There have been military comedies that satirized the army, bureaucracy, the idea of war itself–M*A*S*H, for instance. Enlisted, a charming and sneakily funny sitcom premiering on Fox tonight, is not one of those comedies. There have been military comedies that have had fun with the foibles of life on base: The Phil Silvers Show, or Gomer Pyle, USMC, or CPO Sharkey. Enlisted is sort of one of those comedies, but not entirely.
What Enlisted is above all, and what makes it lovable, is a hybrid of the work-as-family sitcom and the family-as-family sitcom. Because for Staff Sgt. Pete Hill (Geoff Stults), the military is a family business. Washed out of a combat posting for punching out an officer, he’s reassigned to a rear detachment (“Rear D”) support base in Florida. There, the confident but headstrong “supersoldier” finds himself working with his two younger brothers, Derrick (Chris Lowell) and Randy (Parker Young), who soldiering is less than super.
Pete’s integrated into the Rear D unit–whose job mainly involves supporting the families of deployed soldiers on base–under the command of Command Sgt. Maj. Donald Cody (Keith David), who served with the Hills’ late father. And Pete’s thereby reintegrated into his childhood family dynamic, in which Dad raised the kids to follow him into the Army, and only Pete managed to live up to expectations. Middle child Derrick has dealt with it by growing snide and sarcastic, youngest brother Randy by hanging on to his lifelong hero-worship of big bro.
The chemistry between the three is the tripod holding up the show; from the second they’re rejoined, you can see the old family roles and tensions re-emerge, as if they’re adults and kids at once. Parker Young is especially terrific, playing Randy like a sweet, overenthusiastic puppy whose emotions make him bound too high and break things. (In an excellent scene early in the pilot, Randy tells Pete he stayed brave while Pete was in combat by remembering that Pete wasn’t scared; when Pete admits that he was, Randy gets retroactively terrified.)
At the same time, Enlisted (created by Kevin Biegel and executive produced by Mike Royce) builds a workplace community among the sad sacks of the Rear D unit, earnestly pitching in to help despite the, er, limitations that got them assigned there. Among the motley well-meaning crew, up-and-coming Staff Sgt. Jill Perez (Angelique Cabral) emerges as a competitor to Pete, who’s too used to being the alpha of any dogpack he’s been in. The whole misfit-army idea owes a little–OK, a lot–to Stripes, but the show also has the feel of Fox ensemble comedies like, most recently, Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Like that show, this one may disappoint those viewers hoping for a more hard-hitting take on its subject; there’s no dark commentary on war here, and in fact, beyond the pilot, little mention of current wars at all. Which is not to say, though, that Enlisted has nothing to say. With its small-scale stories of lousy work assignments, rivalries, and prank wars, Enlisted embodies the good-hearted beliefs that service is worthwhile even if you’re not a superhero, that even the little guys (and gals) of a unit like Rear D have a role.
Like its noncombat soldiers, Enlisted may not be taking big shots. But it knows what it is, and it’s proud to serve.