Mike White, Stop Making Us Cry!

2.1.2013

By Jason Lamphier

The TV dramedy that’s made New Age-y ethereal nonsense cool.

Photo: Courtesy HBO

If you haven’t seen writer–producer–two-time–Amazing Race contestant Mike White’s HBO series, Enlightened, which he co-created and stars in with Laura Dern, here’s how an episode usually plays out: As Amy (Dern), a former beauty exec who suffered The Most Mortifying Public Meltdown Ever, tries to spiritually reinvent herself and the world, we’re witness to countless squirmy scenes reminiscent of The Comeback and then, come episode end, sucker-punched with a Poignant Life Observation in the form of a voiceover.

And we’re not talking your standard narrative device à la The Wonder Years. We’re talking Dern, all druggy-sounding, ruminating along her “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey” groove to montages of peaceful stuff like sea turtles paddling through cerulean Hawaiian waters. Ah, but the joke’s on you, skeptics, because all this adds up to one of the most affecting shows on TV.

“I think cynicism or sarcasm is the rule these days, especially in comedies,” says White, who also plays Amy’s sad-sack coworker friend, Tyler. “It almost feels like a cheap way out. Sometimes it’s more exciting when I’m writing to be like, ‘Wow, I’m taking this seriously suddenly and feeling the emotion.’ ” So get some tissues, get watching, and get over yourself. Oh, and Molly Shannon’s on it this season.

The second season of Enlightened airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. EST on HBO.

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