It’s been said many times that a comedy lives and dies on the strength of its ensemble, but one of the most important parts of perfecting that ensemble is to figure out which specific pairings are best. If you can find two actors who consistently work well together it’s a huge boon in coming up with new stories, because you can simply set them on an adventure and trust that their chemistry will carry them most of the way. What would Community be without the friendship of Troy and Abed, or Parks And Recreation without the opposing enthusiasms of Ron and Leslie? How badly would Raising Hope have faltered if Burt and Virginia didn’t click so well as a married couple?
On that front, Enlisted has succeeded admirably. It’s tried various groups of characters out in its first few episodes—and still has plenty of room to experiment—but the pairings of Pete/Jill and Randy/Derrick have paid the biggest dividends. Pete and Jill locked horns in the first episode and haven’t let go since, both being fiercely driven individuals with healthy egos who don’t like being told they’re wrong and need to bounce off equally stubborn forces to clear their heads. Conversely, Derrick and Randy work so well together because they’re complete tonal opposites. Randy’s always game to give everything 150 percent, while Derrick tries to only give 10 percent at best, and the resulting tug-of-war brings both of them closer to 100 percent than they’d get otherwise.
Those pairings led the show to early success with “Randy Get Your Gun,” and “Brothers And Sister” proves once again that they’re winning combinations. While it’s the least heartfelt of any of the episodes that have aired to date, it’s also an episode that proves the solid foundations of Enlisted has laid early on in its life. Between solid character interactions and a ridiculously sharp script courtesy of Peter A. Knight, it’s an episode that reminds viewers why Enlisted has been missed during the Olympics and an episode that they thankfully didn’t feed into the buzzsaw of airing opposite it.
Like most of Enlisted’s best antics, the episode focuses on a problem that’s largely of Pete’s own making. A concert for the troops stationed at Fort McGee throws up an unexpected obstacle for the eldest Hill when the concert organizer turns out to be Jeannie Rotonto (Mircea Monroe of Episodes and Hart Of Dixie), the woman he was dating when he was shipped off to Afghanistan. Pete avoided a formal breakup because it would shatter his track record of simply fading out from relationships, a skill honed over years of moving between army bases and perfected into a classic rock song (illustrated wonderfully by hype-man Randy’s air-band). It helps build the character, adding more context to prior decisions like his choice to maintain radio silence with the family while deployed overseas. And speaking of Community, there’s a welcome Jeff Winger attitude to the way Pete sits back in the chair as Geoff Stults oozes self-confidence.
Jill is understandably utterly disgusted by this casual attitude towards relationships, and encourages him to make amends. Early on in the show it looked like a romantic pairing between Pete and Jill was an inevitability—especially after the unintentional flirting of “Randy Get Your Gun”—but the more they bounce off each other the more it’s obvious that route should stay unexplored. Early in the episode Jill says Pete feels like a brother to her, and the dynamic has shifted into that sibling role, the equal mix of affection and antagonism that the three male leads found instantly. Rather than generating sexual tension, she works best beating ideas into his head, as when she points out to him that he’s not likely to get out of Fort McGee soon if ever. (“I need to sit down.” “You are sitting down.” “I need to sit down more.”)
Jill’s not heartless though, and once Pete ropes himself back into his relationship she responds to his request to learn “this decent human being thing” with a crash course in ending things gracefully. One of the most endearing things about the Jill/Pete dynamic is the way that the two can banter back and forth without losing a beat, and this course might be the best example of it. Much like the Toy Story 3 scene in “Randy Get Your Gun,” it’s a key example of Enlisted’s solid editing, cycling through Pete’s breakup trials and cutting right away at every failure. And while we’ve seen lots of evidence Angelique Cabral is funny, here she’s marvelously multifaceted, as she walks Pete through every scenario and even switches up roles without even thinking.
While Jill’s focusing her attention on Pete, she’s unintentionally stirred things up with the other Hill brothers thanks to an offhand remark that Randy and Derrick seem to work as a team when picking up women. Derrick dismisses it right away, but Randy leaps on it with his typical hunger for adding deeper symbolism to his life. Drawing on his established love for the animal kingdom, Randy equates their brotherly relationship to a pair of bonobos that have since evolved to a hippo and oxpecker dynamic. (Derrick: “That’s not how evolution works!” Randy: “I say teach the controversy.”) What’s interesting about Derrick’s reaction here isn’t that he’s merely frustrated with Randy’s childlike enthusiasm, he’s offended by the concept that their partnership might be an equal one. Derrick loves his brother, but he also thinks he knows what’s best for him, and tries to kill the idea early on.
