Season premiere review: ‘Enlightened’ – ‘The Key’

“Enlightened” is back for a new season, and I have a few thoughts on where the series stands creatively at this point coming up just as soon as I join a gym and inherit a timeshare…

Unlike several other TV critics I strongly respect, I never really warmed to the first season of “Enlightened.” I accepted after a while that Mike White wasn’t making a comedy by any conventional definition, but that still didn’t make me like the show, in part because it was a show that didn’t particularly want us to like it – or, specifically, to like Amy Jellicoe. There have been plenty of great television shows built around unlikable protagonists (HBO is using one of them as the lead-in to “Enlightened” at the moment), but I’m hard-pressed to find a show this committed to making its main character this difficult without some kind of compensating factor.

Walter White is brilliant, Don Draper charming, Hannah Horvath funny and occasionally self-aware. Amy, though, is so oblivious, so needy, so narcissistic, that the show frequently puts me in the position of sympathizing with her former colleagues – all of whom have been shown to be pretty despicable people – simply because they have to deal with Amy.

It’s a show where the character who’s the most grating is also the only one talking about trying to improve the world; she’s doing it for selfish reasons (her anti-corporate crusade is about making herself feel better about her fall from grace) and in the clumsiest way possible, but she’s also saying things we wish the Abaddon execs would hear if they were coming from a voice they could tolerate.

And the more I watched the show last season, and again with these new episodes (I’ve watched five so far), the more I’ve come to at least admire White’s willingness to tell the story mostly from Amy’s perspective.(*) It’s basically a show about a prophet bringing genuine wisdom down from the mountain, only no one will listen because she is an incredible pain in the ass. Who would make such a show? Mike White would, and it’s one I often cringe through, and that I can’t necessarily say I always enjoy while watching, but one I’ve come to respect more and more as it’s gone along.

(*) That he was able to do “Consider Helen” last season, and then do a couple of episodes this season told from the point of view of other characters, is just a reminder that while Amy has no clue how others perceive her, Mike White is acutely aware. He has the empathy Amy thinks she has, but that she deeply lacks. 

I don’t think I’ll be doing weekly reviews of “Enlightened,” but perhaps I’ll check back in on occasion, and definitely at the end of this season. I’ll be curious to see the reaction to it this year. It’s no longer on Mondays, but I don’t know that its audience is going to balloon on Sundays, especially with a divisive show like “Girls” as its companion piece. But when HBO was dropping the axe on its other low-rated half-hours like “Hung” and “Bored to Death,” this was one that survived, presumably because HBO wants to stay in the Mike White business. And the more I watch “Enlightened,” the more I can understand why.

Plus? Dermot Mulroney, whom I now apparently like in everything. (Thanks a lot, “New Girl”!)

What did everybody else think?