There has been a lot of praise for Fox’s comedy lineup during this current television season. It’s for good reason: Bob’s Burgers has never disappointed, The Mindy Project has become a stronger show and a fan favorite, New Girl cast Prince and was rewarded with the coveted post-Super Bowl spot alongside Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a show that snagged two Golden Globes after only 12 aired episodes. Yet there is one sitcom that has been unfortunately missing from much of this conversation: the outstanding military comedy Enlisted.
Enlisted is a powerful show — powerful in both its humor and its heavy emotional moments — and it’s climbing up the ranks to become one of the network’s best despite going largely unnoticed. It doesn’t have the best ratings, especially when compared to the Fox’s Tuesday-night block, but that’s no reflection of the show’s great qualities.
The show has been praised by critics from day one — or, really, from before day one, since it was scheduled to begin in November but got pushed back to January. Enlisted hasn’t had the sort of advertising that I’m used to being bombarded by from Fox; you couldn’t walk a block without seeing Zooey Deschanel’s face on New Girl posters, but I have to reexplain Enlisted to friends every week because they’ve never heard of it. It hasn’t found a solid audience yet, though if Friday night Twitter is any indication, the audience that it does have is very devoted and vocal. The Friday scheduling is another strike. Friday nights usually mean certain death for a television program (and can sometimes be taken as an indication that the network isn’t very devoted to keeping it around), and it doesn’t bode well that the sitcom it was paired with, Raising Hope, recently got the axe.
Enlisted is shaping up to be one of those golden programs that Fox won’t know it has until it’s gone. I am predisposed to liking the show — as both a huge fan of creator Kevin Biegel’s work on Scrubs and Cougar Town and a military brat who is drawn to these sort of stories — but outside of my own biases, it is definitely worthwhile, and I want to implore everyone to watch it.
Here are the basics: Enlisted is about three brothers in the Army, all stationed on the same base. Pete (Geoff Stults, 7th Heaven and Ben and Kate) has just returned from Afghanistan and is now assigned to “Rear D” duty alongside his younger brothers, Derrick (Chris Lowell of Veronica Mars) and Randy (Parker Young, echoing his dimwitted role on Suburgatory). These three have already proven to be terrific actors on past shows but are even better here when they interact with each other, a great mix of brotherly love and total annoyance. (They also all look fantastic in an Army uniform.) The other actors are just as great; Keith David, Tania Gunadi, Michelle Buteau, and co. knock it out of the park whenever they are on screen.
This specific platoon is the joke of the base, a group of clumsy misfits who don’t know their left from their right — literally, in some cases — but the show is careful to always respect its characters, even when they are fucking up. Setting a comedy in the Army can be tricky because of that respect, and the emotional weight, that is attached to the premise, yet Enlisted tackles this setting with surprising cleverness. The characters are in Florida, not overseas, and the focus isn’t on the waging war but on the brotherly relationship and the bonds that are formed between soldiers. It pairs up heavy-handed scenes with big laughs and never feels shallow.
The best example of this is in last week’s “Vets,” the series’ greatest episode to date. (It’s available on Hulu, as is most of the season, and if you’re on the fence about the show, I’d suggest watching either this or “Randy Gets His Gun” for a good introduction.) “Vets” takes on a wealth of serious topics: three veterans of the Korean War, the funeral of a soldier, post-traumatic stress disorder, and spending a lifetime carrying around the weight of what happened in a war without opening up to anyone else. It is, without a doubt, incredibly heavy stuff, but it’s all running parallel to a very funny Ocean’s 11-esque, hijinks-ensuing plot that finds our three young’uns and our three veterans coming together. They road-trip to invade a bar and steal a coin; they grapple with their past decisions and future fears. They drink beer and take punches; they say goodbye to a friend and take steps to better themselves as people. It just might be one of the funniest sitcom episodes that I watched last week, and it’s definitely the only one that made me tear up.
Enlisted has some typical sitcom tropes and often goes for broad laughs but still manages to be unique. It’s a comedy that always salutes its source material and isn’t afraid to evoke a little emotion. It doesn’t shove the gut-punch to the end of the third act to force a reaction out of viewers, instead subtly letting things develop throughout episodes, resulting in everything feeling organic. Enlisted has proven to be an impressive feat of a television program, and one that is destined to only get better as it goes on — if Fox lets it.