This proves to be a decision not to his benefit, as Randy decides that they’ve gone from being bonobos to “no-more-bros” (the best joke in an episode ripe with competition) and leaves Derrick to fend for himself. Chris Lowell hasn’t had as much opportunity to play broad as Geoff Stults or Parker Young has due to the nature of his character, and seeing Derrick thrown off his game is a welcome sight. He fumbles his pickup lines as badly as Ann Perkins at singles night, winds up so drunk he shouts women away, and when he tries to emulate Randy’s headstand introduction he sends a table crashing to the ground. It’s a nice change to see him tossed out of his comfort zone—and his painful collapse is probably satisfying to the anti-Piz brigade I’ve seen mobilizing as the Veronica Mars movie draws closer.
Once again, Enlisted finds a way to tie all of its story lines together in one big event, as both elder Hill brothers try to find some romantic closure in the shadow of a Kid ’n Play stage. Derrick admits defeat, except he does so not to Randy but to Claymore bartender Erin. Here’s where once again the Enlisted continuity gripe returns, as “Homecoming” threw us into the middle of a relationship which at this point is only getting started. It’s a shame, because if we were meeting her for the first time, we’d be able to appreciate the organic way the two come together over pickled egg jokes and various degrees of smiling, both coming to realize Derrick has hidden virtues beneath the snark. The narrative distance between those two appearances means we’re sure to get at least one more episode of Jessy Hodges, and both appearances were good enough I want to see what’s between the bookends.
Pete, for his part, finally manages to open up to Jeannie, only it turns out that his reliance on Jill’s training leaves her believing that the other soldier wants Pete all to herself. Adding a third person to the dynamic neatly shifts the balance of power, as Pete winds up making things worse and Jill stumbles for answers so much she has to weakly reach for his Afghanistan excuse. And poor Pete winds up ignoring the advice of hugs being bad, earning himself a punch in the face and Jill pushing him away for ignoring the training—though not before both admit they appreciate Jill’s role as a “female brother.” Order is restored to the makeshift family of Enlisted, which is feeling less and less makeshift with every episode.
Against these two strong relationships, the Cody/Rear D activity is a less focused subplot but still a goldmine of fun material for the rest of the cast. There’s more hints of Dobkiss’s pyromania (“I’ll torch your house for 10 percent of the insurance money!”) and Park’s unsettling past (“Birthday husband stuff!”), an American Idol-themed video of Cody that’s so over-the-top it can’t help being hilarious (complete with “Dr. Mortskowitz”), and Keith David dusting off his Broadway pipes for a rendition of “America The Beautiful.”
In concert with Kid ’n Play, no less! (Together for the first time since December 2011.)
Some effective continuity for a change, as “Me Gusta Dat Booty” returns on the Claymore jukebox.
Afghanistan, verb: To use “I was in Afghanistan” as a way to get out of speeding tickets and win ping-pong games. Effectiveness in breakups not guaranteed.
The throwaway joke about “TBD” being a band Randy thinks he knows and Derrick trying to help him “remember” his favorite song is a wonderful piece of writing. If this was the first episode you saw, it perfectly establishes their brotherly dynamic for the episode.
Also in great subtle jokes, Pete’s prior girlfriends illustrating the passage of time in their ways of contacting him. “I’ll write you every day!” “I’ll page you every day!” “I will email you every day if Y2K doesn’t kill us all first!”
Dobkiss’s mention of Cody’s fake foot is the first time it’s come up since the pilot. Props to the writing team for not overusing that joke despite Cody’s conviction he can bring it up in conversation whenever he wants.
“Not looking for a sister Jillybean, unless you’re looking for some brotherly love.” “You want to take that back?” “So much.”
“A lot of this knowledge hasn’t made it to the Internet yet.”
“Solo hippos don’t help out solo birds. I’m not even sure solo hippos help out other solo hippos. Hippos are mean.”
“Bourbon is not good idea juice.” This statement is so wrong I don’t even know where to begin.