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First Thoughts: FOX's Enlisted

Enlisted poster

Written by : published Monday 9th September 2013

First Thoughts: FOX's Enlisted main image

It is a bit off in the distance but FOX’s new series Enlisted (premiering Friday, November 8th at 9:30 EST) has found it's way to my office. And it begs the almighty question: are the laughs plenty? Is the show worth watching? Well stand at attention, viewer! I’ve seen an early cut of the pilot of the new FOX series, and you can find out if you should advance or do an about turn, but first I need to know who put my motorcycle up in the tree.

Also: I’m with you, Rear D: I love panda bears. Their fur is so soft and supple.

No but seriously, the series Enlisted is a new single-camera series focusing on two brothers, Corporal Derrick Hill (Chris Lowell ) and Private Randy Hill (Parker Young) who welcome their older brother Sergeant Pete Hill (Geoff Stults) who is joining them as they serve on the Rear Detachment (also known as Rear D) unit, comprised of soldiers left behind when everyone else has been deployed for a myriad of reasons such  ranging from weight, general lack of athletic prowess (surprisingly these can be two different things), army-know-how and bad attitudes. But despite how it doesn’t paint them on the surface on a good light, these soldiers, these men and women mow lawns, sort mail, wash tanks, and most importantly, they take care of families of deployed soldiers. Whatever they need or ask for, Rear D accommodates them.

Pete, played here to comic perfection by Stults, is the classic swarmy-loveable wise-ass who punches a commanding officer when on duty overseas and as such, is sent to Rear D which to any ‘highly-trained specimen’ is considered a punishment. His brothers Derrick and Randy have different thoughts; Randy is so happy and excited to see Pete back while Derrick is “still a dick”.  Pete is placed in charge of the small band of misfits and is going to lead them in some war games, but first needs to find a dog named Boogie who has gone missing. Naturally, for Pete, this is a living hell.

By the end of the pilot, we all know, as any good viewer does, that Pete, Derrick and Randy will not completely mend bridges but will connect in a way they haven’t in a while, and the group will form some sort of connection. Honestly, while it is not a rip or homage of last season’s Go On, (a show I loved a great deal) it does have hints of the same general set-up: guy on pedestal is knocked down a peg, has to work with those he considers beneath him, the underdogs shall rise above the rest albeit with a bit of heart and brevity. And Enlisted is exactly that and more. Honestly, out of all the comedies I’ve seen previews for, this was the only one that looked mildly interesting and was leaning more towards disappointment, as almost all pilot series do. For example: I was looking forward to The Mindy Project, 2 Broke Girls and Animal Hospital and besides a few bright spots in The Mindy Project, all of those series haven’t lived up to what they could have been.

What Enlisted also does, like Go On and Scrubs, is that not only does it bring the heart, it also brings the laughs. While some were ‘funny ho-ho’ (i.e. internal “Oh that’s funny”) moments, there were quite a few ‘funny ha-ha’ (i.e. laugh out loud) moments as well, more than I was ever expecting.  What also struck me was how quick-paced the show was, which, while was refreshing and it kept the laughs solid, it also inevitably leads to one of my few concerns about the pilot.

Being that I’d like to get the most negative criticism out of the way (note: it is not as harsh as it may start to come of/be, but), I felt that at the end, during a moment where Pete truly sees the impact that Reg D can provide not just for others but for himself, the brothers jokey little comments undercut the full heart of the moment… and I don’t really know why, but it really took me out of it.  While I expected it, and in my head, I literally thought the same thing Derrick says, it sincerely removed me from the scene in such a way that the tear ducts in my eyes felt like they got an emergency cease and desist order.

And maybe it is my inner-nerd who likes sappy endings, or, well, anything with real heart to it but I felt a bit bummed by the fact that the show would undercut itself during such a proceeding instead of underscore it. And while I also get the concept of that is how brothers (or those with close-knit cousins/family) would behave, or there is the other idea that you don’t wanna risk being too emotionally heavy in your first episode out, (you want to not leave people feeling sad) I guess it comes down to wanting a bit more.

Further more, adding to this small critique of how it undercuts what goes on, Stults plays it for keeps, showing amazing depth within the scene, selling it with such limited time and against dialogue seemingly meant to take away from it playing too serious.

A brother's return!

 

Being that a pilot is everything the show will be/continue to try to live up to or grow upon/build on, it does come down to what is the future of the series? Enlisted does have a bit of a fine line it straddles with outright goofy jokes (for example: the motorcycle and Randy blowing up an gas truck gags*) and witty ones.

(*) – it should point out that while I mention these as possibly goofy gags, the seires makes them work, the question is, on a week to week basis, will the show straddle the deranged and cartoon-like humor or not?

So possible risk of tone and some minor concerns over the scene at the end… all of which perhaps, leads to my next and only other gripe…

I really wanted the show to be longer.

It is important to think creator Kevin Biegel has an amazingly tough job like any writer does for a pilot: you have to hit them in the gut, keep the laughs coming and then get out, and assure that the viewer wants to return.  Enlisted does just that; Enlisted brings the jokes at such reckless fervor, also brings genuine pathos and drama. Despite this though, the undercutting of the serious moment, makes me wanted a bit more time with the characters, to get that moment to breathe them in, because while comedies like Enlisted should always go for the laugh, all the dramatic moments felt a bit ‘held down’ or ‘restrained’; I for one, wanted a bit more.*

But ultimately, from a pilot, that’s really a good thing. 

(*) – I would state too that I understand completely that the rules of any television pilot is that it sets up the general rules of the series and offers viewers a door to the world of the characters and the situation that they can invite into their living room or smartphone app, etc week to week.

My final concern has nothing to do with the series itself but with FOX.  The concern is this: it is well known that every network has problems finding shows for Friday nights, and yet, this little gem is scheduled on Friday night at 9:30pm EST, a night that is usually considered by all as a wasteland for shows, and it scares me that Enlisted and Raising Hope, both wonderful heartfelt shows with sincere laughs and wonderful writing will be possibly cursed, and for Enlisted it is more damning, because it isn’t even out of the gate yet.

Luckily for us, Enlisted is fast and furious with it’s laughs, with a comical styling that is all over the map from goofy and cartoony (the bike in the tree) to zany dialogue (“There’s no such thing as man flowers.”) which more than assures I will be tuning back in come November 8th.

About the author goodbadgeeky

goodbadgeeky

Nick ‘Nitro’ Arganbright has an extreme love for a good story, whether it be in film, tv, video games, comic books, music or more and it shows in each article and podcast he produced. The titular podcast he produces is called The Good The Bad & The Geeky with co-hosts Jon Bettin and Nathan ‘DJ Meat’ Haley. The podcast has helped him make a few contacts within in the industry which he hopes to use to entertain and inform readers of his reviews on Examiner.com and The TV King, offering an average joe opinion that is often overlooked in major print and online publications. If you’d like to e-mail him, please do so at [email protected] or you can tweet him on twitter at @goodbadgeeky.

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