I'm Still Not Over… how beloved comedy Enlisted became Fox's collateral damage
This one-season wonder was doomed from the start after Fox aired episodes out of order.
Still crying over a fictional character's death from a movie you saw years ago? Grieving a canceled-too-soon show? We are, too. So with "I'm Still Not Over...," EW staffers pay tribute to something in the pop culture world they're, well, still not over. Below, Sydney Bucksbaum mourns how 2014 comedy Enlisted never stood a chance thanks to a mind-boggling scheduling choice.
TV shows come and go. Hollywood is a fickle industry, and there's no way of predicting what's going to run for more than 10 seasons vs. what's going to be canceled just a few episodes into season 1. Getting emotionally invested a show only to have it ripped away without warning is just the risk you take as a TV fan — and I've begrudgingly learned to accept that over the years. But what I just can't forgive is when a network dooms a show from the start by making a seemingly inconsequential scheduling decision that ruins its chances of survival for good. Yes, platoon, I'm still not over Enlisted's cancelation. And I know I'm not alone.
Created by Kevin Biegel, the 2014 Fox comedy starred Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell, and Parker Young as three brothers in the U.S. Army stationed at the fictional Fort McGee in the Rear Detachment Unit, a.k.a. taking care of what needs to be done on the base and caring for the families of deployed soldiers instead of going into action themselves (but lest you forget: yes, they're soldiers). The charming and downright hilarious series did the impossible by combining comedy with the military while still dealing with issues like PTSD and grief with sensitivity and heart. But it was still dishonorably discharged from Fox only nine episodes into its 13-episode first season, booted from its (dreaded) Friday night time slot before ultimately getting the axe permanently.
But the Friday time slot and airing only two-thirds of its episodes before getting canceled wasn't even the worst of it. The real reason why Enlisted didn't reach its full potential as the next Parks and Rec, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or even newcomer Ted Lasso is because Fox aired the season out of order. In an attempt to show what network execs considered to be better episodes earlier, Fox actually turned off viewers instead of gaining them. And Enlisted became the collateral damage.
I don't have to be a showrunner to tell you that TV seasons are mapped out in an episodic order on purpose. Serialized stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. But when you air episodes in a random order (when the season was originally written in another), story arcs don't make sense. Over the course of the season, Stults' eldest brother Pete — who was begrudgingly removed from active duty in Afghanistan to lead the platoon of misfits on the base — bonded more and more with his fellow soldiers, and that emotional through line became disjointed when later episodes showing that growth aired earlier. Oh yeah, and let's not forget that one week, Lowell's Derrick had a serious girlfriend, and two weeks later he'd meet the woman who was already his girlfriend two episodes ago. It was confusing, and eventually it was the final nail in the coffin for the cult-favorite show that could have grown its audience on its own if Fox had just relied on the writing and acting. This wasn't the first time a network aired a show's episodes out of order (Happy Endings, Firefly, and Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23 immediately come to mind as being some of the most egregious examples of this mistake) but hopefully it will be the last, because killing a show this way hurts so much worse since it could have easily been avoided.
Enlisted was a heartwarming, feel-good comedy that was well-done on all fronts. The chemistry between the three brothers brought the emotional weight, but it was a true ensemble of funny, endearing characters. It had deeply layered intellectual humor balanced with broad and physical comedy. The writing was quick, witty, and always ultimately uplifting. The acting was phenomenal. The editing, the music...everything was on point. Why couldn't the network trust this show enough to present it to viewers as it was made?
Ever since Enlisted was canceled, I've complained nonstop to friends, family, strangers on the street, literally anyone who will politely nod and smile as I rant about how this one-season wonder was done dirty by Fox. And while we never got a second season (despite negotiations to revive it at Yahoo Screen), at least we can all put hands on heads at the virtual Enlisted reunion table read on Saturday. Get the details on how you can watch the charity event here.