Low-rated 'Enlightened' gets a second shot

New York TimesJanuary 9, 2013 

TV Enlightened

In this image released by HBO, Diane Ladd, left, and Laura Dern and shown in a scene from the HBO series, "Enlightened."

PRASHANT GUPTA — ASSOCIATED PRESS/HBO

In the second season of HBO’s “Enlightened,” Amy Jellicoe, a self-involved do-gooder played by Laura Dern, joins Twitter. “Follow me. Follow me,” Amy repeats in the languid voice-over of her internal dialogue.

HBO’s internal dialogue about the dark, half-hour series could be summed up similarly as: “Watch me. Watch me.”

In its first season, “Enlightened,” created by Mike White and Dern, won some critical acclaim. Dern received a Golden Globe award for best actress for her portrayal of a midlevel corporate executive who has a nervous breakdown after a messy office affair and returns from rehab spouting self-help platitudes.

But the show failed to gain an audience. Since HBO relies on subscriptions rather than advertising dollars, it has typically valued critical acclaim and awards over nightly ratings. Still, there’s a distinct feeling at the channel that “Enlightened” has not gotten the notice it deserves.

“We feel very, very strongly about it,” said Sue Naegle, president of HBO Entertainment. She said crowd pleasers like “Game of Thrones” and “True Blood” allow the network to stick with a less popular, experimental series.

Recently, however, the supply of high-end cable series has exploded, creating more competition for HBO. But executives have stuck by White’s quixotic tale of workplace suffocation.

“Sometimes shows don’t get good numbers and it’s because the message is cloudy or they struggled creatively,” Naegle said. “But this one deserved another year, another chance.”

Rather than the poetic character vignettes of Season 1, the second season of “Enlightened” takes viewers on a serialized ride as Amy plots to take down Abaddonn Industries, the generically evil corporation that has demoted her to a basement job in a data processing department.

Part of the difficulty for “Enlightened” is that even among experimental cable shows, it is a tough series to define. Billed as a comedy, the show has a polarizing protagonist and touches on dark, existential themes with lots of White’s brand of often hard-to-watch humor (the kind he displayed in the 2000 film “Chuck and Buck”) mixed in.

Last year the series was nominated for best comedy at the Golden Globes alongside “Modern Family” and “New Girl.”

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