The Best Character on Enlightened Isn't Played by Laura Dern

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 5 2012 9:16 AM

Character Studies: Dougie from Enlightened

Timm Sharp
A still of Timm Sharp on Enlightened.

I was thrilled to hear that Enlightened was renewed for a second season at the end of last year. The 30-minute, exceedingly dark HBO comedy about a woman named Amy Jellicoe trying, and almost always failing, to be a more thoughtful, engaged person, is a wonderful—if not always easy to watch—show. Laura Dern is terrific as Amy, all anguished expressions and intense physicality, but my favorite character is a supporting one: Dern’s hapless boss, Dougie Daniels.

Fans of the Judd Apatow one-season-wonder Undeclared will recognize the actor who plays Dougie: Timm Sharp. On Undeclared, Sharp’s character Marshall was sweet and spazzy, an ultimately well-meaning musician who was also a typical college freshman—which is to say, he was also a hormone-addled moron 70 percent of the time.

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Dougie is a different animal. Dougie is the head of Amy’s department, overseeing a computer program that tracks employee efficiency for an seemingly evil pharmaceutical company called Abadonn. (In the Book of Revelation, Abadonn is the king of a bottomless pit; the word comes from Hebrew and means something like “place of destruction.”) Dougie’s a bit of a bully and a pedant, striding around his basement office like a shiny-shirted dictator. He’s a buffoon most of the time—he fancies himself a ladies’ man and says wildly inappropriate things to his coworkers.

And yet for all his chest-puffing, Dougie is still a tad sympathetic. It’s a credit to series writer Mike White that every character on this show has at least a few understandable reasons for his or her behavior. Dougie’s always chewing Amy out—but Amy is, after all, a terrible employee: She’s constantly late, she never does her work, she’s always lying about her whereabouts.

Still, most of my love for Dougie comes from his blatantly gross behavior and Sharp’s comic timing. My favorite scene of his from Season 1 comes in episode 7, “Lonely Ghosts.” Amy decides she’s going to get on Dougie’s good side by setting him up with another coworker named Harper (played by Riki Lindhome, one half of the hilarious singing duo Garfunkel & Oates). They all go out to the cheesiest possible club to celebrate Dougie’s promotion; the man of the hour is wasted by the time Amy and Harper get there. Wearing his finest Ed Hardy, he starts drooling all over Harper—and to Amy’s disgust, Harper’s into it. It might seem like a small thing, but Sharp’s sweaty yearning in this scene is both funny and familiar. With a character like this, it would be easy for Dougie to become a broadly played, oafish villain. But Sharp’s light touch grabs my attention every time he’s on screen.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

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