If you have yet to sample Laura Dern’s “Enlightened,” now would be a good time, as the dark comedic poem of a series embarks on its second season tonight (1/13) – with the much-talked-about “Girls” as its lead-in – and its Season 1 DVD is newly in release.
Season 1 saw Dern’s self-destructive corporate executive, Amy Jellicoe, returning from a breakdown and rehab a new – enlightened – woman on a mission the change the world. Her mission was so vastly under-appreciated by her colleagues she wound up exiled to data entry duty in the basement. Season 2 moves her from suffocated fury into action, as Amy and her office kindred spirit, Tyler (series cocreator Mike White) turn into corporate whistle blowers. Shepherding their efforts is an L.A. Times investigative reporter played by Dermot Mulroney.
(He is obviously such a more appropriate romantic partner for the New Amy than her aimless addict husband (Luke Wilson), who is undergoing rehab himself. We’ll see.)
Dern’s multi-layered performance as the raging, hurting, self help platitude-spouting, self-important, conniving crusader for good is among the prodigiously gifted actress’ best. It alone makes “Enlightened” worth the watching. Seeing her act opposite her real-life mother, Diane Ladd, who plays Amy’s mom, is a little gift for viewers. As Ladd notes, they “work incredible together.”
It’s hard to believe now, but Ladd almost passed on “Enlightened,” worried that “If I have a problem, in that position, and go in and try to solve it, it’s going to be: ‘Oh, Laura’s mother.’ I really saw that, and I thought ‘No, just let me back off and let Laura go do her thing.'” Three months passed, as Ladd told me the story, while Dern and White talked to other actresses. She changed her mind after her husband lost a grandchild to SIDS. “God knows life is so vulnerable. Each minute, none of us knows tomorrow what’s going to happen. Every minute of each day is a gift, an opportunity. And I thought, ‘What better could I do with the gift of talent that the universe gave me than to share and support my own child?'”
Beyond all the good acting, “Enlightened” has much to say about life in today’s hard world, about the everyday acceptance of the unacceptable, about looking back on life with regret, about the difficulties of change. White, the former “Freaks and Geeks” and “Dawson’s Creek” writer, has drawn from his own breakdown experience and knows of what he speaks.