Why I’m not ready to say goodbye to ‘Enlisted’ yet

Senior Television Writer
06.20.14 27 Comments


It's funny, the things you get caught up in on this job sometime. This morning, I sat down to write my review of Sunday's episode of “Enlisted.” Part of that process involved writing a headline in our publishing system, and that in turn required me to decide if I wanted to refer to the next episode as the season finale or the series finale.

By all rational measures, I know I should be using the latter. The ratings were terrible. Even though Kevin Reilly – who, by all accounts, was the one key decision-maker at FOX who didn't like the show – is gone, there's little precedent for a new regime to undo a previous one's cancellation, and I don't know that another network would want to pick up a show that FOX treated so shabbily.

But it's that same shabby treatment that makes me refuse to accept that the next episode will be the last one ever. This was a really good show, one that could have broader commercial appeal if its network didn't just shove it in an out of the way place and hope it would die quietly. More than any other new network comedy this season (and I include its fellow FOX rookie “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), “Enlisted” knew almost instantly what it was about, what it could do well, and how to juggle its many moving pieces – including its blend of silly, even sophomoric comedy (one episode involved the platoon being attacked with a “poo gun”) and genuinely touching emotion about the challenges of being a soldier on the home front after you've seen combat overseas. It wasn't perfect, but it was much better, much faster, than anyone might have expected, and Sunday's (season/series) finale is a real gem that reduced the movie theater crowd I watched it with in Austin to tears – and not just because everyone feared it would be the last episode ever.

In a way, Reilly's apathy for the show is a mark in its favor in creator Kevin Biegel's quixotic mission to keep the show alive elsewhere. Had FOX tried to nurture the show with more promotion and a better timeslot and it still failed, then you chalk it up to the audience rejecting it. But the audience had no real chance to find “Enlisted” – and yet some of them found it, anyway. It was a tiny audience, but a passionate one. Twitter is in many ways an echo chamber that doesn't speak to the interests of those not on it, and yet the people on there are so crazy for “Enlisted” that they would live-tweet episodes that were not actually airing on television at the time, but had simply been chosen by consensus from a menu of repeats on Hulu. Take that passionate core, put it on a new channel that genuinely wants it, play up the show's adoration of the military (even as it finds lots of comedy in Army life), and maybe you have something that's a lot more durable than it seemed when it was being buried on Fridays at 9 after episodes of “Rake.”

If these wind up being the only 13 ever made, I'll be happy I saw them. But I got to the end of Sunday's episode and felt like there was so much more story to tell, and so many more people who could be easily converted into fans of the Hill brothers and their comrades in Rear D, if the circumstances were even slightly less hostile.

And hopefully if it comes back, we can learn more about the trouble these guys get into when they have a few days off.

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