You don’t often see that sentiment expressed about a new TV show by the star of the show, but in a moment you’ll see Geoff Stults say that about his new military-themed show, Enlisted. We won’t be watching it here, becauase we’re not big TV people, but an interesting thing happened when the trailer for the new Fox TV comedy hit: actual soldiers tore it a new fourth point of contact.
Then an even more interesting thing happened: the producers put their principal actor on screen, admitting that, essentially, “we screwed up,” and offering a show challenge coin to anyone that catches them in a new “goof.” Here’s the mea culpa:
The show tells the story of three brothers who are in the Army, but not at war. The two younger brothers were left behind at the fictional “Fort McGee, FL” on the “rear detachment” when the unit deployed, and the older brother got sent back after losing his cool, and is now the platoon sergeant for one of two Rear Detachment platoons. The one his brothers are in. (This kind of family-all-together thing happens often in the Guard and Reserve, and occasionally on active duty). It has elements of Stripes (which made no pretense of military accuracy) or even, in its more surreal moments, Catch-22 or M.A.S.H. Here’s the original trailer (the one that got savaged in military forums):
We can feel Pete’s pain. Back in 2002, the principal author of this blog was stuck on Rear Detachment (“Rear D!”) of an SF unit after getting rather grimly crossthreaded with the unit commander. After the CO got sent to the showers, it was off to the war, so we’ve had the fictional Pete Hill’s experience, only in reverse.
In any event, vets and serving soldiers appear willing to give it a chance. The videos tell you when it’s coming on if you’d like to, er, join up.
The last time a show fumbled its natural military appeal was almost a decade ago, with the David Mamet-helmed, impressively-cast, and ultimately-crippled drama The Unit. Mamet is a genius (read this rocket he fired at his writers, note: salty language, or see this slobbering New York Times story from the first of four seasons) and it’s clear that the writers and directors worked their hearts out on the show, and the actors delivered. But by the 20-minute point in the first episode, most special operations veterans had clicked the show off, never to look at it again. It was the greatest lost opportunity ever, because you’ll never have a talent like Mamet trying to do a military-themed drama again. Ain’t. Gonna. Happen. But they started from a Hollywood place of disrespect, of unwitting contempt even, for the service, its culture, and the people in it. And they didn’t do what these guys are doing, which is try to fix it. (They thought their military advisor would close the yawning credibility gap for them; instead, the show injured his reputation in the community).
The show is also slightly reminiscent of the many military-themed TV comedies that filled the airwaves in the 1950s and 1960s. Forgotten today, shows like Sergeant Bilko, Gomer Pyle USMC, McHale’s Navy and Hogan’s Heroes gave us the lighter side of life in the Army, the Marines, the Navy (fighting the Japanese in a PT boat, no less) and, we are not making this up, that regular laff riot, a Nazi prison camp. A lot of families, including a lot of veteran dads, had a good laugh because, if the truth is told, life in the military is often well supplied with humor and absurdity.
So, for the cast and crew of Enlisted, an impressive catch, in trying to turn the negative of pissed-off soldiers into the positive of engaged viewers. We have to wish them success.