Jared Reise: Saying goodbye to my favorite show

by Jared Reise

An earnest Twitter campaign couldn’t bring back one of the best current television shows for a third season.  The economics of HBO’s “Enlightened” had more cons than pros, but quality doesn’t always equal quantity. 

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Me so sad.  Me going to cry.  Or stick it to the man.”

It would be weird and arrogant to equate the end of HBO’s Enlightened to a death in the family, but maybe it’s more in line to Adrian Peterson’s comment that he felt like he’d been “…kicked in the stomach.  Several times!!!” when the Minnesota Vikings traded teammate Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks for draft picks recently.  It doesn’t change the fact that a third season would have made for a wonderful trilogy to round out the saga of Amy Jellico (star and executive producer Laura Dern).  A surprising cancellation, given that it brought out the best in this author’s quipping during a Twitter campaign:

@HBO “can’t wait to watch #Enlightened Season 3!” he said, in the very near future. #Renew it y’all.

Or this darling:

 I don’t always watch @HBO. But when I do, I watch #Enlightened Season 3. #Renew #interesting

But, alas.  The favorites and retweets probably never reached the executive eyes that were necessary to push it into possibility.  The network powers-that-be had to hold on to the purse strings and see viewership numbers to make their inevitable decision.  Could the series be reborn elsewhere?  Not impossible, but improbable.  HBO has always given off-kilter series a chance to flourish (particularly comedies like Bored to Death and Veep), despite questionable ratings.  Even the enigmatic Girls (drawing both critical lauding and chiding) is on its way back into the program lineup.  So, as any good friend would say to another after a breakup,” Hey, Enlightened, it’s not you.  It’s them”.  Either way, it’s history.  And it’s unfortunate.  This was my special little show.  Here’s why:

Long story short:  Amy Jellico has a melt-down at her corporate workplace.  She enters a Hawaiian rehab facility, and emerges free and easy.  When she returns to get her job back, she discovers that her assistant has replaced her, and the best that the company can do is relegate her to the basement in order to work on a bullshit database project.  It is here that she learns about some of the heinous things that the company does, and thus begins her fight for her own brand of justice.

Dern plays Amy with such a wonderful dichotomy of character.  On one hand she exhibits the ever-loving hippy-dippy “let’s give peace a chance” serenity that falls flat with most everyone she comes into contact with.  Those that are more familiar with her get the other side of Amy; a bitter, depressed and frustrated woman who wants the best for everyone but keeps hitting a wall and getting in her own way.  The audience senses when she’s about ready to sink in deeper, making these scenes wonderfully cringe-worthy.

The supporting cast fares just as well.  In fact, each one has an episode devoted to their life and perspective.    Show co-creator Mike White plays shy coworker and reluctant ally Tyler.  He carries a quiet desperation of a lonely man with no outward ambition, but with all the longing of some sort of human connection.  In a stroke of casting genius, Dern’s real-life mom Diane Ladd plays Amy’s mother Helen.  Her no-nonsense demeanor and incredulity at Amy’s antics is especially fun to witness knowing that background is in play.  She just wants Amy to get it together, and it’s quite apparent that Amy’s failures are a reflection of her own.  Ex-husband Levi (Luke Wilson) is a drug addict and committed to working things out for himself.  “Don’t try to save me, Amy” he says, even though he may want her to.

EnlightenedAmyandLeviMost episodes, under the writing guidance of White, take place at the allegedly evil Abaddonn (a Google search revealed that Abaddonn is the Hebrew word for “hell”).  Episode Four makes its first deviation from this locale entirely.  Titled “The Weekend”, Amy takes Levi on a spontaneous weekend canoe and camping trip, led by a former TV writer (and Larry Brody clone) who claims he came up with the Kojak line “Who loves ya Baby?” and that he ”did the whole Hollywood thing. That’s a special layer of hell, down there. Some really sick shit. So, uh, I’m a poet of the river now.”  

In any case, Levi ruins Amy’s trip by various means.  They end up in a motel room while Levi snorts coke and reminisces about the family dog and camping trips of yore.  The scene is executed with such nuance and careful sadness that has stuck with me a year and half later, helping to make it my favorite episode of any series in recent memory.  Amy’s thought process and memories flash across her face without a word; so real and revealing.  Well done, Ms. Dern.  And Mr. Wilson.  And Mr. White for writing it.  Thank you.

So.  Time to say goodbye.  The series ended on a good and hopeful note.  White and Dern prepared for this in finishing Season Two, giving a sense of closure, but with a glimpse of the future and possible ramifications still dangling out there.  If anything, I took away from this fine Sunday night surprise something to shoot for with my own endeavors.  A serialized show can deviate from the norm, and buck convention with voiceover and well-placed episodic deviations.  A flawed leading female character can carry on and succeed in her own right without being irrelevant or sink into a characterization.

