Two shows on TV push the envelope for leading roles for women – Laura Dern on Enlightened plays maybe one of the most complex characters I’ve seen.  And now that the show’s in trouble I can see it going the way of HBO’s Hung, another great series about women.  On Enlightened, Dern plays a newly rehabbed older woman very much in keeping with many women I know in Los Angeles and online.  She’s worried about things she has no control over but believes she can somehow make a difference. Her intentions are always good but her efforts futile at best, delusional at worst.  One of the funniest scenes on a recent episode had Dern having a dream about a co-worker getting taken away by police once Dern’s imaginary expose on the company she works for is brought to light. When, in real life, that woman is rushed to the hospital, Dern feels personally responsible, so she rushes to the hospital and tries to insert herself into the scene to “make it better.” She has no idea the woman can’t stand her.  She lives her life around many people who feel sorry for her, in fact, or can’t stand her. Gee, now do you see why I like it so much?  Ahem, moving on…

Laura Dern is like Martin Scorsese’s Rupert Pupkin in King of Comedy — full of delusions of grandeur with zero chance of ever becoming who they think they already are.  She lives with her mother — of course, Diane Ladd, and works in some awful basement pencil-pushing job alongside the brilliant Mike White (creator and writer).  All too often we don’t have well written shows about darker, less successful people who hover around us every day, but Enlightened shows us that dimension of this American life.  My hope is that people eventually discover it and somehow it stays on the air.  My cynicism tells me, forget it. Not enough hot chicks with bouncing boobs.  But you know, hope is the thing with feathers …

The other great show is of course not in danger of getting canceled because Lena Dunham has transformed Girls in season two from the show it was trying to be in season 1.  Gone are the storylines that only revolve around the men in their lives and in their place, stories that revolve around the girls.  This has made the show instantly captivating.  Dunham herself has broken free as a character and no longer seems to have silently apologize for her very presence. She now knows what the worst thing someone can say about you is — she survived it and came out the other side. It’s always good to hear that if you’re a woman — the absolute worst insult imaginable? You realize that ultimately sticks and stones hurt for about two seconds then you move on to something else.  Every storyline on Girls has improved and they do it without any man-hating, lest the target demo start to feel left out.

Both Enlightened and Girls are on HBO on Sunday nights.  Watch them. Talk about them. Keep them in the conversation.  Maybe,  just maybe, they’ll never go away.

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  • Kane

    I have been wanting to watch Enlightened but I have this feeling it’ll be cancelled…I’m afraid to even give it a shot if there won’t be an ending.

    As great as Lena and the other leading ladies are on the show, Adam Driver nails his role and is the funniest actor on HBO that I’ve come across. He deserves a bit of the accolades. Dunham has a great acting partner in him.

  • Eric P.

    HBO seems to be leading this television renaissance we’re living through. I also love “Veep” with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss.

  • Jake

    How about Newsroom? Okay, that was rather weak joke.

  • kneeplay_

    Thanks for this post, Sasha. I hope more people start to watch Enlightened too. I watched all of the first season 2 weeks and got hooked immediately. And I agree on Girls. It’s so much better this season.

    Mild SPOILERS: I thought it was a funny coincidence(?) that this past Sunday, both shows featured cocaine predominantly. I’m surprised no one’s written about it yet. On the one hand, you had an addict on Enlightened relapsing and then right after on Girls, you had the lead character trying coke for the first time. It was like Cocaine Sunday on HBO.

  • Ryan B

    Laura Dern is already an “older woman”? That was fast.

  • PaulH

    House of Lies >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>both HBO shows mentioned here. And Lena Dunham is a hack.

  • Kane

    PaulH, hack or not (I believe not), the girl has her own HBO show. What network would ever entrust an entire show to a 26 year old if it wasn’t good? Aside from AMC and FX, HBO is the smartest network out there. And all this success isn’t wholly given because Judd Apatow produces it. This is creativity at it’s youthful, low-budgeted best.

  • Casey

    Dunham is genius

  • kasper

    The last episode of Girls was one of the best, and I love how Dunham (et al) are handling Marnie’s character this season. I still need to catch up on 2nd season of Enlightened, but thought Laura Dern was criminally dismissed at the Emmys for a win, let alone a nomination. Her breakdown in the first five minutes of the season was enough for a victory. As for House of Lies, does it get better… I watched the first two episodes and that was enough for me to stop watching.

  • Free

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, I’m as surprised as you are) has an article on the Huffington Post that talks about everything that’s wrong with GIRLS. I have to say, it’s beautifully written. I gave GIRLS a shot, but pretty much all the issues I had with it are in that article.

  • Two of my favorite shows.

  • Ed

    I have been a regular reader of awardsdaily since it had a different name ( which I can’t recall now ) and I am commenting for the first time to say how much I love Enlightened and Laura Dern. Sasha, your comment about average people around us hits the nail on the spot. We hardly see stories of those people ( read: people like us )
    Though I love Girls as well, it comes no where as close as enlightened.

  • Lars

    Thanks Sasha for writing about “Enlightened”, possibly one of the most misunderstood shows. I don’t like “Girls” that much, but it got me thinking about why I don’t like it instead of trashing the quality of the shows or complaining about their characters. I identify with Laura Dern’s character a lot more, while my friend, who lived in New York for 5 years, saying she felt she knew these characters in real life. I think the second season of “Enlightened” started out even better than the first season. I always felt that Luke Wilson is so underrated on this show, it’s almost criminal. The third episode really showcased his talent.

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