Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TV Show Review: Enlisted - The Complete Series

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Silly laughs and tender moments in one great show
Cons: Episodes aired out of order, low audience so already canceled
The Bottom Line:
Army comedy
Filled with laughs, tender moments
Deserved audience

"Be a Man.  Wave Like a Princess."

Every so often, I stumble across a little watched gem, and I just fall in love.  That was the case this last spring for me with Enlisted.  I started watching because of a couple of members in the cast, but I kept watching because I loved it.  Fox aired it on Friday nights, and the resulting ratings were poor, as expected.  But the laughs were rich.

The show focuses on the Rear D (that’s Rear Detachment) at Fort McGee, Florida.  These are the army soldiers who might not make it in the field (at least that’s the case in this show), but they are given jobs to help keep the base running smoothly.  Unfortunately, they are extremely undisciplined.

The show starts when Sergeant Pete Hill (Geoff Stults) is put in charge of one of these regiments.  He’s just returned from a stint in Afghanistan after almost being killed.  Honestly, he doesn’t think he deserves this post.  He’s just too good.  Adding to his problems is that he is now over both of his brothers.  Middle brother Derrick (Chris Lowell) is just lazy and doesn’t take anything seriously.  Meanwhile, youngest brother Randy (Parker Young) tries hard, but he’s just not that good at stuff.  And these are the best people in Pete’s new regiment.  Even worse, their rival regiment, led by the beautiful Jill Perez (Angelique Cabral) always beats them at any competition.  Overseeing both groups is Donald Coby (Keith David), a family friend who has taken all of the Hill brothers under his wings.

So what happens over the course of these thirteen episodes?  Pete has to break up with the girlfriend he had before he left for Afghanistan.  A break war between Pete and Jill’s platoons gets out of hand.  Meanwhile, Pete tries to whip his soldiers into shape when an Inspection is coming.  Derrick finds himself falling for the bartender at the gang’s favorite watering hole, which leads to a several episode sub-plots.

I haven’t gotten into the single camera comedy craze.  Most of the times, I feel the shows try too hard for laughs.  However, I found myself laughing at this one just after the pilot had started, and I kept right on laughing as the series unfolded.  Yes, one or two episodes weren’t as good, but the writing and characters were so sharp you couldn’t help but laugh.

But the show wasn’t just laughs.  They still managed to provide tender moments along the way that added depth to the characters.  Honestly, that just made the jokes stronger.  At times, the comedy could be pretty broad and silly, but these tender moments kept the laughs grounded.  And no, the more serious moments were never forced.  The writers managed to balance those tones perfectly.

While this is a single camera comedy, this isn’t one that has the characters talking to the camera.  The fourth wall is never once broken.  Frankly, I’m glad because this is something else that bugs me in most shows that try it since it rarely works well.

The acting is uniformly great.  The plots call for some pretty crazy things at times, but everyone pulls it off and makes the absurd seem plausible and believable.  Even more importantly, the acting makes the tender moments work.  The best writing in the world can fall apart with bad acting, but that’s not the case here at all.

One thing I heard leveled at the show from the pilot is how many mistakes they made with military life.  Personally, I don’t know anything about military life, so I never found them.  Still, I know some people were turned off by this.

What did bug me is something I think has more to do with Fox than anything else.  In the multiple episode sub-plot I mentioned earlier with Derrick and his girlfriend, the story seemed to jump around in their relationship.  I have a feeling the episodes were aired out of order.  It’s a shame because that is pretty much the only thing that required an order to the episodes at all.  If it weren’t for that sub-plot, I never would have known.  Even so, it really did bug me.

Fox has released this as a MOD (Manufacture on Demand) set.  As a result, we get all 13 episodes of the comedy, but no extras at all.  Honestly, for a show that was canceled after so few episodes, I’ll take anything they want to give us.

Enlisted was wacky and fun.  It never took itself too seriously, which allowed us to sit back and laugh along with it.  Yet when it wanted to slow down and be tender, it worked just as well.  If you missed this gem of a comedy, watch it today.

1. Pilot
2. Randy Get Your Gun
3. Pete’s Airstream
4. Homecoming
5. Rear D Day
6. Brothers and Sister
7. Parade Duty
8. Vets
9. Paint Cart 5000 vs. the Mondo Spider
10. Prank War
11. The General Inspection
12. Army Men
13. Alive Day

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