I loved it.  I’ll miss it.  But we’ll always have Abaddonn…

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See?  There’s gold in them Hollywood Hills!

Jared Reise: Game of Thrones: All-in-One and One for All

by Jared Reise

An HBO joint destined for its third season, and it hasn’t been cancelled?  It’s true!  Premiering March 31, the show succeeds not just because of stellar source material, an Emmy Award winning cast, and more good-looking folks getting naked than in Downton Abbey.  Plus, there’s some story happening there.  And a few dragons; they’re pretty good-looking too. 

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It’s an uncommon thing for me to actually catch the very first episode of a new television show when it first airs.  I think it has to do with the fear of falling in love too quickly, only to have my hopes dashed on the rocks when my beloved is cancelled mid-season.  When it came to Game of Thrones on HBO, it was an accident that I actually caught its debut almost two years ago.  Maybe it was slick marketing campaign promos that caught my eye, or word that the novels that it was based on kicked ass.  But probably more banal, it just happened to be on.

From the brilliant opening sequence to its heart-pounding ending in very episode, the collective fan base was hooked.  Based on George R.R. Martin’s novels (the first of which was written in 1996; A Song of Ice and Fire), HBO’s serialized Game of Thrones has apparently stayed as true to a best-selling and Hugo award winning book series as can be.  With the momentum it has, it’s hard to see a cancellation on the horizon.

If you haven’t seen it for whatever reason, it’s out there, and it’s not too late to catch up (the same could be said for Mad Men, and I have yet to see a full episode.  So that’s my homework; too many reruns of American Pickers and Finding Bigfoot getting in the way).  Thrones is one of the finest series crafted for television, with David Benioff (The Kite Runner) and D.B. Weiss (can this really be his only IMDB credit?) at the helm.   The logline is simple enough: “Seven families vie for control of the Iron Throne in order to rule the land of Westeros.”  What’s embedded within is a grounded fantasy element, political intrigue and solid characters delivering great lines.

Goblins and sorcery don’t pervade this world, but the magic exists on the periphery.  My Dungeons and Dragons sensibilities aren’t offended at this, even though there’s not an emporium in every citadel selling Fireball scrolls.  The lack of gratuity is a selling point, actually, allowing any fantastical reveal to be celebrated by the viewing audience (the end of the first season being a prime example, as there be dragons here).  I’m sure that HBO also appreciates the lack of a bloated special effects budget too; the remote locations are stunning enough in and of themselves (and probably costly enough).

Thrones is a steadfast reflection of the real world, where good is often punished and evil rewarded.   The amoral qualities that nearly the entire cast exhibits leave nobody’s hands clean.  Traditional ideas being turned on their ear is not exactly a new, but is able to navigate through some pretty gritty territory.  Taking sons and daughters hostage is par for the course in the pursuit of survival and that kickass throne.  The crafty Lannister clan practically has lies and deceit down to a science.  It helps that they’re the most dysfunctional in the Realm, and in more ways than one.  Just your typical “keeping it in the family”, if you know what I mean.  Oh, those Lannisters… the family we love to hate.

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Fan favorite Tyrion Lannister, played by Emmy winner Peter Dinklage, carries a full spectrum of brains, wit and a modest sense of decency.  He might have made a good field general, but there’s a limited market for the dwarf soldier.  Dinklage deserves all the accolades given thus far.  Instead of descending into a surface level quirky cynic, he embodies a weary character contending with a royal pain in the ass family.  His evolution continues in every episode we see him in.  The verbal sparring with sister Cersei (played by Lena Headey) offers up some of the best humor of the series (“You love your children. It’s your one redeeming quality. That and your cheekbones”).

As with most shows on paid programming, Game of Thrones offers up plenty of sex, violence and foul language.  These aren’t benevolent Tolkien elves we’re watching.  These people are killers, rapists and scoundrels.  However, there’s beauty in the grotesque.  I was reminded of this yesterday while watching a Season One marathon, as Daenerys Targaryan (Emilia Clarke) is used as a pawn by her brother Viserys, and given to Khal Drogo as a bride in exchange for promised soldiers to retake the Iron Throne (the family is reputedly descended from the dragons of old).  The apparently brutish Drogo mounts his new wife in a relatively loveless union, and her facial expression does not betray this fact.  Once she spies the valuable gift of petrified dragon eggs from the wedding, her demeanor changes, sensing something very special about them.  The burden is eased, for now, and there’s good reason to carry on.

So, at risk of sounding like a Zagat’s restaurant review, there’s something for everyone here.  I questioned keeping my HBO subscription after the recent loss of another fine show in Enlightened (no third season for that one), but dammit, I am a “Thronie”.    My voracious reading has come to a near standstill as of late, otherwise the book series itself might have sufficed.  But I feel that we are in another Golden Age of television, and there are some real diamonds in the rough (hiding behind Ted Nugent’s Hunting Show or Pimp My Whatever Something-Something).  Game of Thrones is one of them.

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