ENLIGHTENED: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (DVD)
HBO Studios / 2013 / 274 mins / TV-MA
The first episode of the second season of ENLIGHTENED begins with gorgeous shots of towering skyscrapers illuminated in the darkness of night. Laura Dern's character provides a poetic narration as the camera travels through the interiors of Abaddon Industries. She speaks of taking down this behemoth of a company in very elegant and well-written dialogue. It sets the perfect tone for an intriguing drama. Then the show begins and you feel like you've been somewhat mislead.
In the first season, executive Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) had a massive breakdown and becomes inspired to expose her company of Abaddon Industries for their questionable ethics. Having been demoted to basement-level IT, her new mission in season two is to blow the roof off Abaddon from the inside. With the help of her co-worker Tyler (Mike White) and journalist Jeff (Dermot Mulroney), she breaks into the company files to obtain scores of information to expose the company for all their criminal actions.
The character of Amy is complex and deeply flawed, but despite good intentions she is hopelessly airheaded when it comes to her plan for stealing private documents. These are not minor errors she makes; Amy goofily stumbles through her scheme like a dopey sitcom character. Some of her mistakes are understandably human in their emotional weight, but most of them are just embarrassingly bad. In fact, most of her actions are so lacking in foresight, it makes you wonder how much of the humor was intentional or not.
It's sort of funny in how unbelievably ditzy she is about this operation, but at the same time we're supposed to have deeper feelings for her heartbreaking relationships. The issues with her ex and the romantic involvement with Jeff the journalist are quite real and pack the biggest emotional punches. Those are probably the strongest moments of the series. They also make the tone very uneven when switching between satirical and drama mode. It's like THE OFFICE merged with ERIN BROCKOVICH; the two just don't mix.
The good news is that if you can rise above the atrocious dialogue with painfully crowbarred-in F-bombs, the plot is actually addictive. The story progresses at a steady pace with bits and pieces that work well from a story perspective. At times the series seems very one-sided in Amy's quest, but it eventually rounds out in a satisfying ending that calls Amy's motives into question. For all its intentional quirkiness that doesn't always hit the mark, ENLIGHTENED is an ambitious TV series. But it would be a great series if creator/writer/director Mike White hired a writer who could do better dialogue.
The video is another great 1.78:1 widescreen presentation by HBO. The wonderful cinematography really looks spectacular with a vibrant transfer. The audio doesn't have many moments to shine, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 works well enough for this release.
The two-disc set includes audio commentary as well as a quick interview segment on each episode with series creator Mike White. They're pretty interesting to listen to and find out just what Mike was aiming for while writing each episode.
ENLIGHTENED certainly has a lot to say, but seems to lack the proper voice for its passion. In that sense, the show is a bit infuriating for how much of it works so well. The acting by Laura Dern, Mike White, Luke Wilson and Diane Ladd is all terrific. The plot progression is smooth and has very little slowdown. And the cinematography is beyond beautiful. But the dialogue is going to be a major deal-breaker. If it just had a better writer working on the scripts, ENLIGHTENED could have been one of the best series on television. As it stands, it's a mild recommendation worthy of at least a rental.