Why ‘Enlisted’ deserves better from FOX

Senior Television Writer
03.28.14 66 Comments

The fictional story told in FOX's “Enlisted” is about Sgt. Pete Hill, a super-soldier who's punished for striking a superior officer by being reassigned to a rear detachment unit, forced to do unglamorous work in a remote location far from the action that he cares about. But he's told repeatedly that Rear D is a necessary part of the Army and slowly learns to love his new role – or, at least, to love the company he's now in, which includes his msifit younger brothers Derrick and Randy.

The real-life story of “Enlisted, meanwhile, involves the sort of impossible mission Pete Hill might enjoy being a part of: a small but admirable force sent into hostile territory, and that does just well enough that command gives it additional support briefly, then withdraws it and leaves the group all alone until the battle seems unwinnable. FOX scheduled this show on Fridays at 9:30, with only the aging “Raising Hope” (which FOX would decide to cancel a couple of months later; the series finale airs next week) as a lead-in. When “Enlisted” did decently in that no-win timeslot, FOX actually did it a solid in moving it to 9, where it followed the still-sturdy “Bones.” But despite “Bones” doing what it usually does, and “Enlisted” doing better than “Raising Hope” had, and the arrangement finally giving FOX a pulse on Friday nights, the arrangement lasted only a few weeks before the network moved “Bones” back to Mondays – once again making me think that the constant talk of putting it on Fridays is part of a psychological experiment designed to mess with Hart Hanson – and left “Enlisted” to fend for itself. (Its current lead-in: the decaying corpse of Greg Kinnear's “Rake,” which won't be back.) And a few days ago, FOX announced that tonight's episode will be the last to air for now, and that “Kitchen Nightmares” will replace it in April. When or if the remaining four episodes air – let alone whether FOX might take pity on this neglected show and order a second season where it might have a less suicidal timeslot – is unclear.

Now, you might expect a show receiving such treatment to be something regrettable that the network was trying to hide in an out-of-the-way place, like most of the soldiers in Pete's platoon. Instead, it's the sitcom equivalent of Pete himself – talented and sharp and vastly overqualified for the post to which it's been assigned. It's become one of the best new comedies of this TV season – FOX's “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is the only one I'd call clearly better, and in a more just world, the two of them would team up for an outstanding hour of television – expertly combining silly humor with genuine pathos. It's still figuring itself out, as any new comedy would be around its ninth episode, but the relationship between the three brothers (played so well by Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell and Parker Young) and the strange but mostly true setting of life in Rear D provides an excellent foundation on which to build.

All the previous episodes are on Hulu, and to get a taste of how good the show can be, you could try “Pete's Airstream,” which generates a lot of laughs from the weirdos in Pete's unit but also hints at the emotional baggage he brought back from Afghanistan; or “Vets,” which pairs the brothers with a trio of old soldiers played by guest stars Stacy Keach, Dean Stockwell and Barry Bostwick; or “Brothers and Sister,” which uses all three siblings well while also putting the spotlight on ace supporting players Keith David (as the brilliant but vain Sgt. Major) and Angelique Cabral (as Pete's friendly rival platoon leader). Or, if you just want balls-out comedy, there is tonight's installment, “Paint Cart 5000 vs. the Mondo Spider,” in which Pete's efforts to make Rear D duty seem exciting backfire when he runs afoul of his smug, inexperienced commanding officer. (And the B-story features perhaps the greatest moment of Keith David's career since he fought Rowdy Roddy Piper in “They Live.”)

This is a really good show that does a lot of tricky things well. It finds humor in military life while still showing great affection and respect for our soldiers. It blends goofy slapstick and broad characters with genuine pathos in a way that doesn't feel awkward or contrived. And in the bumbling but wildly enthusiastic Randy, it has one of the most vivid and entertaining characters on any comedy of the moment.

It deserves better than the bum duty FOX has assigned it so far. Here's hoping the last four episodes get a more favorable assignment, and one that leads to a longer tour next year.

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