Great news for the hardy band of us who became entranced by Enlightened: HBO has renewed the Mike White-Laura Dern comedy litmus test for a new season. In canceling Hung, Bored to Death, and How To Make It in America, and having new comedy Girls and the Julia Louis-Dreyfus show Veep in the wings, HBO is signaling a shift in its comedy priorities.
No one likes to see talented people put out of work, so I feel a bit badly for the Bored to Death folks, but it’s not as though Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, Zach Galafianakis, and creator Jonathan Ames are going to be hurting for future employment. Hung and America — again, sorry for the unemployment of the talent behind them, but as shows, these were mediocre at best.
Enlightened, on the other hand, was just hitting its stride as a portrait of a woman who was determined to change her life in ways that made her and those around her (other characters and viewers) occasionally uncomfortable. Beautifully acted, with many stand-out scenes (like, every one in which Dern’s Amy interacted with the dead souls at her company), Enlightened — which I put on my year-end 10 Best list — deserved a second season to see where Amy’s spiritual quest leads her.
The simplistic way to view HBO’s decision is to say their comedies are now skewing female, while their dramas are going male — the upcoming racetrack saga, Luck, is male-heavy, but with fine performances by Jill Hennessy, Kerry Condon, and numerous mares. So that’s not really an accurate analysis: Game of Thrones has a strong female following, and True Blood is for all practical purposes a vampire telenovela.
Yes, these are first and foremost hard-headed business decisions, but there’s something deeper at work here. I think it’s the general feeling pervading the TV industry right now that women, behind the scenes and in front of the camera, are making some of the most vital, imaginative comedy moves right now. Parks and Recreation, Up All Night, Happy Endings, Awkward, and Suburgatory all showcase adventurous female performances. And whatever you think of Whitney Cummings, her two successful shows (Two Broke Girls for its ratings, Whitney for… surviving on NBC) bespeaks a certain faith in women as holders of a certain kind of comedy mojo. I know, for every example, there’s a retort (Louie springs to mind).
However, the more women we get on network and cable TV, the more likely it is that something will hit as both an artistic and ratings success that will help move the evolution of the medium along, We don’t need the question “Where are the new Mary Tyler Moore Shows?”; we just need more funny shows with the added element of a female sensibility behind them.
Enlightened is one step further down that road.