I’m a bit of an industry insider, you guys. I don’t want to brag, but I know people who know people. So believe me when I tell you that the 30-minute comedy pilot is a truly difficult task to take on. Look at some of the best comedies going right now; the pilot for New Girl is pretty uninteresting, and not at all indicative of the show it would become about six months later. Likewise for Parks and Recreation, which floundered as an Office clone for its mini season one before coming into its own. The problem is a result of the subjectivity and malleability of comedy itself; great jokes must be written to an actor’s sensibilities, and on the other hand an actor has to mold the character into something that fits him or her. It takes several episodes for these pieces to come together, which explains why shows like New Girl, Parks and Rec, and Community take time to really hit with viewers (though in the case of Community it never really took off outside of the dedicated fanbase). All of this makes the pilot episode of Enlisted such a surprise. Because it’s pretty good!
In the pilot episode we are introduced to Sergeant Pete Hill (Geoff Stults), a “super-soldier” who gets demoted after an altercation with a superior officer. Pete ends up in rear detachment – the group of soldiers left behind to maintain the bases when most everyone else gets deployed – in Florida. He is joined there by his two younger brothers, Derrick and Randy (Chris Lowell and Parker Young, respectively), assigned to lead their platoon and attempt to turn them into real soldiers.
What’s so impressive is how much of a handle creator Kevin Biegel already has on the characters. The characters have clear personality types, and while they are a little one note (Randy is a weirdo and Derrick is apathetic) they at least give the actors a sense of where to start with their characterizations. Biegel came up as a protege of Bill Lawrence, working on Scrubs and co-creating Cougar Town before getting a shot at his own show, exceutive producing with Mike Royce (Men of a Certain Age). Biegel brings some of the effortless character interactions with him from those shows – particularly in the realtionship between Pete and his new superior, Command Sergeant Major Donald Cody (Keith David). There is already a ton of history between the men, allowing for a shared familiarity that can inform the show’s vague future. It doesn’t hurt that Keith David is the man.
This relationship goes a long way to establishing the positive tone of the show. It would be easy to write a military-based sitcom that takes a punishing stance on the army and its various aspects. But that’s not what Enlisted is trying to do; the show has no interest in passing judgment on the military industrial complex. No, Enlisted is more concerned about being an uplifting experience, like Parks and Raising Hope, choosing to eschew the temptations inherent in a bad-tempered snark-fest. It is always a nice change of pace to watch a show that likes its main characters and even allows them to like each other.
The show isn’t perfect. Angelique Cabral as Sergeant Jill Perez is an obvious love interest for Pete, but the show looks at this head-on. A show has to be willing to change on the fly in these circumstances, as Community did when Jeff and Britta just wasn’t quite working. Cabral herself seems rather game, so hopefully the character is given more definition in future episodes, outside of obvious romantic entanglements.
Not all of the jokes are winners, either. Most of the stuff designed to lend personality to the other misfits in the Hills’ batallion comes across as easy, perhaps weak. This is understandable; the pilot has to be a little more interested in developing it’s main characters. There will be plenty of time for the supporting cast.
However that remains to be seen. Clearly Fox has no faith in Enlisted, airing it on Fridays when pretty much nobody watches television. It is not the ’90s anymore, and Fox ain’t TGIF. Unfortunately this means that no one is watching this show. Hopefully it has good DVR numbers; I would be really bummed to see this show fade away before it gets the chance to come into its own. Because considering where the show is starting, its ceiling is several stories high and I am already invested in watching its journey there.