HBO cancels ‘Enlightened’

HBO has canceled “Enlightened,” only a few weeks after the end of the show’s critically-acclaimed second season.

Kate Aurthur at BuzzFeed first reported the news earlier this evening, and HBO followed with an official statement:

“It was a very difficult decision.  We”ve decided not to continue ‘Enlightened’ for a third season.  We”re proud of the show and we look forward to working with Mike White and Laura Dern in the future.”

That “Enlightened” got a second season was something of a surprise, even by the standards of HBO. The ratings for the first season – the latest in the pay cable channel’s failed attempts to colonize Monday nights – were tiny, and the lowest of a number of little-viewed half-hour series that HBO was airing at the time. The other three in danger – “Hung,” “How to Make It in America” and fellow Monday exile “Bored to Death” – were all canceled, but HBO decided to give White’s difficult, fascinating creation a renewal.

They were rewarded with a second season that was even better than the first, and one that received even more plaudits, whether from critics who loved it from the beginning or curmudgeons like me who were slow to come around to exactly what White was doing. We still have 3/4 of the year to go, but I would not be surprised in the slightest if “Enlightened” winds up not only in many TV critic Top 10s, but in a number of notable Top 5s.

But the numbers were still small, even for HBO, and White made cancellation a bit easier by writing a finale that functioned (like the last episode of one of his earliest TV jobs, “Freaks and Geeks”) as a perfect series-ender. White said in interviews that he had plans for a third season where Amy was sued by the corporation for her whistleblowing, but “Agent of Change” not only brought an end to Amy’s job, but seemed to provide emotional and thematic closure to the series as a whole.

I like that HBO makes room for experiments like this on top of safer commercial bets like “Boardwalk Empire.” I like that we got two seasons of this, and three of “In Treatment.” And I really do hope they mean to stay in the Mike White business, because I’d love to see what the man does next given the freedom afforded by working for this company.

What does everybody else think? Would you have wanted to see the trial of Amy Jellicoe, or was this the right place to stop?