For a show that’s as irreverent as Enlisted can be, it’s also a show that takes itself as seriously as the institution that it’s based on. After shooting the pilot episode and realizing that it was full of various inaccuracies, showrunners Kevin Biegel and Mike Royce hired military consultants to help them iron out the differences and even sent their main cast to boot camp to get a taste of what it was like to be a real soldier. Even after the pilot aired, they weren’t satisfied, hosting a “Spot Our Errors” contest and offering a challenge coin to anyone who could point out further problems. While some of the characters on the show aren’t overly committed to the military lifestyle, Enlisted as a whole respects and appreciates the procedures of the institution and makes sure to operate within those boundaries.
Various episodes of Enlisted have focused on the rules affecting day-to-day life, but “The General Inspection” is the first one to make regulations the focal point of the story. Despite being an episode about rules, this may be the funniest episode of Enlisted to date, crammed to bursting with visual and scripted gags. And the batting average is truly impressive, all the jokes hitting home because of how deeply they are grounded in the characters. To name a few highlights: This is an episode of television where Parker Young gets to pretend to be Donkey Kong, Chris Lowell gets really invested in the intricacies of making soup, Angelique Cabral does a British candy dance, and Keith David falls into a malaise with an Anita Baker soundtrack.
The rapid pace of jokes matches the increased expectations on the characters, making this a highly active installment of Enlisted. The base is scheduled to be inspected by General Murray (Obba Babatundé), a long-time hero of Cody’s who’s notoriously hard to impress. Cody wants Fort McGee in tip-top shape for the investigation in the hopes that the base can finally win another award beyond Best Irish-Named Army Post in South Florida (runner-up). The degree to which Cody understands all of his soldiers is a core part of the show, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see how easily he’s able to manipulate both Pete and Jill into doing his bidding. We know from “Homecoming” that Pete has a deep-seated need to be seen as a hero, and we know from “Rear D Day” that Jill has an ambition to climb through the ranks. It makes perfect sense that Cody also picked up on these details and can use them them to his advantage. (Plus, their fantasy lives allow for a few nifty bits of animation: Pete serving as the model for a small golden statue, Jill’s stripes expanding to ridiculous lengths.)
Unfortunately for Pete, his need to whip the team into shape comes at the worst time. After showing a bit of leniency to Derrick and allowing him to keep a hotplate in the barracks, the unit sees him as “Chill Pete” and has fallen into a series of minor infractions. Pete hasn’t had much occasion to be an authoritarian figure since he got back from Afghanistan, and you can see both Pete (and Geoff Stults by extension) taking a legitimate pleasure in falling back into commanding officer patterns confiscating “all y’alls contraband.” It’s also interesting to watch Derrick’s reaction, as he feels legitimately betrayed by a brother he’d finally started to feel like he was on the same side of, so much so that he even made the sacrifice of displaying affection with a hug. Pete, for his part, is unmoved: “Last time I checked, the Army didn’t bend the rules for hugs!” (Randy: “It’s a hard truth, but he’s right Derrick.”)
Jill’s detail is far less glamorous, as she’s assigned to track down a series of obscure foods to match General Murray’s “eclectic palate.” After some early stumbles, Cody assigns Randy to assist her, a duty that the youngest Hill attacks with his usual gusto and a Bill Cosby impression. Randy’s typically paired with one of his brothers, so it’s a welcome change of pace to see Young and Cabral team up for their first substantive plot. While Jill is still frustrated by his enthusiasm and lunkheaded qualities, she’s also in a better position to see his strengths than Pete and Derrick, one of which comes up almost immediately. Randy’s sensitivity to the needs of deployed soldiers—a trait first explored in “Randy Get Your Gun”—means he knows where to buy everything on the list. Goji juice, black chewing gum, moose jerky? No problem: “Co-op, gun store, guy in a van behind the gun store.”
With these plots combined, the process of putting the base together is united in a finely executed montage. Pete pushes his troops to scrub the motor pool clean, so much so that he can eat off it, a threat he carries through with a chicken parmesan meal that still tastes like floor. Jill and Randy hit every location on the list, filling shopping carts and crates with supplies. (This sequence has the best Parker Young delivery of the episode, to the guy in the van: “We’re not paying you… for elk!”) And Cody polishes and irons every inch of his appearance, so determined to make a good impression that not even his salutes are reverent enough. It’s a sequence full of great beats for every single character, and a reminder of how Enlisted succeeds because it has so many effective pieces working together.
That unity is on display when the base comes together, all members of the cast clad in dress uniforms and lined up in formation. Everyone looks and feels like a real soldier, and the pride that Cody and Pete feel for their troops is palpable on screen. Will this be the grand victory they deserve? Given that it’s only halfway through the episode, the answer is no, as we learn (courtesy of the eternally annoying Lt. Schneeberger) that the general decided at the last minute to take some R&R at Sea World. Cody, crushed by being replaced with Shamu in the general’s affections, for the first time in life decides to throw out the rulebook and let the entire base do whatever the hell they want. (A decision aptly summarized: “You worked hard for no reason, so who really gives a crap today.”)
