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Enlightened left me in the dark

THERE are probably an infinite number of reasons to hate Enlightened, Sky Atlantic's new, HBO-manufactured "dramedy", and all of them have to do with Laura Dern.

She's not only the star, she's also the co-creator, co-producer and, for this first episode, co-writer.

Her creative partner in this strange -- and it is VERY strange -- vanity project is Mike White.

Could this be the same Mike White who contributed scripts to the excellent Freaks and Geeks, and wrote and co-starred in the splendid School of Rock with his old mucker Jack Black?

Indeed it could. And indeed it is.

Dern plays Amy Jellicoe, a high-flying, kick-ass, take-no-prisoners executive at a Los Angeles corporation who, when we meet her, is having an on-the-job meltdown.

Her face streaked with tear-melted make-up, she's screaming at her boss/ex-lover that he and his associates are nothing but a bunch of mothereffers and that she's going to mothereffing kill the whole mothereffing lot of them.

Or words to that effect.

Cut to an idyllic Hawaiian montage -- Amy sitting at a beach campfire; Amy communing with the sky and the flowers; Amy swimming with a giant turtle -- drenched in a syrupy, hippy-dippy voiceover in which she says things like, "You CAN walk out of hell. You CAN change, and you can be an agent of change."

She's had the therapy, she's had the self-help treatment, she's a changed woman -- and now she's heading back to LA to restart her life afresh.

Infused with New Age-slash-Zen codology and wearing the ingratiating smile of an idiot, Amy is determined to spread the hippy happiness like rose petals.

She stars with her mother (Diane Ladd, Dern's real mother), who's startled by the changes in Amy ("What medication are you on?") but not convinced. Mom is the one Amy has most trouble communicating with, so she's brought along a letter she's written that she wants to read out.

Mom is not impressed and goes off to look for her dog. Good for Mom.

Next on the list is Amy's ex-husband, the slobbish Luke Wilson. He's baffled by the new Amy too, but indulges her. Things seem to be going well, but when Amy looks away for a moment to wax lyrical about nature and then looks back, he's tooting a line of coke off his coffee table.

After that, she goes looking for her old job back. The board tells her it's gone; there's a recession on and they're firing people, not hiring them.

But Amy reminds them that, under law, they're obliged to give an employee who's had a mental illness but has undergone successful treatment their old job back.

Her lawyer told her so. And if they don't believe her, she'll have him sue their asses off for millions of dollars.

So not as changed a woman as we thought, then.

Enlightened is an oddball, self-indulgent mess. The tone veers wildly from whimsy to soapy drama to sitcom, and so does Amy.

As played by Dern, wearing that wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression that was fine for ogling dinosaurs in Jurassic Park but not much good for anything else, she's annoying and vaguely creepy, too.

I don't know where Enlightened is coming from, but I think I know where it's going: straight down the toilet.

I do know where The Last Viking in the Village, the first part of which was reviewed by Patrick Freyne in my absence last week, is coming from, but it's not quite getting to where it wants to go.

It's easy to see how this mixture of comedy, history and travelogue, punctuated with a bit of live stand-up, could work. Billy Connolly has been doing it for years.

But Neil Delamere is such a smug, charmless character, incapable of getting through a single minute of the thing without a knowing wink or a raised eyebrow, that the whole thing becomes tiresome and grating.

That said, I did like the bit where someone shot an apple off Delamere's head with a bow and arrow.



ENLIGHTENED HIIII THE ONLY VIKING IN THE VILLAGE HIIII


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