'Enlisted' goes for laughs, but also serves as homage
(L-R) Parker Young, Geoff Stults and Chris Lowell pose in the motor pool set for the new Fox TV show "Enlisted." The three actors play brothers who are members of the same Army unit.
When Kevin Biegel began working on a television comedy set in the military, some people told him to stay away.
People have been afraid to make a military comedy, Biegel said, for fear it would be perceived as a slight against the men and women of the armed forces.
He continued with his project.
"Enlisted," which premieres Jan. 10 on Fox, is out for laughs, but it's also a homage of sorts, he said.
"It's coming from a place of love," said Biegel, who also was the co-creator of "Cougar Town.'' "We're not poking fun. It's not satire."
"Enlisted" is billed as a workplace comedy set on a small, fictional Army post - Fort McGee, Fla.
The story focuses on Staff Sgt. Pete Hill (Geoff Stults) - a combat-tested noncommissioned officer sent home from the war in Afghanistan as punishment, who ends up serving on rear detachment with his two brothers, Cpl. Derrick Hill (Chris Lowell) and Pvt. Randy Hill (Parker Young).
Hill is put in charge of a platoon of soldiers that includes his brothers and a cast of misfits.
The show will focus on the relationship between the Hill brothers, but it also will tackle serious issues affecting veterans, Biegel said.
An early episode deals with symptoms of post-traumatic stress, he said. Another focuses on the concept of an "Alive Day" - a practice where a service member marks the anniversary of a close escape from death.
Biegel also worked on the NBC series "Scrubs" from its fifth through eighth seasons, ultimately serving as co-producer. Biegel said that, like "Scrubs," "Enlisted" would mix serious story lines with pure comedy.
"We're trying to do a lot," he said.
Biegel, who previously wrote military-related story lines for "Scrubs'' and "Cougar Town,'' said he was aiming to show a picture of the military that's uncommon in today's television.
Soldiers in pop culture are perceived in one of two ways, Biegel said. They are either "Call of Duty"-esque super soldiers, or "the crazy vet with PTSD."
"There's a whole swath in the middle," Biegel said.
"I always thought it was a world that should be on TV," he said. "It didn't seem right that there wasn't a show set in this world."
For source material, Biegel said the show's writers have compiled a bible of more than 100 pages of emails from soldiers recounting personal stories. The show will include some of those tales that non-veterans can relate to, he said, but also will have plenty of inside jokes for veterans.
"It's about soldiers. And I care about those people," Biegel said. "There are some interesting story lines. It's sometimes serious. It's sometimes ridiculous."
Having the main character deal with post-traumatic stress was important to Biegel, he said. The show will explore his difficulties and, hopefully, help others seek help.
The show has made a concerted effort to involve veterans, Biegel said.
A consulting firm made up of veterans has been brought on board. And most of the extras seen on the show are veterans, too.
"They're not just people plucked out of Hollywood," Biegel said. "They served."
Writers have done research at Fort Irwin, Calif., he said. And the actors had a mini boot camp at Fort Bliss, Texas.
But that doesn't mean the show got everything right.
Biegel is quick to admit the pilot is riddled with errors, particularly in the uniforms.
Those mistakes are fixed in later episodes, thanks to the consulting firm, Biegel said.
Another change comes in the unit patches seen in the show. While Hill continues to wear a 101st Airborne Division combat patch, the soldiers who can be seen wearing a Fort Bragg-based Forces Command patch in the pilot wear a made-up patch in later episodes.
Biegel, who also has written for "South Park," Howard Stern and the Farrelly brothers, said he's proud of the show, but he's horrified by the mistakes made in the pilot.
He said he wants to urge viewers, particularly those who are veterans, to "give the show a shot" beyond the premiere.
"I feel awful about that," he said. "We just didn't do our due diligence."
Most mistakes have been corrected, he said.
Biegel said the show is owning up to those mistakes, and plans a contest where viewers can submit a list of all the pilot's errors in return for an "Enlisted" challenge coin.
"I want them to call us out," Biegel said. "Yes, we're doing comedy, but we want to make sure we do right by them."
Biegel and the show's stars have been promoting it in screenings across the nation, including military communities and VA hospitals. He has tentative plans to have a screening near Fort Bragg next month.