On getting laughs while being respectful to the military, the 'Stripes' influence, and more
It isn't often that the creator of a sitcom gets choked up talking about his new show, but "Enlisted" isn't your typical sitcom. On the one hand, it's a goofy workplace sitcom about a straight-arrow brother (Geoff Stults from "The Finder") being forced to work alongside his misfit brothers (Chris Lowell from “Veronica Mars” and Parker Young from “Suburgatory”). On the other, their workplace happens to be an Army base, and even though they work in a rear detachment unit, doing support work on the homefront for the soldiers serving overseas, and the family members left behind, it's at a time when we still have soldiers risking their lives on foreign soil, a fact the show isn't blind to.
Before FOX moved "Enlisted" to midseason (it debuts on Friday the 10th at 9:30 p.m.), it was one of the few network fall pilots I genuinely liked, as much for the way it tried to balance "Stripes"-style hijinks with an acknowledgment of what's happening in the military right now. It's a show that manages to find laughs in Army life without actually making fun of the Army or its soldiers, a distinction that's important to creator Kevin Biegel, who learned to balance comedy and emotion on "Scrubs" and "Cougar Town." When I sat down with Biegel and fellow executive producer Mike Royce (co-creator of "Men of a Certain Age") back in the summer, Biegel got visibly emotional several times while discussing the subject matter, as well as the show's influences, his relationship with his own brothers, and more.
Assuming I have time next week (when approximately 73 new and returning shows are debuting), I’ll write a separate review, but if that doesn’t happen, know that I enjoyed it a lot.
Kevin, how closely does the relationship you have with your brothers mirror the one on the show?
Kevin Biegel: It was the reason to write the show. I wanted to do something that was incredibly personal, which may be a fool's errand in network television. But it just struck me that those relationships with my two younger brothers are the longest, closest relationships I have in my life. I have a sister I never talk about but I do have a sister, I have my folks, but they are the people that have been with me through some horrible things and some great stuff. So I really wanted to see if I could figure out how to write about that specific relationship. And as far as like the idea of why I set it in the military, I have so much military in my family it seemed like it would be kind of a nice thing to maybe put that intense brother relationship in the context of a place where literally brotherhood is one of the most important aspects of the job.
Does the military let brothers serve in the same unit like that?
Kevin Biegel: You can. There's been plenty cases of two brothers serving together; there's some cases of three. Especially because were on a state side base it's not such a huge stretch that, people are going to think this is totally fake. If you had 18 people in the same family on the same base it might be a little funky, but it's not that crazy.
You're setting a show in the military at a time in which our military is still active overseas. We're still in combat and there's a lot of controversy over whether we should be there. It's not like doing “Stripes” in 1981. This is a fraught time.
Kevin Biegel: Yes. It is. It's a very fraught time, which to me was the exact reason to do this show. There hasn't been a military comedy on TV in something like 20 years. It's been an ungodly amount of time. And yet I have so many friends that do this job. And you get two versions of a soldier in popular culture. You get the super soldier who's like something out of a video game who has no personality. Or you get like a “Hurt Locker” kind of guy, who's so ravaged and damaged by war that he can't even communicate with people.
Mike Royce: Be clear, these are depictions in the media.
Kevin Biegel: Depictions in the media, yes. And in real life that does exist. There's also a giant middle ground of people and people I know that do this job that love this job, that are inspired by this job, that are frustrated by this job sometimes, that find the humor in this job sometimes. And it just seemed crazy to not acknowledge that world, that we have to deal with it with kid gloves and not even talk about men and women that do this job day in and day out. These are happy, wonderful, noble people, people I know and they are funnier than anybody I know. So it just seemed like the right thing to set a show in this world and acknowledge this world and tell the stories of this world. And also at the same time acknowledge, in the course of this show that we're going to do, some of the harder things that happen because of war — the effect that war does have on people. We're not going to shy away from any of that.
Mike Royce: The rear detachment aspect was not something that I was aware of (before), but these guys are the guys who stay behind to take care of the base while others are off at war. Tons of Americans work at a base that's in the United States. But it also, to me one of the great things that brought me to the project was that there's stakes. There's stakes that are out there and you sort of hear the thunder; it's out there. They're not going to go fight and be in a war, but their workplace has importance in the world. And so there's a great mix of the mundane that they have to do on the base every day in this job, and it gets boring, and just like every other workplace you have to make it interesting, and all the things that come with a workplace comedy. But at the same time, it's unexplored territory. I remember growing up where it was like we were never at war; now for the last 20 years we're always at war.
Kevin Biegel: There's two generations of kids who've grown up at war. There is a generation of kids have grown up since 9/11 and there's 25 million active and retired veterans in this country. If you extrapolate that and say every one of those maybe knows three people or has three people they care about, you're talking about 100 million people. But yet nothing is acknowledging that existence. And no shows are talking about what it's like to do that job and I just don't think that's right. To be on a soapbox for a second, I think there is a world of stories out there that should be acknowledged and the funny, goofy, crazy stories as well as the heavier stuff. Because the show that's being sold right now, that people have seen, isn't the show we intend (to make); the pilot isn't the show we want to do eventually. The world of “Scrubs” is where I cut my teeth. That show mixed stuff that was kind of silly with some intensely emotional moments. That's what this show is going to do.