Geoff Stults is sitting at the bar in the memorabilia-stuffed set for the Claymore (named after either a Scottish two-handled long sword or an anti-personnel mine), a watering hole serving the soldiers of Florida Army base Fort McGee in the Fox comedy “Enlisted,” premiering Friday, Jan. 10.
He plays Staff Sgt. Pete Hill, a soldier who was on the fast track until a mistake overseas got him sent stateside to Fort McGee, where his younger brothers, Derrick (Chris Lowell) and Randy (Parker Young), are also stationed.
The Hill brothers serve in the Rear Detachment (Rear D) unit, composed of soldiers left behind when others deployed. They mow lawns, sort mail, maintain equipment and find lost dogs. But their main job is to look after the families of deployed troops, which can be emotionally taxing.
So Rear D sometimes cuts the tension with some hijinks. On this particular day, Randy is directing a shoot for an alleged “safety video” in which hefty Cpl. Chubowski (Mel Rodriguez) is the ball in a game of bowling, which involves him belly-flopping onto a greased floor and crashing into empty gas cans.
Although Pete is initially skeptical, eventually he joins in the fun.
After appearing with older sibling George Stults on The WB’s long-running “7th Heaven,” the two-years-younger Stults is enjoying finally being on the top of the heap, both in the military and family senses.
“I’ve never been a big brother before,” he tells Zap2it, “and with these guys, I’m definitely the big brother, which is quite interesting. I just like these guys. Just having a relationship with Chris and Parker, it’s fun. I wish I’d had four more brothers.
“My real brother’s my best friend.”
Created by Kevin Biegel (“Scrubs,” “Cougar Town”), who executive produces with Mike Royce (“Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Men of a Certain Age”) — and also starring Keith David and Angelique Cabral — the single-camera “Enlisted” is at once irreverent and respectful of the reality of the characters’ situation.
“We’ve got friends and family who do this job,” says Biegel, sitting in a booth with Royce. “It’s a job. Some of them don’t like it; some of them love it. Some of them, it’s the best choice they ever made; some of them question the choice every day. They’re human beings.
“After a decade and a half of being at active war, not to be on a soapbox, but it’s about time to say, ‘Hey, there’s a giant contingent of people in this country who do a job day in and day out, and you never hear about it.
“If you’re not from the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, you have [military service] in your background, so it seems like a silly thing not to write about.”
But Biegel emphasizes that this is not a parody.
“This show is 100 percent respectful,” he says. “It’s not a spoof. It’s not a satire. It’s just a workplace comedy. But the thing we found out — we’re incredibly lucky — is that you don’t have to manufacture the drama here. It’s inherent in the situation.
“The show isn’t going to be just wacky and crazy. I cut my teeth at ‘Scrubs.’ We could do crazy, silly stuff and then incredibly heartwarming stuff.”
Says Stults, “I wanted to do a comedy. I’d been actively looking for a comedy. I wanted to do one that was different. Nothing against them, but I wasn’t interested in just your normal sitcom, boy meets girl.”
At that moment, Young runs in, having just remembered what his most fun moment filming has been. It involves being naked and wearing some, er, protective gear. Then he runs off again.
“He didn’t do that to be funny,” says Stults. “He was being sincere. He’s the most earnest, genuine, sincere person. I met his mom today; I met his brother. He’s just a great kid.”
Stults and his fellow cast members even went to boot camp on a real base, where few people knew that they weren’t just new recruits.
“It wasn’t a real basic training,” says Stults, “but we had midnight bed checks; we had people screaming at us, ripping our sheets off. We were getting yelled at and made to work out late at night, and run, and do PT (physical training). We were leading a company in running three miles in the morning. They just threw us in the ranks.
“There were thousands of people dressed like this” — he points to his camouflage uniform — “and we’re acting like this. If somebody who outranked us came by, we were expected to salute.”
At few minutes later, Lowell comes by, throws an arm around Stults’ neck, plants a kiss on his check and moves on.
“Love you too, buddy,” Stults calls after him. “He gives the best wet kisses.”
Told subsequently that Stults said that, Lowell smiles and replies, “Well, obviously. That goes without saying.”