Maura Johnston: I’ve heard people complain that they don’t find Amy “relatable,” and I have to think that’s in large part because she’s a female character who isn’t interested in presenting herself as someone who people have to like. That shit is only reserved for your Don Drapers, your Walter Whites—hell, your Jerry Seinfelds and your George Costanzas, even. In that way “Enlightened” reminds me a bit of “Bunheads,” another show with a Woman Of A Certain Age Who Has Her Own Things Going On at its core; it, too, has low ratings and a question mark hanging over its future. Mike White’s dialogue is certainly slower than Amy Sherman-Palladino’s rapidfire patter, and Amy Jellicoe is more of an out-and-out antihero than Michelle Simms, acting more blatantly in her (sublimated) self-interest and seeming more deliberately divorced from the real world. But both characters are at an age where they should have kids and don’t, where they should have signposts of stabile adulthood and don’t (both are living rent-free, Amy with her mother and Michelle with her mother-in-law), where they should be settled. Neither of them is, though, and watching that struggle is essential to both shows’ driving force.
Michelle: I don’t know that I think she is overextended! Like the funny thing is I think her dreams are relatively concrete; half the pathos of the show is about how the world won’t give her the simpler things, and instead of shrinking she just ramps up her expectations. If Abaddonn had just given her the job she wanted, when she came back from her Hawaiian… rehab, I don’t know that her inner radical would have come out.
Michelle: Yeah. I mean the funny thing about Mike White’s worldview, given that he was raised evangelical (to an extent, it’s all complicated) is that it is so, so Buddhist. I mean he has said in interviews that he’s a great follower of Pema Chodron’s writings, as I have become too. The thing is, her advice would effectively tell Amy that she has to stop trying to get all this ground beneath her feet. Like she has to stop hoping she will have the perfect career, the perfect relationship, etc., because those things don’t exist and because they don’t matter. Chodron’s teachings are all about learning to live with groundlessness, with not having certainty in your life. With recognizing that what you think of as “certain”—your righteousness, your love with someone else—is actually transient and that holding to it is what’s causing you pain.