Terribly sad news today. Gutted to find out one of my favorite TV shows of all times, Enlisted, was cancelled by Fox. Before even seeing a PR photo I was skeptical of this show; Hollywood doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to realistically portraying the military and its people.
And when I say “realistically” what I mean is within reason, because I’ve watched enough TV and movies to know they have to make the shows exciting and that means less (or no) footage of Sailors chipping paint or cleaning heads and lots of shots of F-18s and/or SEALs emerging from dark seas on a moonless night. And don’t even get me started on haircuts, saluting, and uniforms.
So, I was going to watch the pilot of Enlisted, just to see, but my expectations were low. Then a funny thing happened. The show’s creator, Kevin Biegel, got on Twitter and told everyone there were lots of little things wrong with the pilot, things military folks would see right away and hate, but — and this is where I really got interested — they knew these were things we would hate and they were going to fix them in later episodes. There was even a contest to spot the mistakes.
Whoa. These guys were willing to admit they’d missed the mark, and it was important to them to get it right for us. Yes, that certainly caught my attention. I tweeted to Biegel that I suddenly had high hopes for the show, because I did. Sure, there was still going to be a “Hollywood” sheen to the deal, but this was like them breaking the fourth wall to me as a viewer, saying “I know you know, and I want you to know that I know, that we know.” Or something like that. 🙂 Hadn’t seen an episode yet, but I was going into it hopeful.
And I was rewarded for that hope. The show was laugh out loud funny but with a core of warmth and heart. Serious issues of critical relevance to military families like Post Traumatic Stress and family separation were addressed in a realistic manner. The cast demonstrated great chemistry and range, going from slapstick to whip-smart one-liners, and then on to the “serious stuff” without breaking a sweat. Even those members of “the platoon” with just one or two lines in an episode nailed their presentation.
The other really neat thing about becoming a fan of the show was stumbling into a great community of fandom. Through Twitter, and especially with “live tweet” repeats of shows on line, I’ve met some tremendously smart and funny people who also saw the good of the show. The show posters I’ve used with this blog are just a couple of the many created by the tremendously talented Carl Brand, also know as @MyVogonPoetry.
So, you must be asking: all this good stuff, how is it possible for the show to get cancelled? I’m not a TV exec (Ed: No, really?) or TV critic like Andy Greenwald but even I know putting a new show on Friday night isn’t going to help it “find an audience.” As late as yesterday I read an interview with Fox head honcho Kevin Reilly in which he claimed to like the show, but his words didn’t impress me much. In the Navy we had a saying, “damning with faint praise,” and that’s mostly what I heard from Mr. Reilly in this interview:
Reilly’s decision to bury Enlisted on Fridays would seem to suggest he didn’t like the series: “Not at all,” he says. “I actually kind of like it. To me it was just neither fish nor fowl. I did not personally think it was broad enough or outrageous enough to be in that camp, and I didn’t think it was grounded enough and real enough to be sort of — I did like it. The truth is, if I had more shelf space, if I had more cover, there’d be a way to figure out how to do that.”
In response, I’d like to point out to Mr. Reilly the platoon in Enlisted was unlike any unit he’d see in real life in any branch of the military. I loved every character but most of those folks would never pass the recruitment process much less make it to active duty. To consider them not “broad enough or outrageous enough” shows he has little knowledge of today’s military. As fans, we looked past (while laughing) the physical fitness issues and pyromania because the goofiness and camaraderie, cracking one-liners and weird conversations, exists plenty in the ranks, just not to the outrageous extremes shown in Enlisted. Oh, wait … there’s that word again. Outrageous.
As for the not “grounded enough and real enough” statement I can only say What The What? Did Mr. Reilly watch the same arc the rest of us did where Sergeant Hill begins to come to terms with his PTS? Did he see the episode where the snarky middle brother teaches his good-hearted but hapless younger brother how to become coldly efficient so he can pass the marksmanship test, only to fear that he took away the warmth and caring that made his brother unique and good?
I guess he didn’t see those episodes, or if he did he didn’t “get” the feels the way many of us did.
As I said, I’m not a TV exec and never will be. I suppose I could say if Mr. Reilly was doing a better job of picking TV shows to put on his network he would have all “the cover” he needed to keep funny, warm and uplifting shows like Enlisted on for years and years. Sorry if I sound a little bitter there, that wasn’t my intent when I set out to write this.
I probably watch too much TV, like a lot of folks in my generation who grew up with Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch and etc., etc. I’m also smart enough to know TV is a business, and businesses need to make money. That’s how it works. I think in this case, what bothers me the most is the nagging feeling that it didn’t get a fair shot. Yes, yes, I know any show getting on the air has survived many hurdles, but I’m past being fair on this because I don’t think there has been another show that touched so closely to home.
You see, I’m proudly retired from the U.S. Navy, where I started as an enlisted Sailor before becoming an officer. I worked with plenty of folks who were just on the right side of the likes of the Hill brothers, Sergeant Perez, Sergeant Major Cody, and Privates Chubowski, Park, Gumble, Dobkiss and Robison (and by “right side” I mean recruitable and retainable). So I’m going to be a fan of Enlisted for the rest of my life. I’ll buy the DVDs, or watch it on another network if something great like that happens. I’ll also be looking for whatever other shows the cast and behind the scenes folks like Kevin Biegel and Mike Royce work on.
Everyone associated with Enlisted — cast, crew and fans: Thanks for letting me share the ride. Hooah (Army) and Bravo Zulu (Navy).