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Comedy in War?

Enlisted: Pilot

“Laughter is poison to fear.” ― George R.R. Martin

In the last several weeks, two very different and contrasting depictions of America’s Armed Forces have been brought to the screen. On one hand, the movie “Lone Survivor” portrays the griping, realistic tale of brotherhood and sacrifice as a squad of Navy SEALS are surrounded by Taliban militants in the heart of the Afghanistan mountains. On the other hand, a new comedy on FOX, “Enlisted,” is distinctly not intended to be literal, but highlights the comedic, ridiculous, behind-the-scenes shenanigans that go on among the ranks. But how soon is too soon to poke fun at a situation that is still a stark reality for many?

Sgt Pete Hill and his brothers Derrick and Randy engage in the familial "hands on the head" ritual after Pete returns to the U.S. from Afghanistan.

To cope with the tragedy of war, societies often praise their heroes, such as “Lone Survivor” or Gary Cooper’s Sargent York, or attempt to find humor amidst the confusion, like M.A.S.H.’s Corporal Klinger or the crew from “Hogan’s Heroes.” “Enlisted” is certainly not the first show to try to bring levity to the seriousness of war; but it is the first attempt to bring humor to the Middle Eastern conflicts that have divided the American public. Kevin Biegel, creator of the show, admitted that he is dancing a fine line. “People ask, ‘How do you do a comedy with all the heavy stuff happening [overseas]?’ I think that’s the exact reason you do a comedy right now, because it gives you something real underneath the jokes,” he told The Boston Globe.

Laughter and humor can be strong antidotes to the pain and terror of war. It reminds us that while these brave men and women willingly put their lives on the line every day, they are not unlike the average American. They have feelings, pull pranks, laugh, and have struggles in their lives just like we do. It humanizes us and helps us to forget the harsh realities, if only for a short time.

Nevertheless, reaction to “Enlisted” has been mixed, especially among active and retired soldiers. Creating a comedy about a war in which Americans soldiers are still engaged is tricky in itself. Trying to get a laugh, often at the expense of military characterizations, is certain to ruffle feathers. However, Biegel made his mission even more difficult due to multiple errors (some of which even this Navy brat spotted), such as improper haircuts, overweight soldiers, and calling a Bradley a “tank,” that sent retired and active duty soldiers into a tizzy. In fact, there were so many “snafus” in this pilot episode that the production crew brought on consultants and started a “Spot Our Errors” contest with prizes for soldiers. (Maybe the FBI needs to give the Army some tips.)

But you do have to commend the show for listening to the grumblings of our servicemen and women. Biegel has members of his family that are currently serving and says that his intention is not to mock the military. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Regardless of whether you like how the pilot reaches its conclusion, the message that military families need support while their father/mother, husband/wife, or son/daughter is in harm’s way is worthwhile and bears repeating.

Is it too soon? For some, the memories will be too fresh, the pain still too close. But laughter can bring healing. Both “Lone Survivor” and “Enlisted” are efforts to honor America’s military – albeit in very different ways. Let’s see where the show leads.

— Zachary Henry is Contributor at the Media Research Center. Follow Zachary Henry on Twitter.