Enlisted: TV Review

Jeff Lipsky/FOX
"Enlisted" on Fox
A gung-ho soldier messes up in combat and is forced to come back home to oversee a group of soldiers that include his two brothers as a form of punishment. Comedy ensues. And yes, it actually does.

Delving into difficult genres, Fox finds another comedy winner with the military comedy, which joins "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" as surprise freshman standouts this season.

From M*A*S*H to Stripes, there's a history of making comedy out of military service in various capacities, though pulling it off is a lot harder than those successes might indicate -- there have been plenty of failures. But just as it managed to find comedy gold in another very difficult genre -- funny cops (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) -- so too has the network found a real gem in Enlisted.

Created by Kevin Biegel (Scrubs, Cougar Town), Enlisted comes out of the gate almost fully formed (I say almost because there's a very surprising amount of sweetness that grows slowly through the first three episodes and delivers triumphantly in the fourth). And yet, this is a comedy first and foremost, so the jokes, particularly in the pilot, fly around with alacrity. As the sweetness begins to get more pronounced, that thankfully doesn't detract from the laughs -- it just makes Enlisted seem better than you're probably expecting.

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In fact, as much as I laughed at the pilot -- which was plenty -- I was slightly worried that the silliness Biegel mines in that first half-hour would seem too over-the-top and dissuade those looking for more subtlety in their humor. But fear not, the balance equals out rather impressively.

Enlisted is about three brothers in the military. The Hill boys are all following in the footsteps of their father, a superb soldier killed in the line of duty. The series opens with eldest son Pete (Geoff Stults) as a highly trained super soldier in Afghanistan. But some insubordinate behavior gets him sent all the way back home to the States and onto Fort McGee in Florida (motto: "Yes, We're Soldiers"). There, he's in charge of the ragtag Rear Detachment unit. "Rear D" is where, we're told, those who didn't quite measure up are left behind to mow lawns, wash tanks and, most important, deal with the families of those who have a loved one deployed in service.

That's where Pete is reunited with his two brothers --  middle brother Derrick (Chris Lowell), who doesn't want to be there or in the Army at all, and youngest brother Randy (Parker Young), who idolizes Pete but who is far too sweet, inept and excitable to be a very good soldier. He is, however, amazing with those families on base who need to be helped while their loved ones are off in combat or on missions.

Stults, Lowell and Young manage to work extremely well together comedically -- Stults playing it straight much of the time but still getting laughs, Lowell portraying the jaded middle brother and Young being the goofy puppy.

Credit Biegel with making a military comedy that both jokes about and appreciates the institution and finds a way to mine humor (and sentiment) in the mix. It's no easy task. Helping out is veteran actor Keith David as Command Sergeant Major Cody and Angelique Cabral as Pete's female equivalent at Fort McGee, plus an excellent ensemble cast who expand on their more over-the-top antics from the pilot as the episodes unfold.

I wasn't expecting much from Enlisted based on the Fox promos, but it's immediately engaging and funny and makes you want to watch more as this world grows and the comedy increases its potential, much in the manner of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. That means Fox has launched two of the best freshman network comedies this season (it's a shame it spent so much promo money on the tedious and unfunny Dads when it has real quality in these two).

Fridays might not be the ideal slot, but Enlisted is definitely worth signing up for as the midseason begins.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine