and the cruelty (and beauty) of hope
HBO Enlightened was a show about hope. It might seem like an oversimplification, but it was about the excitement that hope brings, along with the stubbornness, annoyance, sheer anxiety, and mental torture that come with it. Above all her very human flaws, Amy Jellicoe (played beautifully by Laura Dern) was a hopeful person: she hopes she can escape her issues surrounding her work, love life, and home, and she hopes that she will be able to change the world for the better (even if that meant improving her life in the process). That hope, and the many real-world cruelties Amy faced on her journey, is what made Enlightened such a poignant sight, and its sudden cancellation always stings.
No one likes to feel insignificant. Don’t we all want, to some extent, to help bring about positive change, not only for ourselves but for the world around us? Amy Jellicoe takes on this task of Sisyphus, determined to be a so-called “agent of change” as she works tirelessly for a “better future” whatever that means.
Written by Mike White (who recently wrote and directed HBO’s The white lotus), HBO Enlightened struggled to find an audience during its two seasons from 2011 to 2013. Personally, I found the series to perform best with all the episodes readily available, instead of the weekly format. Enlightened’the plot moved at its own pace. Sometimes as Amy’s latest mishap started to escalate, the show would click pauses to take a leisurely detour, observing a day in the life of Amy’s mother, Helen, or Levi’s struggles with sobriety. .
The show was also not afraid of getting depressing. In the episode “The Weekend,” Amy thoughtlessly plans a couple’s kayaking trip with Levi, convinced it will help them connect with nature, make new friends, and bring them back together again. Instead, Levi secretly continues to use drugs, Amy loses her temper, and the couple become envious and insecure of the happier couples they canoe with. The episode ends with the couple abandoning the trip, and Amy sadly watches Levi get high in a motel room as she questions why other couples’ happiness is such an unattainable goal. Enlightened has never been afraid to let her audience sit in those uncomfortable feelings – little reminders that sometimes, no matter how good your intentions are or how hard you work, life gets in your way .
The show juggled many topics, like the false promises of the wellness culture, midlife crises, and the dehumanization of corporate routines. However, that never completely doomed them, with Amy genuinely finding happiness with her Wellness Retreat buddies, and Szidon even being open to Amy’s eco-friendly ideas before her talk messed things up. Nothing in EnlightenedThe universe was either really perfect or sinister, rather flirting between the lines.
Season 2 sped things up EnlightenedThe final season of, engaging new viewers as Amy decided to bring down her corrupt business from within, hoping to expose the corporate abuse and environmental ruin Abaddonn was causing. Amy struggled in Season 1, desperate to make friends, reconnect with her ex-husband and mom, and become the boss she thought she could be. Season 2’s Amy injected new life into herself, convincing herself that she was a courageous activist for the people as she worked with journalist Jeff Flender to gather evidence against her company. Amy’s conviction and hope was so strong that you couldn’t help but believe in her, which made it all the more heartbreaking when he finally fell apart.
HBO Enlightened ended with a semi-unsatisfactory conclusion and cliffhanger. When Jeff’s talk comes out, Amy is immediately fired, the victim of a multi-million dollar lawsuit, kicked out of her mother’s house, and not sure where her future is headed next. As always, Amy remains hopeful, even in the face of injustice and cruelty. It is far from the woman who sobs hysterically and shouts: “I WILL BURY YOU!” I WILL KILL YOU, MOTHERF * CKER! In the premiere of the show.
Mike White has said he hopes Season 3 will focus on Amy’s trial, as well as introducing her sister (who had been mentioned throughout the series but never seen). It could have been an intriguing focus on the very real aftermath of Amy’s “Agent of Change” crusade, with her sister highlighting the dynamics of the Jellicoe family that were often mentioned but never fully discussed.
Many shows come to their natural conclusions, but HBO Enlightened (and Amy herself) deserved more. As the series ended on a bittersweet high, Enlightened and his characters had so much more to say, to observe and to fight in this fucked up world.