From Calm to Manic: 'Enlightened: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)'

The series is well written, and the episodes are smart and funny, setting up Enlightened to be another one of HBO’s great shows.

Enlightened: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

Distributor: HBO Studios
Cast: Laura Dern, Luke Wilson, Diane Ladd, Mike White, Timm Sharp, Sarah Burns
Network: HBO
Release date: 2013-01-08

HBO’s Enlightened starts off in dramatic fashion as Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) has just been fired and is in the midst of a full on breakdown. From that very intense opening scene, the show quickly cuts to her on a beach in a treatment center in Hawaii. She returns from Hawaii fully immersed in self-help books and meditation techniques, and living back at home with her mother (played by Dern’s real life mother, Diane Ladd).

Upon her return, Amy attempts to get rehired at Abbadonn in a position comparable to the one she previously had. However, she is instead hired as part of Cogentiva, which is essentially a data entry job she feels overqualified for and continually blows off. Almost every episode is bookended by Amy’s thoughts and reflections. They are often incisive and well articulated, contrasting noticeably with her day-to-day actions.

By placing Amy in a position so beneath her previous job as a buyer for the Health and Beauty department of Abbadonn, she is forced to interact with people she never did before. Additionally, she is forced to do the kind of unchallenging, tedious work that makes it easy for her to justify not taking it seriously. It’s only when Amy finally understands just what her department is responsible for that she feels motivated to do something, however misguided it may be.

Amy vacillates between moments of serene calm and completely manic episodes. Her attempts to find peace and meaning in her life are often thwarted by her own tendencies to erupt in anger and sadness. While she does have some instances of clarity in which she makes some very astute observations about herself and those around her, her regular behavior is closer to unstable. Dern plays Amy’s two sides very well, but the shifts can sometimes be a bit jarring and by extension, Amy often comes off as almost schizophrenic.

Whatever tonal issues the series may have with Amy’s character, Enlightened excels in its casting. It includes writer and co-creator, Mike White as Tyler, one of Amy’s beaten down Cogentiva coworkers; Luke Wilson as Levi, Amy’s damaged ex-husband; Timm Sharp as Dougie, Amy’s highly inappropriate new boss; and Sarah Burns as Krista, Amy’s former assistant. White in particular is a highlight. He plays Tyler’s loneliness and crush on Amy with perfect restraint that stands as a wonderful contrast to Dern’s bigger performance.

Apart from the rest of the terrific supporting cast, Ladd is excellent as Amy’s mother, Helen. One of the season’s best episodes focuses almost entirely on Helen, as she gets lost in memories of her marriage and her husband’s tragic death. In addition, Levi confronts her and in dealing with his anger and blame; Helen is further fleshed out as more than Amy’s stubborn and critical mother. Ladd shines in the episode, showcasing both Helen’s fragility and strength.

By the season’s fourth episode, a great deal becomes clear as some backstory is given for Amy and Levi’s marriage and their subsequent divorce. It’s an important episode in understanding how Amy got to the point she was in at the start of the pilot. Levi’s own problems with drugs and alcohol are also given context, while their complicated current relationship makes more sense in light of their past.

While Amy’s relationships with her mother and ex-husband are understandably complex, even her dealings with almost all her co-workers lead to some conflict. In addition, Amy’s attempts to show how much she’s grown are often doubted by those around her, especially by her former assistant, Krista. Krista’s simultaneous fear of and sympathy for Amy lead her to mostly avoid or discourage, making Amy try even harder (and fail more spectacularly) to show how much better she is after her time in Hawaii.

Enlightened has a great deal of potential. The premise leaves the series open to go in any number of directions, especially with its great cast. However, the fact that Amy tends to either be calm and composed or clueless and petty makes for a character that can be difficult to get a handle on. Overall, the series is well written, and the episodes are smart and funny, setting up Enlightened to be another one of HBO’s great shows.

The DVD release contains several bonus features, including commentaries and “Inside the Episodes” featurettes for each of the season’s ten episodes.


From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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