Interview: Kevin Biegel from "Enlisted"

Photo Credit: Photo by Greg Gayne – © 2013 - Fox Broadcasting Company
January 30th, 2014

Kevin Biegel has been on the right side of comedy for a‭ ‬while now as a writer and co-producer on the very successful comedy TV show‭ ‬“Scrubs‭”‬,‭ ‬and as a writer and creator of one of TV‭’‬s biggest shows‭ ‬“Cougar Town‭”‬.‭ ‬It is safe to say he knows what he is doing in the comedy world.‭ ‬With that said,‭ ‬Kevin has recently released his new show‭ ‬“Enlisted‭”‬ which he created and serves as executive producer.‭ ‬Kevin was nice enough to tell us here at Movie Room Reviews all about his new show and his life as a writer.‭ 

Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews:‭ ‬Let's talk about this new show‭ ‬“Enlisted‭”‬ and you're the creator and executive producer.‭ ‬Could you tell our audience,‭ ‬for those people that don't know about it,‭ ‬can you tell‭ ‬them what the show is all about‭?‬

Kevin Biegel:‭ ‬It's about three brothers from a military family.‭ ‬Their dad served and was killed in action.‭ ‬And they are now serving together in the army in a small kind of fictional post in Florida.‭ ‬And the oldest brother Pete is back from a deployment and his two younger brothers are in his platoon.‭ ‬And they're all in the same kind of Rear D unit.‭ ‬He's now kind of taking on looking out for them.‭ ‬But he's also kind of been brought there by a Command Sergeant Major,‭ ‬who's played by Keith David who basically grew up and served with their father and has kind of been a father figure to them.‭ ‬He's kind of been looking out for them and trying to pull‭ ‬the strings behind the curtain a little bit,‭ ‬to take care of these three guys.‭

MRR:‭ ‬I watched the first three episodes and it was funny because,‭ ‬as I was watching it,‭ ‬I hadn't read about you or your history yet.‭ ‬And when I was watching it I was like,‭ "‬Wow.‭ ‬This show seems a lot like Scrubs for some reason.‭"

Kevin Biegel:‭ ‬Very obvious reason.‭

MRR:‭ ‬And I couldn't place it.‭ ‬I think it was the comedy style and the way the scenes cut away from each other.‭ ‬When I read that you were a writer on Scrubs,‭ ‬and then‭ ‬for Cougar Town now.‭ ‬I started laughing and thought‭ "‬Well,‭ ‬I was right.‭"

Kevin Biegel:‭ ‬That's funny.‭ ‬The guy that created Scrubs,‭ ‬Bill Lawrence,‭ ‬Bill and I created Cougar Town together.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬how will fans of those two shows like this show‭?

Kevin Biegel:‭ ‬I think they'd like it.‭ ‬I think the Scrubs fans definitely,‭ ‬there's an entry point where you can go,‭ ‬okay,‭ ‬it's a bunch of people who live in a very specific workplace and a lot of the character situations are pretty universal.‭ ‬A lot of the specific situations are very specific to that workplace.‭ ‬That was pretty much what Scrubs was.‭ ‬Also the kind of humor of having kind of a little work family around you and finding out ways to care about each other and people you wouldn't think you'd normally hang‭ ‬out with,‭ ‬soon become the best friends that you have.‭ ‬That's kind of universal to Scrubs and Cougar Town.‭ ‬And I also think more than that,‭ ‬there's a sweetness behind a lot it,‭ ‬for lack of a better term,‭ ‬a sincerity.‭ ‬Cougar Town and Scrubs,‭ ‬I wouldn't call them sarcastic shows or snarky shows.‭ ‬They're not trying to poke fun at things.‭ ‬They're not trying to say‭ "‬Oh,‭ ‬this sucks.‭" ‬They're not trying to be snobby.‭ ‬They're just trying to be these big inviting shows,‭ ‬and I think this one is too.‭

‬I think the challenge on this one was to make it a big inviting show and ultimately kind of a joyous show.‭ ‬But to set it in a world where people who aren't from this world,‭ ‬people who don't know the military saying‭ "‬Oh,‭ ‬there could be fun to be had in this world.‭ ‬I thought it was all‭ ‬100%‭ ‬drama and seriousness.‭" ‬Of course,‭ ‬it is.‭ ‬Of course that's a giant,‭ ‬giant,‭ ‬huge part of it.‭ ‬I have a lot of family that did this job and they're human beings too,‭ ‬and they laugh at stuff and sometimes the humor is like the most amazing‭ ‬gallows humor you've ever heard in your life.‭ ‬And that to me,‭ ‬that's where good characters and stories come from.‭ ‬Like where you can have comedy but also very very serious and heavy situations and you can write to both.‭ ‬That was something,‭ ‬especially like‭ ‬on Scrubs,‭ ‬that we did all the time.‭ ‬Where we'd be kind of goofy and then we'd just have funny stuff.‭ ‬And then we'd also have something very serious going along with it.‭

