“Stripes” made its debut in 1981, which put Vietnam far enough into the rearview mirror that Bill Murray could freely joke about the U.S. losing there. “Enlisted,” a Fox sitcom bearing a more than passing resemblance to that movie, resides a bit more uncomfortably close to America’s recent military adventures, making its cartoonish vision of Army life more problematic. Stripped of those concerns, the series can be consumed and mildly appreciated for its sheer goofiness, but this is a pretty slim conceit to attract much of a youthful all-volunteer force on Friday nights.
Built around three brothers bonded by their late father’s service, the show stars Geoff Stults as Pete Hill, a “super-soldier” — one of those gung-ho, storm-the-front types — who hauls off and punches a superior officer in Afghanistan.
Never mind spending time in the brig; he’s simply sent home to a rear-deployment unit, home to the dregs of the military, including his siblings: wiseass Derrick (Chris Lowell), who seems to want to be anywhere else but here; and simpleton Randy (Parker Young), who yearns to be a good soldier but makes Woody in “Cheers” look like Albert Einstein.
They are joined — again, shades of “Stripes” — by a band of misfits, with a stern but caring sergeant (Keith David, and no, not named Hulka), who, naturally, knew dad, to watch over them. While the troops produce a few incongruously amusing moments, like the soldier who shouts “Bradley Cooper!” when skewering something with a bayonet, the show mostly relies on the rat-a-tat banter among the three brothers, which quickly settles into an amalgam of silliness, sprinkled with the dollops of heart that have become more popular since “Modern Family” began plucking those strings.
Creator Kevin Biegel throws in an obligatory potential romantic interest (Angelique Cabral) who runs a rival unit, with whom Pete exchanges playful jabs; and situations like war games against “the Italians” or (in a future episode) an escalating war of pranks.
Because in today’s Army, they really just want everyone to clown around and have a good time.
It’s harmless enough given how broadly most of it’s played (think the Three Stooges in basic training) but nothing here is particularly distinctive. And while Fox delayed a midfall launch to January, ostensibly to clog the airwaves with promos during football, the Friday timeslot by itself should qualify for combat pay, Nielsen-wise.
Spoofing military life is nothing new, of course, but a lot’s transpired since “McHale’s Navy.” And while “Enlisted” appears to possess a pretty clear set of marching orders, in this sort of midseason exercise, that’s only half the battle.