I understand the impulse of network executives to shuffle around the order of sitcom episodes so they don’t necessarily air in their production order. In this overstuffed media landscape it’s more important than ever to put your best foot forward, airing your stronger episodes first to build an early positive buzz. Understanding the impulse doesn’t mean I like it though, as it’s continually frustrating to see events airing out of sequence even if a show’s not overly serialized. The continuity nerd inside me flinches to see characters make references to events that haven’t happened before, behave in a manner that doesn’t suggest they learned lessons in recent weeks, and give the overall feeling we’ve traveled back in time. Not the dramatic time travel where you can’t step on anything, but the feeling of going into a room and everything’s been put back from where you moved it last time you were there.
Sadly, Enlisted has been a victim of that trend in the early goings. Last week’s episode was clearly moved up to coincide with the Super Bowl, and consequently there was a jump forward in the Derrick/Erin relationship. This week it’s even more noticeable, as “Rear D Day” was the first installment produced after the pilot and there’s a definite “second episode” vibe surrounding much of the episode’s events. There’s a restatement of the show’s core ideas—Pete’s punching out a superior officer, his frustration at his change of status, the special role that Rear D plays compared to deployed soldiers—and several of the relationships between characters don’t feel as lived-in as you’d expect.
That being said, none of those issues are enough to derail the overall enjoyability of “Rear D Day,” which is another solid episode for the entire Enlisted ensemble. Pete’s decided to “embrace the suck” of his current position and be enthusiastic about any assignment he takes on, and gets one right away as punishment for his unit’s tendency to make hilarious Internet videos on Army property. Rodney Spratt is an Army husband raising his son alone while his wife’s deployed, and he needs some help around the house. Specifically, he wants to turn his laundry room into home brewing storage and his backyard into a sports court, and happily responds to Pete’s offer to help by volunteering the troops as his own personal landscaping crew. Rodney’s played by comedian Andy Daly, who’s an expert at playing good-natured characters with depth, and his oblivious cheerfulness is a great counter to the increasingly frustrated unit.
His oblivious cheerfulness also provides the right counterweight to Pete’s forced cheerfulness, a connection that Derrick’s chaos antenna picks up on immediately. He quickly pounces on Pete and suggests that it won’t be too long before he cracks, and that crack will usher in the return of Temper Man, or “T-Man” as he’s referred to in Hill history (accompanied by a background guitar strum with every mention, more than a few shades of Arrested Development’s “Mr. F!”). Apparently Pete has a history of violent outbursts, ranging from throwing a second-place trophy through a plate glass window and punching a cotton candy machine because he couldn’t get on a log flume ride. (“You know I was taller than that bear’s paw!”) It’s an excellent Hill brother dynamic, as Derrick’s determined to show Pete up, Pete’s determined to turn this into a victory, and Randy just wants everyone to play nice. “Let’s get our suck on! Let’s embrace getting our suck on!” (Said Ripley to the android Bishop.)
Remarkably, the blowup doesn’t come at any point in the gardening process—a series of events that sees Park traumatized by fire ants, Dobkiss literally digging his own grave and Robinson waging a war on boob sweat. It instead comes at the very end, when Rodney’s cheerfulness leads him to make a comment about how this had to be more enjoyable than “real soldiering” stuff, and you can practically see the switch flip behind Pete’s eyes. T-Man is unleashed, and he questions what’s real by smashing a bench to pieces, trying to throw a batting cage over the fence and calling Rodney a “giant pain in the ass.” It’s played for broad comedy and does it well—though going back to the issue of continuity, this outburst coming after “Pete’s Airstream” makes things seem more worrisome.
