There’s not much Laura Dern can’t do in terms of acting. She’s played everything from a paleobotanist in “Jurassic Park” to Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris in “Recount.” But the biggest challenge for this two-time Golden Globe winner may be making something of her new HBO series “Enlightened.”
The show centers around Amy Jellicoe (Dern), an executive at an Herbalife-type organization. After an affair with her married boss (Charles Esten) goes sour, she’s set to be forced into a lesser division at the company. For a woman whose identity is so wrapped up in her career, combined with her own personal struggles, this news sets off a mental breakdown.
Her road to recovery begins at a holistic treatment center in Hawaii. It is here that Amy sees God, or in her words, something “better than God.” As the title of the show suggests, Amy is now “Enlightened.”
When she returns to Los Angeles, Amy attempts to bring her new outlook on life to renew and rehabilitate the shattered relationships she left behind. But despite her own transformation (with a few notable hiccups), she finds her friends and family aren’t so interested in or capable of relating to this “new” Amy.
Amy’s relationship with her mother, played by Dern’s real-life mom Diane Ladd, experiences further strain after Amy must move home. As for her job, Amy gets re-hired after playing a little legal hardball. And then there’s the problem of trying to right things with her drug addict ex-husband Levi (Luke Wilson).
Dern is, as usual, fantastic in demonstrating the full range of emotion – from open hostility to anxiety to spiritual calm. But the rest of the cast lags. Luke Wilson plays another permutation of Luke Wilson rather than embracing his character’s obvious flaws. And Ladd’s distaste toward Amy 2.0 doesn’t offer the bite it could.
But the biggest downfall of “Enlightened” is doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s in no-man’s land between a comedy, a drama and a satire. Perhaps if the producers looked deep into their souls, they’ll figure it out.
“Enlightened” debuts on HBO on Monday (Oct. 10) at 9:30 p.m. ET.