Boy enrolls in the army. Boy goes overseas to fight the bad guys in Afghanistan. Boy returns home safely to his two younger brothers. Sounds like a happy ending, right? Not quite.
On the new military comedy Enlisted, premiering Friday at 9:30/8:30c on Fox, Geoff Stults plays Staff Sergeant Pete Hill, an ambitious super soldier who is sent back home to Fort McGee, Fla., and reassigned to the far less impressive Rear Detachment unit after his temper gets the best of him in the war zone.
"He's definitely struggling with it," Stults tells TVGuide.com. "He's going to try to make the best of it, but he feels bad that he's not overseas with his brothers, his other brothers, fighting. He feels like that's the only way that he can give back to his country. He has to learn to find different ways to feel like he's giving back."
Instead of his brothers abroad, Pete will have to lean on his real brothers: cynical and sarcastic middle brother Derrick (Chris Lowell) and enthusiastic but naïve youngest brother Randy (Parker Young), who are also enlisted with the army and also in Pete's Rear Detachment unit. "I think I was drawn to what everybody else seems to be drawn to now that we've shot it, which is the dynamic between the brothers," Stults says. "I liked that the creator of the show was writing about what he knew. ... He knows about getting drunk with your brothers and getting in a fist fight and then hugging and driving home together and forgetting about it."
Series creator Kevin Biegel based that dynamic between the Hill boys and his own relationship with his two younger brothers. "It seemed like a really interesting idea to take that kind of serious, but almost sometimes juvenile aspect of my life but then put it in this context of the most serious job you can possibly have," Biegel says.
The most serious job, oddly enough, is one that has not been depicted on TV often, at least recently. Although the U.S. has been in two wars in the 30 years since the beloved military comedy M*A*S*H* signed off in 1983, small screen projects focusing on those enlisted have been few and far between — save for HBO's prestigious miniseries Band of Brothers and FX's short-lived Over There. "I had a lot of military connections growing up in my family whether it be my father or my grandfather or uncles or brothers-in-law or friends. I just thought it was a world that was worth exploring and a world that hadn't been looked at in television, especially in television comedy," Biegel says. "It felt particularly weird to be in the place we are as a country and not see that world on TV."
However, unlike those well-known (and less-so) projects, Enlisted takes place about 7,700 miles away from the battle zone. "I think what's unique about this specifically is that it's more of a workplace comedy. It's not on the frontlines of the Korean War," Lowell says. "It's cleaning up after other soldiers who have already been deployed. It's doing the grunt work."
Adds Stults: "We are taking the things that happen in a work place and drawing comedy out of those things. It just so happens that our workplace is the military. It's as if our Dunder Mifflin is the U.S. military."
Although Enlisted is a comedy, Biegel and the cast stress that it isn't a satire that pokes fun at the organization or those in it. "It's not laughing at. It's more laughing with," Lowell says. "Quite frankly, having said that, I hope it's clear to anyone that Geoff Stults, myself and Parker Young are about as far from real soldiers as it gets."
However, Biegel hopes Enlisted will still be an honest and layered portrayal of those serving their country. "The one thing that always struck me is that every time we see a show or a film that deals with the military, either you're dealing with super soldiers who have no personality or you're dealing with these really broken men and women who just don't know how to integrate back into society," he says. "The people I know who do this job — they run the gamut between these two. They're real human beings and they're very funny and they talk about their work and their job is sometimes crazy and sometimes boring and sometimes wondrous and sometimes inspiring."
To that end, Enlisted will also cover the more serious issues associated with the army, such as when Pete begins suffering from PTSD this season. "We don't think the show is worth doing unless we can indulge in the more serious side of things," Biegel says. "Not to be heavy-handed, not to be a message-of-the-week kind of show, but the reality of what these men and women do is something that's not lost upon us. We think if we just do a show that's just goofy military and funny things it's not worth doing. It's our job to engage in the realities of what this job means to people and acknowledge them."
Enlisted premieres Friday at 9:30/8:30c on Fox.