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Archive for Monday, October 10, 2011

Laura Dern pursues the good life

October 10, 2011

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Is recovery entertaining? Laura Dern, so memorable in over-the-top roles in “Rambling Rose,” ‘‘Recount” and “Blue Velvet,” returns to form in “Enlightenment” (8:30 p.m., HBO) as Amy, an ambitious corporate executive who has just seen her career go down the toilet. In fact, that’s where we meet her. With tears streaking her mascara, Amy overhears her co-workers gossiping about her well-deserved demotion and her affair. She bursts out of the stall and rampages through her office, searching desperately for her ex-lover, the man she’s sure has orchestrated her downfall. It’s a great scene but, unfortunately, the most explosive of the episode.

After a stint in some kind of Hawaiian spa and New Age retreat, Amy returns and seems transformed. But just as folks feared the hot-tempered Amy, they recoil at her new spiritual incarnation. Her mother, Helen (Dern’s real-life mother, Diane Ladd), can barely tolerate her touchy-feely demeanor. Her old corporate colleagues give her the runaround, her ex-husband (Luke Wilson) comes on to her with cocaine, and her former assistant avoids her because she has taken Amy’s job. Amy returns to intense form only when she pursues her ex-lover with an attempt at “closure” that he mistakes for stalking. And he’s more than half right.

‘‘Enlightenment” attempts the near impossible. A tale of dysfunction, meltdown and recovery, the series focuses on the latter — the long, hard process of trying to avoid self-destructive habits and live well.

That’s all very nice, but this is television. And dramas and comedies don’t often lend themselves to serenity or its pursuit. Some of the smartest writing here explores that fine line between New Age self-discovery and passive- aggressive cunning. In one nuanced scene, Amy makes a veiled threat to sue her old firm sound like a spiritual “affirmation.” Is her Oprah-fied language a sign of change, or merely a new suit of armor?

In many ways, “Enlightenment” is the anti-“House.” It keeps the emphasis on getting straight and growing up. That may not sound like as much fun as watching Laura Dern throw a fit. But with a little indulgence, “Enlightenment” could grow on you.

Tonight’s other highlights

• “The Rosie Show” (6 p.m., OWN), a new talk show featuring Rosie O’Donnell, makes its debut.

• Sweatin’ to the oldies on “The Sing-Off” (7 p.m., NBC).

• A prehistoric virus inspires some modern science on “Terra Nova” (7 p.m., Fox).

• Princeton Plainsboro needs help on “House” (8 p.m., Fox).

• Britain and America fight over the fate of a continent in the documentary “The War of 1812” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings).

• Family woes on the season premiere of “Bored to Death” (8 p.m., HBO).

• A deep-sea diver expires on “Hawaii Five-O” (9 p.m., CBS).

• Jane faces down a robber at her dad’s saloon on “Prime Suspect” (9 p.m., NBC). NBC has canceled “Playboy Club.”

• A killer’s gun seems familiar on “Castle” (9 p.m., ABC)

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