HBO takes a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, pushes her right over the edge into a full-fledged workplace meltdown, sends her to a mental-health retreat in Hawaii and throws her back into her LA world with a new outlook on life. And that’s how Laura Dern becomes “Enlightened” in the new dramedy, premiering tonight.
Dern plays Amy Jellicoe, a 40-year-old sales exec who has a nervous breakdown and then a spiritual awakening, and with her new state of mind, tries to share her wisdom with the people in her life (and it’s safe to say they want none of it), while trying to get her old job back. The pilot was written and directed by writer-actor-director Mike White (“Chuck & Buck,” “The Good Girl”).
Here Are 5 Things to Know About “Enlightened”:
1. Mike White on the “Crazy” Premise: “I just thought it would be funny to do a show about somebody who comes back from a real publicly humiliating experience and was like, “I’m not crazy,” you know, like in the elevator, like, “I’m not crazy.” “And I just thought that would be a funny way to start. Somebody who feels like they, you know, have — they’ve seen the light and want to express that to everybody, but they don’t really have the credibility.”
2. Her Mother is Her Mother. Dern’s real-life mother Diane Ladd plays Amy’s mom Helen on the show. The mother-daughter acting team previously worked together on films such as “Wild at Heart” and “Rambling Rose.” “The last time I worked with her, I was kind of a kid,” says Dern, “so to work alongside her now as a grownup was fascinating.”
Luke Wilson, meanwhile, costars as Amy’s druggie ex-husband, Levi, and White also appears on-screen as a computer geek named Tyler.
3. Movie stars Dern and Wilson join the TV set. As actors, says Dern, “We want to have the luxury of getting to do everything and play — we like to play complicated and flawed, interesting characters. And so finding a home that allows you to do that is difficult. [But HBO] … it’s the home where they afford us a luxury, and those of us who work predominantly in independent film, a luxury to play the kinds of characters we love to play.”
4. “I will change, and I will be an agent of change.” That’s sort of the mantra of the series. “I see the series as very relatable because the aspiration is to try to be the best of ourselves,” says Dern. “I don’t think it’s aspirational in terms of an attempt to influence or be extremely irreverent about the desire to, you know, find yourself or be the best of yourself. But I think
that within that, Mike’s voice is a very earnest one about how we all long for it. And the pitfalls are, you know, she’s very flawed and she feels everything in an enormous way and is very honest.”
5. “The Amazing Race” Connection. “Race” fans will notice that a few former contestants like Victor Jih pop up on “Enlightened” – Mike White and his father Mel White competed on Season 14 of “AR” and again in 2011 on “AR: Unfinished Business,” and he’s stayed in touch with some of his former competitors.
“Yeah. There’s a couple ‘Amazing Race’ cameos in there, but, you know, that’s just because I run out of ideas…,” White quips.
“Enlightened” airs Mondays at 9:30 p.m. on HBO