Laura Dern Threatens Boss; Nobel Winner Aids War-Torn Women: TV

Diane Ladd, left, and Laura Dern in "Enlightened." The show airs Monday on HBO at 9:30 p.m. New York time. Photographer: Prashant Gupta/HBO via Bloomberg

Co-workers tend to let elevator doors close in Amy Jellicoe’s face.

Amy, a walking, chattering nervous breakdown played to the frazzled hilt by Laura Dern, is the vortex of need and bitterness in “Enlightened,” an irresistible new dramedy on HBO.

In real life, most of us would press the “close” button rather than risk even a few minutes of Amy’s draining presence. A sad sack with a well-honed passive-aggressive streak, Amy coos upon hearing the news of a friend’s pregnancy, then deflates the happy talk with, “And, like, your eggs -- that worked out?”

“Enlightened” was developed by Dern with writer, director and co-star Mike White, whose off-kilter movies about life’s losers (“Chuck & Buck,” “Year of the Dog”) set the dark comic tone here.

We meet Amy mid-meltdown. A corporate executive, she’s being transferred following an ill-conceived fling with her supervisor. She’s not taking the news well.

“I will kill you!” she screams in full “Fatal Attraction” mode, mascara streaming down her face.

After an extended stint in a holistic treatment center, Amy returns to her old life with a newfound, if no less self-centered, spirituality. Spouting New Age aphorisms, she’s an even bigger nightmare than she was pre-rehab.

Phoning her married boss to discuss “closure,” she adds with the barest hint of threat, “Funny, I’m driving through your neighborhood right now.”

No Sugarcoating

White, who will alternate directing duties with Jonathan Demme, Miguel Arteta and others in the series, doesn’t sugarcoat Amy’s abrasiveness. Unlike Showtime’s “The Big C,” there’s no illness to soften the edges, and even a slowly developing backstory involving a druggie ex-husband (a likable Luke Wilson) is more explanation than vindication.

Still, a character as finely drawn as Amy Jellicoe merits our company, sometimes even our sympathy. At one point, she offers to read a heartfelt, amends-making letter to her disapproving mother played by Diane Ladd, Dern’s real mom.

“How long will it take?” mom asks, and suddenly Amy doesn’t seem quite so crazy after all.

“Enlightened” airs tonight on HBO at 9:30 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***

‘Women, War & Peace’

One Bosnian woman, her voice electronically distorted and her face hidden, recalls the brutal murders of her children and husband. Another tells of the beloved Serbian neighbor who turned bloodthirsty, raping or killing the people with whom he’d once shared meals.

Their stories are revealed in “I Came to Testify,” the excellent first installment of PBS’s five-part documentary series “Women, War & Peace.” Produced and written by Pamela Hogan, “Testify” chronicles the courageous decision of 16 Bosnian women to testify in international court about the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war by Serbian forces during the 1990s.

Two of the women, identified only as “Witness 99” and “Z.R.,” share their stories for the first time since the court appearances. The atrocities they recount are horrific, their bravery in confronting their tormentors remarkable.

The five hour-long films, featuring celebrity narrators such as Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton, reflect the changing nature of war -- from 20th-century battles between nations to current conflicts among insurgencies, tribes and warrior gangs. Women and children, the documentaries suggest, have become primary targets in the new warfare.

Nobel Prize Winner

Future episodes spotlight conflicts in Liberia, Afghanistan and Colombia. The final installment, “War Redefined” on Nov. 8, features interviews with Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with two other women on Friday.

Grim yet hopeful, the series finds inspiration in the courage of victims without whitewashing the horrors. Cameras follow “Z.R.,” the Bosnian refugee in “I Came to Testify,” as she returns in 2010 to the site of her family’s massacre. No arrests have been made.

“They are waiting,” she says, “for victims to die.”

“War, Women & Peace” airs tomorrow on PBS at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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