Jan 10, 2014

Channel Surfing: Enlisted - "Pilot"

Left to right: Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell, and Parker Young
Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
Within the first 10 days of 2014, TV has proven to have many fruitful entries to make the first month something more than dreadful. Community has returned with one of its strongest seasons yet. Girls is on the imminent return to greatness with season three this Sunday. Even in terms of mid-season programming, things are looking up. Just check out Enlisted for further proof.
There is a taboo that has been lifted from the idea of a mid-season replacement. While many shows have started off that way, there is still this sense that shows premiering times other than September are "rejects." Even if the model has changed so much that this is far from the truth, it does feel like the most appropriate tag to give the Freshman comedy which stars Geoff Stults as Sgt. Pete Hill, who returns from Afghanistan due to an injury and is now in charge of training a bunch of pathetic troops in Florida. Among them include his brothers Derrick (Chris Lowell) and Randy (Parker Young), who don't make his experience that much easier.
The appeal of the show is that it can easily be labeled "Stripes for a new generation." While the popular Bill Murray film is apt, it feels like the more direct comparison should be with fellow freshman Fox series Brooklyn Nine-Nine meets boot camp. This is in every sense a compliment and while Enlisted doesn't feel at all like a plagiarized lesser, it does feel like in given time, the show will be on par with the greatness of the Andy Samberg vehicle.
In a sense, what gives Enlisted some potential in the long run is somewhat problematic in the pilot episode. In order to progress the story, there is necessary back story and some inside jokes among the brother figures. There is the need for incompetent and slightly crazy troops stabbing dolls while saying "Bradley Cooper" (for rhythm). Most of all, they have to stay incompetent and be the underdog for the entirety of the episode. Also, the climax includes the obvious sense of unity that makes this overall a really competent pilot, but a familiar one. 

That isn't to say that the show is incapable of improvement. What the show does within the familiar setting up is introduce concepts of things that can be expanded on. The supporting players are for the most part broad jokes now, but even the somewhat crazy, Ryan Gosling-obsessed Jill Perez (Tania Gunadi has a satisfying sense of closure to this episode when the resolution is for the troops to work as a team to fight the war games against the Italians. Even if some of the humor seems to come from oddly edited quick cuts, there is personality and characters that can easily be mined deeper into as the series progresses.
On the bright side, despite having some broad humor here (an obese character named Chubowski (Mel Rodriguez) gets a vague fat joke thrown at him), there is a sense of connectivity. While it is debatable at the moment to determine how much heart the show can put into the comedy before it becomes more sappy than funny, it does allow for the premise to hold weight. They may be incompetent, but they are all working together towards a similar goal, which is endearing. The ending in which the troops sacrifice the war games to rescue a dog is an absurd little moment that works because it shows where these characters' heads are at. They aren't out to change the world, but just make it a better place.
It doesn't quite have the immediacy of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but it has just as much potential to be something special. There are memorable moments and the characters feel lived in. The pop culture references may seem a little strained at points, but they are far from the focus. This is a character show and I can't wait to see where the characters go next. Any episode that manages to work in a joke about jumping jacks while crying and make it work is already showing some sign of ingenuity. I just hope that it can continue to build and improve in exciting and clever ways, especially since shows like these are rare. Not too many comedy series are about the army, so this could be a chance for some ripe material. We'll just have to wait and see.

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