Laura Dern wants “Enlightened” audience for new HBO show

If anyone understands the meaning of “After Ellen,” it’s Laura Dern. She was, after all, on the scene before, during and after Ellen Morgan — and Ellen DeGeneres — came out.

Let’s reminisce.

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I never noticed Ellen’s mother in that clip before. Cool.

We all knew that Ellen suffered career repercussions from her decision to come out. But not until years later did we realize that Laura Dern’s career suffered, too. For three years after “The Puppy Episode,” she didn’t work — at all.

Ever classy, Dern kept her peace. She never even told Ellen until she started getting parts again. (If this is news to you, check out the interview between Ellen and Laura.)

Of course, once an actor of Dern’s caliber appears onscreen, the naysayers forget why they were shunning her. Dern came back strong — and won a Golden Globe a few years ago for her starring role in HBO’s Recount.

We were delighted to hear that HBO planned to bring Dern back on a regular basis with her own show, Enlightened. But we hadn’t heard an update until Friday, when Dern appeared in an HBO panel at the Television Critics Association Press Tour.

Dern stars as Amy, an executive for a health and beauty company, who has a meltdown at work — a very public meltdown. She goes to a treatment center in Hawaii (I know!) for three months, during which she finds her center, and returns to her life ready to change the world. Unfortunately, her past behavior makes her a less-than-credible ambassador of clean living and inner peace.

Here’s HBO’s promotional video (NSFW).

Dern’s real-life mom Diane Ladd plays Amy’s mom Helen and Luke Wilson is Levi, her druggie ex-husband. Mike White, who worked with Dern on Year of the Dog, created Enlightened in collaboration with Dern and directs the show.

White said that the humor of Enlightened comes from Amy’s well-meaning, but totally awkward, interactions with people.

“I just thought it be would be funny to do a show about a person who comes back from a humiliating public experience and says, ‘I’m not crazy,’” he said. “I don’t think she’s completely oblivious to how she comes off, but there’s that initial zealot phase of someone who’s had an epiphany — then is quick to point out that she’s not a nut case in her desire to help her company break out of its environmentally unfriendly ways or to shake others out of their ruts. There is some sanity to her cause.”

Few people in Amy’s life are ready to accept her change. In fact, they find the new and improved version of Amy quite irritating.

Dern notes, “People put honesty on a pedestal, yet when you’re inside of a character who’s honest you realize how unlikable that character that is.

“Mike’s voice is a very earnest one about how we all long [to be our best selves]. But there are pitfalls. [Amy is] very flawed, and she feels everything in an enormous way … and with those traits comes disaster.”

Although the format of the show invites comparison to some of the woman-driven comedies on Showtime like Weeds, The Big C and Nurse Jackie, White thinks Enlightened has its own niche.

“Tonally, this is pretty different. It feels like there’s so many antiheroes, and in order to make noise in the dysfunction land, you need to have a serial killer in your show.”

Instead, Dern and White wanted “to take someone who’s not a firewoman or forensic … not a hero, somebody who is living a regular life who is looking for meaning… Not touched by an angel.”

I hope Enlightened is a success, not only because I love Laura Dern, but also because HBO is sadly lacking in woman-centric shows. Maybe Dern and White will start a trend. And maybe Dern will wear these glasses.

The show premiers Monday, October 10 — will you be watching?

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