'Enlightened' doesn't light up HBO

advertisement | advertise on newsday

REVIEW

DRAMEDY PREMIERE "Enlightened"

WHEN | WHERE Monday night at 9:30 on HBO

REASON TO WATCH Laura Dern and her mom, Diane Ladd.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Amy Jellicoe (Dern) is a 40-year old woman who has a complete, over-the-top expletive-laden breakdown at work, in which she screams at her boss, with whom she had an affair, and nukes her job, career and livelihood. Then . . . enlightenment.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

She heads off for a long therapy group session in Hawaii, where she learns the art of self-love, tolerance, empathy and -- after swimming with a sea turtle -- even feels "the presence of God. It was better than God." Then, back to the real world in L.A. Amy moves in with mom, Helen -- Diane Ladd, Dern's real-life mother -- and gets a job back at her old company.

It's a horror show of a gig that puts her amid the rejects no one else in the company wants. But Amy is trying, really trying, to start her life in a positive direction. And this fun piece of trivia for you Dern fans: She and her mom also appeared together in '91's "Rambling Rose," for which they both received Oscar nods.

MY SAY Viewers arrive in the middle of Amy's life journey, and it's a jarring entry point. As a character, she's seriously unbalanced one moment -- the queen of profanity and nurser of petty grudges and hurt feelings -- and the Dalai Lama the next. Clinically, the balancing act may be interesting but it's also the core of an entire dramedy series. In voice-over, she muses that "we can be free of our sad stories," then a few minutes later, after a brawl with her cokehead ex, Levi (Luke Wilson), this: "You can try to escape the story of your life, but you can't. It happened."

Will Amy escape her past and capture the future she so desperately thinks she wants? (Or on an entirely deeper level, can she become someone else altogether?) "Enlightened" is of the "California Dreamin' "-existential-angst-soaked midlife-crisis genre -- think "Sideways" -- aspiring to comedy in one scene, and pathos the next. For viewers, that transition can also be jarring.

@Newsday

BOTTOM LINE A rare HBO misfire -- but I do hope Amy finds peace.

GRADE C+

You also may be interested in: