Critic’s Pick: TV Picks: ‘Enlisted,’ ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,’ ‘Halt and Catch Fire’
“Enlisted” (Fox, Sundays). Kevin Biegel’s sweet, old-school stateside service comedy, though already canceled, is not quite dead quite yet. Like a spirit suspended between two worlds, it returns to the air this week to conclude its unfinished business: the airing of four final unseen episodes, Sundays at 7 p.m. throughout June. (A better, more appropriate, time, perhaps, than its previous Friday slot; notwithstanding the odd poop joke, it’s a family show -- by Fox standards, it’s “The Sound of Music.”) Some will note, possibly with a sense of satisfaction, that this event follows by days the announcement of network entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly’s own departure. But it is safe to say that these things are unrelated, except perhaps in the sense that “Enlisted,” which Reilly signed off on, was not a hit. (So salute him, really.)
I like “Enlisted,” a well-written and consistently funny “Bad News Bears” comedy focusing on three brothers of different stripes serving together in a bottom-of-the-barrel Florida-based “rear deployment unit.” (“Yes, we’re soldiers” is its motto.) There’s something bold in its embrace of classic comic verities and relationships: siblings growing closer, becoming better people, as they put scheming rivals and troublesome superiors temporarily in their place. (They’re losers, but they’re winners -- you know the drill.) It’s sentimental without being mawkish, and not afraid to get a little weird, on the one hand, or a little serious, on the other. Though the series is worth watching just for Keith David’s oddball-with-authority Sgt. Major, a kind of Zen master in camo, its cast is good from top to bottom and left to right. It’s also just likable, and in serving military families -- if serving is not too deliberate a word -- it expresses our general impulse to honor the troops without celebrating war. (It honors them in part by treating their concerns with comedy, rather than melodrama.) This last bouquet of episodes will not amount to closure for fans, surely, nor for Biegel, who worked hard to keep the show going, with the usual social-media bulletins and hector-the-network campaigns, and whose expressed hope is that it finds a home elsewhere. But it’s something! Live in the moment, people! All month!
“2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony” (HBO, Saturday). I am not much one for awards, which by their nature ignore more good work and workers, art and artists, than they honor; and there is something about the words Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that strikes me nearly as an oxymoron, or at least out of the polymorphous spirit of pop. In spite of that, and braving fears of the lordly self-congratulation that often attends such events, and to which the Rock Hall induction ceremony is no stranger, I found myself watching and often sleeve-to-eyes moved by this ceremony-with-music, taped in April and airing Saturday on HBO. (In bootlegged bits and pieces, it has already been much YouTubed.)
The 25-year recording history required for induction means that even the youngest bands here have history, often complicated; but it also means that something of a long view may have been acquired, some wisdom earned, some regrets processed. It reminds you that, eventual superpopstardom notwithstanding, music-making almost always begins in a search for self-definition and survival, in making a place with like-minded souls. “Real bands,” says Bruce Springsteen in inducting the E-Street Band, “are made primarily from the neighborhood, from a real time and a real place that exists for a little while and then changes and is gone forever; they’re made from the same circumstances, the same needs, the same hungers, culture, from the same need of a love to cover over hurt, they’re forged in the search for something more promising than what you were born into.”
Springsteen’s new songs may blur in comparison to his old, but he remains rock’s greatest rhetorician, storyteller and comedian; his 16-minute induction speech is almost a novella, a picture of all you want to believe about what it means to be in a band, or any like team, without skirting the dark times. Inductees and inductors alike -- Hall and Oates, Cat Stevens, Peter Gabriel, Linda Ronstadt, KISS and Nirvana, among the former, Questlove, Tom Morello and Michael Stipe among the latter -- testify to a chain of influence, of community and continuity and change. And the Nirvana reunion set that closes the program, with Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, St. Vincent and Lorde enlisted to sub for Kurt Cobain, makes it brilliantly explicit.
“Halt and Catch Fire” (AMC, Sundays). With “Mad Men” rounding third and heading for home, thence to exit the stadium completely, AMC fields another period business drama in which people with messy lives and murky pasts come together to make something big. It’s 1983, and Lee Pace (actually described as “damaged goods”) is its Don Draper, a man, a salesman, who alights at a Dallas software company in the days of Tandy and Texas Instruments. Scoot McNairy, whose name is pleasant to say aloud, is the dead-inside engineer he enlists to reverse engineer a PC -- the Woz to his Jobs, or perhaps (anticipating the John Hughes reference in the next sentence below) the Jon Cryer to his Andrew McCarthy, or even the Rust Cohle to his Martin Hart. Joining them will be Mackenzie Davis, looking (and acting a little) like Mary Stuart Masterson in “Some Kind of Wonderful,” four years before that movie came out; but she is a woman of the future, who, even from 1983, can see that the coming thing will be computers “connected together across one network with a standard protocol.”
Co-creator (with Christopher C. Rogers) Christopher Cantwell reportedly has personal (childhood) experience of the place, time and milieu, so I’m going to assume that everything here to do with computers and all that stuff inside them is technically accurate and possible, as unlikely as some of it seems. With Toby Huss, who was Artie the World’s Strongest Man on “The Adventures of Pete and Pete,” as the man whose company Pace virtually hijacks. Glass bricks and synth-pop, Centipede and Speak & Spell set the stage, and the pilot gets a little sweaty here and there in a “St. Elmo’s Fire” kind of way, without making too much of a fetish of the era. Only one episode was sent out for review (rare for a cable series, which some might call suggestive of trouble), but it seems promising, and it is nice to have a new, character-driven drama that doesn’t depend on murder. (But skip the first minute to spare yourself an armadillo sacrificed for the sake of a joke.)
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