TCA 2011: Laura Dern and Mike White get 'Enlightened'
These days, HBO has its big blockbustery hourlong shows that suck up all the critical air (“True Blood,” “Game of Thrones,” “Boardwalk Empire”) and then it has its more niche half-hour shows, like “Bored to Death,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and the recently departed “In Treatment.” “Enlightened” fits the second category to a T, a smart and quirky dramedy from Mike White (“Chuck and Buck,” “School of Rock”) and Laura Dern.
Dern and White, who worked together on the indie film “Year of the Dog,” collaborated on the series — which resembles a long-form indie film — about Amy (played by Dern), a corporate executive who has a breakdown. She returns home from a retreat “healed” and ready to change the world, only to find herself shunted to a menial job in the basement of her corporation, a dumping ground of weirdos (one of which is played by White). Amy becomes an irritant as she attempts to be an “agent of change” in the lives of her colleagues and ex-husband (Luke Wilson).
White spoke about Dern's character at TCA and the awkward comedy that comes from her well-meaning interactions. “I don’t think she’s completely oblivious” to how she comes off, he said, “but there’s that initial zealot phase of someone who’s had an epiphany” — but is quick to point out that she’s not a nut case in her desire to help her company break out of its environmentally unfriendly ways or to shake others out of their ruts. “There is some sanity to her cause,” he said.
Dern noted that the show doesn’t make fun of her character or get too sappy: “I think the aspiration is to be the best of ourselves… Mike’s voice is a very earnest one about how we all long for that.” But there are pitfalls. “[Amy is] very flawed, and she feels everything in an enormous way … and with those traits comes disaster.”
Still, White said they deliberately set out to make something very different from what’s on television now. “It feels like there’s so many antiheroes, and in order to make noise in the dysfunction land, you need to have a serial killer in your show.” So instead, the goal was “to take someone who’s not a firewoman or forensic … not a hero, somebody who is living a regular life who is looking for meaning… Not touched by an angel.”
— Joy Press
Photo: Laura Dern and Mike White. Credit: HBO.