Typically, this is the moment where Cody would step in to shake some sense into Pete, but he’s busy making life complicated for another soldier. If previous episodes have spent time making sure that Jill can be incorporated into the Hills’ unit, “Rear D Day” is one that helps establish the character as a separate entity with her own drive and ambition. She’s angling for a spot in an advanced leadership course, which she sees as the next step toward a promotion and moving past some of the snap judgments she receives. As she complains to Pete, “They see you and they say ‘There goes a brave solider.’ They see me and go ‘Oh, a lady one.’” Given Enlisted’s interest in covering multiple aspects of military life, it’s good to see that it wants to address specific issues faced by women in the service, especially with how strong its bench of actresses is.
Jill’s clear interest in being seen as more than a woman makes her relationship with Cody this week all the more amusing, because that seems to be the only way he can see her—not in a sexual or chauvinistic way, but a desperate one. As a divorced father with a teenage daughter, he’s entirely out of his depth, and thinks that Jill can fill in all of the questions he has. (“Can I stop the hormones? Does spicy food help? What about the moon, friend or foe?”) The sequence where he winds up tailing his daughter and her new boyfriend is an amusing pairing of his being both competent and incompetent at the same time, and while his behavior is clearly out of line it comes from a place of genuine uncertainty that excuses more problematic traits. When he and Jill eventually reconcile, it clearly comes from a place of mutual respect and understanding, and proves that the two don’t need to be interacting with the Hills to carry a plot. (Plus, it involved a discussion of oranges as murder weapons, which earns it bonus points.)
Cody’s distraction means that Pete gets off scot-free, and he even gets a real smile—which is the same as the fake smile, but it’s the thought that counts. However, Randy is not so forgiving, as he chews Pete out for being “a slang word for genitals” for insulting Rodney in front of his son. Randy’s most genuine emotions come when he ties what’s going on to his own family memories, and here the recollection of their mother’s own difficult experience leads him to strip the title of hero from Pete. (Derrick says it best: “Pretty profound stuff from a guy whose favorite food used to be pennies.”) It’s a good moment for all of the brothers, and one that introduces hopes we’ll meet Mrs. Hill in a future episode given the clear regard all three have for her.
In a nice bit of circular storytelling, Pete figures out how to patch things up with Rodney and his son by using the unit’s gift for making viral videos as a force for good. The resulting “Super Tim vs. Rear D” is an endearingly low-budget affair that allows full of simulated flight on gardening tools, lightning effects and sunglasses popping up from Rodney’s fanny pack. It’s a moment that manages to be both sappy and goofy, and makes for a fun close to an episode that works well, continuity problems aside.
- I hope I wasn’t the only one distracted by the resemblance between Andy Daly and Mort Burke. I half-expected one member of the unit to nickname Rodney “Other JaMort.”
- Past Pete revelations: kale is a super food and social media is tearing us apart. “People used to have conversations.”
- Excellent slapstick runner with Chubowski this week, as first he gets injured and covered in toxic grease playing human bowling, then smashed in the face by a washer door and knocked down stairs, and then clocked between the eyes with a motor-launched baseball. The last one has a wonderfully tragicomic opening: “I’m out of the hospital and ready to work!” BOOM. (JaMort: “That doesn’t seem fair!”)
- We learn more about Jill’s upbringing this week, as it turns out she had absentee parents and her Uncle Rico was beaten to death with a sock full of oranges. “Or was it doorknobs? No, it was oranges. His corpse was sticky.” Cody: “Stop telling me things.”
- This week in hilarious Dobkiss revelations: a mule kicked him in the esophagus when he was six and an eagle clawed his eyes when he was ten. Pete: “How are you still alive?” Dobkiss: “Part of me died a long time ago.”
- As someone who has two brewers in the family, Rodney’s Summer Pig Roast Ale—described by Pete as “gelatinous”—was doubly disgusting for me to consider.
- “Pete has decided to try at his job, so we’re celebrating!” *POP* “Hooray.” “Why do you have those in your desk?” “I’m a festive man.”
- “It’s like my boob-sweat is cousins with my back-sweat and they’re having a Thanksgiving dinner downstairs!”
- “T-Man’s kind of uncoordinated.”
- “Our tears are private, Private!”