And from this chaos is birthed one of Enlisted’s finest achievements, as Randy missed the announcement of the general’s R&R and continues to guard the candy stash against a unit that feels it deserves the snacks. The running joke of JaMort playing Donkey Kong all episode pays off in a big way when they try to storm the storeroom, and the episode suddenly segues into real-life video game. If the stop-motion video at the end of “Rear D Day” was an impressive achievement, this one blows it completely out of the water, with the wonderful deployment of Parker Young’s ape dance and various sound effects that accompany the troops getting knocked down by barrels. Between these moments and the animations of Pete and Jill’s fantasies, it gives the show an added level of fun that works well in this universe.
For all the cartoonish aspects, the show never forgets its heart, which it captures here by exploring how truly betrayed Cody feels at Murray’s absence. While Cody’s been the one to pull Pete’s head out of his ass through most of the show, the roles are reversed here, as Pete points out how his drive to live up to Murray’s expectations caused the entire platoon—himself included—to feel proud of their post for the first time. (And in a nice reversal of their dynamic in the episode, he’s also able to appeal to Cody’s ego to motivate him into action.) When the red phone rings again, Cody’s ready to leap to the challenge, and his explosion at the slacking unit is a thing of beauty.
Everything is whipped into shape, with the exception of the candy stash. While Randy was able to fight off the unit, Jill’s combination of depression and infiltration skills led her to enter the storeroom and devour everything. Once the truth reaches her, another combination—that of panic and a sugar rush—leads to Cabral’s best comedic moment in the series, proposing the idea for Randy Candy and doing a desperate dance in the process. Randy, however, was raised with two brothers, and knew to keep a candy stash, allowing her to get the face time she so genuinely craves. Teaming these two dedicated soldiers up worked well for the episode and—especially given Randy’s sudden onset of emotions at the end of it—has a lot of future potential.
In the end, the inspection goes off without a hitch and everyone gets what they need out of it. (Well, except Pete’s trophy, but the laugh from Keith David is reward enough for the audience.) Jill gets her face time with the general, Cody gets his smile, and Schneeberger gets to swoop in and take the credit—credit that’s swiftly taken away once Derrick takes his revenge on Hardass Pete with an obscenity mowed into the base lawn. After an episode so full of wonderfully structured jokes, ending on one last crude joke about eating butt is just icing on the Gloria Esteflan. If “Prank War” was a slow start to Enlisted’s return, “The General Inspection” speeds the humor back up to near-perfect levels.
- Quick note: I watched this episode and the next two at the Austin Television Festival’s Enlisted screening with a full theater of fans. The entire room was full of energy, reacting to every single one of the comedic and emotional beats, and had a tremendous amount of affection for the showrunners and cast members in attendance. (And without spoiling anything, the last two episodes live up to the show’s highest standards.)
- Interesting bit of trivia from that screening: despite his terrific performances in both cases, Parker Young had no idea who Bill Cosby or Donkey Kong were prior to shooting this episode. Please join me in feeling old.
- The amount of gear that the unit collects is both hilarious and perfectly in character. Chubowski’s adopted a pipe, Park’s sporting kitty earrings, Robinson picked up a six-dollar fur coat (“My inspiration was a pimp that was a mermaid”), and Dobkiss has massive blinged-out dog tags. (Pete: “Blood type: Tiger?” Dobkiss: “It’s supposed to be Tigger! Cause everywhere I go I bounce on tail.” Robinson: “That went from cute to gross.”)
- The appearance of General Murray in real life creates a retcon from “Randy Get Your Gun,” where his bust was horribly disfigured from a barbecue accident. Either it’s a different General Murray, it was the statue that got melted and not the man, or the Army has some truly gifted plastic surgeons.
- Chubowski apparently lost his innocence to Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love.”
- Everything about Derrick’s soup fixation is a joy to witness. “Having a little pot of soup every now and then is the only thing that makes me happy. And by that I mean eases my depression into a bearable sadness.” “This is such a crock. And not the kind that you set on low so you can leave the house and come back ten hours later to a decadent orgy of flavor!”
- Pete uses his own “Army Strong” poster to motivate the troops, but didn’t go so far as to hang it up himself. (Randy: “He let me do it.”)
- Cody on Schneeberger: “That guy sucks.” Chubowski’s suggestion: “I wanna beat him with a bag of tangerines.” If Jill’s past is any indication, his coffin would be sticky.
- “Revenge is a dish best served cold. Much like a good gazpacho. I’m gonna gazpacho your ass.” “Is that even a threat?” “It is is in soup circles.”
- “Gumble’s got the grumbles!” “Never say that again.” “Sorry, when I get hungry I get adorable.” You sure do, JaMort.
- “You’re a really good soldier, Private Hill.” “I know.”