Monday, January 13, 2014

Pilot Review: Enlisted

Enlisted (Fridays at 9:30 on Fox)

It's such a shame that Enlisted has been left to die in Fox's failed Friday night comedy block, because it's definitely their strongest comedy pilot (yes, even better than Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which grew a lot from its pilot into its current Golden Globe-winning self). Enlisted would have been a welcome companion to Andy Samberg's cop spoof, a much more even and humorous concoction than the dreadful Dads, but it instead gets the shaft, airing behind the fourth season of Raising Hope during the most competitive hour of the night, opposite ABC's unstoppable Shark Tank and two similarly male-oriented successes in NBC's Grimm and CBS's Hawaii Five-0. Chalk it up as another screw-up by Fox, because Enlisted truly deserves better.

Created by Cougar Town's Kevin Biegel, Enlisted is a new take on the family sitcom about three brothers who are all serving in the US Army. Eldest Pete Hill (Geoff Stults, The Finder) is a former war hero who was demoted from active duty after punching a superior in the face. Now he finds himself serving in Florida as part of the Rear Detachment unit, the soldiers left behind when others are deployed overseas... AKA, the rejects and misfits. This is also where his two brothers are stationed: troublemaker Derrick (Chris Lowell, Private Practice, "Piz" on Veronica Mars) and dim-witted Randy (Parker Young, Suburgatory). As the soldier with the most (or only) experience, Pete is put in charge of Rear D and must reconcile his strained relationship with his brothers while also keeping the eccentric personalities of the unit together.

The comedy in Enlisted is successful on different levels. It's got elements of slapstick and physical comedy, a host of witty one-liners, double entendres (an overweight character's last name is "Chubowski"), visual puns, crazy supporting players, and more. Not everything works, particularly for some of the much smaller characters in the squadron, but much more of the gags land than on just about every other new sitcom this season. The humor is heavily male-centric, with a plethora of jokes about dick size, Medieval Times, and Jean Claude Van Damme, which is a welcome change of pace from the mostly family-friendly and feminine comedies on air (aside from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which, again, would have been an ideal partner show for Enlisted). Biegel's script is intelligent, rarely resorting to lowest-common-denominator humor, and it highlights the show's emotional heart in addition to its sense of humor. This is a series about family and making amends as much as it is about the ridiculous hijinks of Rear D.

Stults, Lowell and Young are all wonderful and bring different dimensions and flavors to the three Hill brothers. Young gets the best bits, and he's the strongest of the lead trio for it. Lowell is the most relatable, in that Derrick doesn't really give a crap about the Army or its rules and regulations; he's there because it was an easy way to defer everything in his life and resist becoming an adult. And Stults is the emotional center of Enlisted, simultaneously uptight and loveable as Pete. It's easy to see why the misfits of Rear D would latch onto him. The best part about these characters, however, is how well the three men play off each other. Their chemistry is believable and dynamic. Perennial guest actor Keith David gives a really fun turn as Pete's superior, and he gets some of the pilot's best lines, my favorite being, "I don't trust boys with apostrophes in their names." Breaking up the testosterone is Angelique Cabral (most recently a guest actress on Devious Maids) as Sergeant Perez, the only major female character on the show. She's decent, if a tad underused in the pilot, but shows more depth than simply being eye candy for the guys in the audience (and on the show). The show's only other female character is Private Park, played by Tania Gunadi (star of the YouTube ensemble series MyMusic. She's equally demure and terrifying, and she's the only truly memorable member of Rear D, aside from the Hill brothers.

When all is said and done, Enlisted is pretty great. It's got wit and heart, all served up by some pitch-perfect and charismatic performances by its three leading men. I can't imagine why or how Fox dropped the ball so badly with this one, saving it for midseason, barely promoting it (look at the image above; Fox didn't even issue new key art with the January premiere date on it), and debuting it in such a terrible timeslot. But enjoy it while it's around, because it's definitely worth watching.

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