I knew nothing about this show until I heard Mike White and Laura Dern on NPR's radio show "Fresh Air." Mike White (writer, creator, and actor playing "Tyler") described how the idea of the show came from his own breakdown during a stressful period working on another TV show. He spoke thoughtfully about his connection with Eastern religion and philosophy (striking given his father's involvement in fundamentalist Christianity as a ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell, and his subsequent evolution into a gay rights activist), and about the challenge of becoming an agent for change. I liked his honest and self-aware answers to Terri's questions, as well as Laura's zeal for playing a complex and visionary female character, so I was curious enough to check out "Enlightened."
Strangely enough, I watched episode 2 first, not the pilot, and absolutely fell in love (I think the pilot, while not bad, is one of the weaker episodes, so please don't judge the whole series based on it alone). This is a challenging but deeply moving show, which was like catnip for someone who is easily bored by predictable, feel-good characters and storylines bearing little semblance to reality. I devoured the rest of the episodes, and promptly purchased the season 1 DVD as soon as it was released. It is absolutely wonderful, and by far the best DVD purchase I have made in years. There are short segments with Mike White explaining his thoughts about each episode, as well as episode commentaries. My favorite episode and commentary is #9, "Consider Helen." Hearing Laura Dern (who plays Amy) and her real-life mother Diane Ladd (who plays Amy's mother Helen) reminiscing about their own very different relationship, while discussing the relationship of their fictional characters, was an absolute treat. They could both teach master classes in acting, with incredibly rich and nuanced performances in all of the episodes. Mike White is wonderful as Tyler, Timm Sharp is hilariously douche-y as Dougie, and Luke Wilson manages to evoke even more pathos as Levi than he did in as Richie in The Royal Tenenbaums.
While Enlightened doesn't have the easy impact of graphic sex and violence in Girls, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Mad Men, and other highly regarded shows, it achieves the much more difficult task of using the simple tools of words, emotions, and relationships to portray the desperate loneliness of contemporary American society better than any other TV show I've seen. And it does this with a protagonist whom you want to strangle half the time, for being so self-absorbed, socially tone-deaf, and irritating. But what Mike White does, better than anyone else on TV right now, is to show you the secret humanity shining from the hidden depths of each loser, ghost, and lost soul. I can't think of another show that has a more emotional, resonant effect on me, and I say with all seriousness that it's better than pretty much anything else on TV right now (sadly overlooked by most, given its shamefully low viewer numbers). It's among the greatest works of art I've experienced. If you're an introvert, then you'll definitely "get it."
P.S. Season 2 is even better, and I eagerly look forward to purchasing that DVD when it's released.