MRR:‭ ‬And that was actually my next question.‭ ‬Why did you decide to write a comedy about the military‭? ‬It seems like you pretty much explained it right there.‭

Kevin Biegel:‭ ‬At the end of the day,‭ ‬I want people to enjoy it and laugh.‭ ‬I want them to care about the people on the show.‭ ‬It's tough because comedy can mean a lot of different things.‭ ‬Some people you say comedy and they think,‭ ‬oh it's just like rapid fire jokes and you don't really care about the characters and that's it.‭ ‬And to me,‭ ‬I like comedies where sometimes there's heavier stuff,‭ ‬and it slows down and it's not afraid to be even sad sometimes and real.‭ ‬That to me is more rewarding as a program,‭ ‬just a personal taste.‭ ‬And that,‭ ‬to me again,‭ ‬it's like well if you're trying to figure out a show in a world to set people in.‭ ‬If you say,‭ "‬okay,‭ ‬now we're going to do a show about a bunch of people that work at a bar‭"‬.‭ ‬That's fine and you can do it.‭

‬Obviously,‭ ‬Cheers was one of the best shows of all time when they did it.‭ ‬But you have to figure out ways and be clever and figure out why people should care about the characters.‭ ‬Why this‭ ‬person's journey,‭ ‬and this person's drive matters and why what they're feeling can be universal to anybody.‭ ‬And to me,‭ ‬at least,‭ ‬I think it's because of the little personal connection I had,‭ ‬I knew that if you said the word‭ '‬soldier‭' ‬it means something automatically.‭ ‬Most sensible people I would say,‭ ‬have an immediate emotional reaction to that word and associate a lot of feelings with that word and the idea of that and the world itself around‭ "‬soldiering.‭" ‬And as a writer,‭ ‬that's a really powerful thing because it allows you to have a bit of an emotional shorthand.‭ ‬It's like,‭ ‬even in the pilot,‭ ‬on other shows you couldn't really do,‭ ‬I don't think,‭ ‬the little tiny moment of Pete at the bar and he sees the remembrance wall there‭ '‬cause it wouldn't make sense‭ ‬in other shows.‭ ‬And here,‭ ‬it's like‭ "‬Well,‭ ‬no.‭ ‬That's an organic part of the world and‭ ‬its acknowledging death right from the very first episode,‭ ‬there's reality here.‭"

MRR:‭ ‬You mentioned the characters in the show being so important.‭ ‬Let's talk about the cast of the show.‭ ‬Geoff Stults is the main character,‭ ‬and he plays one of the brothers,‭ ‬Pete Hill,‭ ‬and people remember him from a number of shows and films like J.‭ ‬Edgar.‭ ‬If you could,‭ ‬tell us about the people on the show and how they got involved.‭

Kevin Biegel:‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬Geoff is amazing.‭ ‬The guy is just...‭ ‬Honestly,‭ ‬I cannot say enough good things about him from an acting standpoint and just from a human being standpoint.‭ ‬He is giving,‭ ‬kind,‭ ‬down to earth,‭ ‬makes fun of himself.‭ ‬It's crazy.‭ ‬Usually,‭ ‬you see‭ ‬a guy that good looking,‭ ‬you're like,‭ "‬This guy must be a jerk.‭"

[‬laughter‭]

‬And he's the total opposite,‭ ‬and he just wants everyone to be happy.‭ ‬He wants everyone just to be cool.‭ ‬He wants everyone to get along,‭ ‬and he puts the work in to make sure that‭ ‬happens.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬early on,‭ ‬basically the hardest thing when we're casting a show is trying to figure out,‭ "‬Okay,‭ ‬we need to find three brothers‭ '‬cause the whole crux of the show is three brothers.‭ ‬We need to find three actors who,‭ ‬in the span of‭ ‬20‭ ‬minutes...‭ ‬Because you figure we have a pilot here with‭ ‬23‭ ‬minutes to tell the story.‭ ‬We have to make the audience believe in that amount of time that these three brothers have known each other their entire lives and that they have a sense of history and that they've been listening to each other's stories and each other's bull%$‭&‬#‭ ‬for‭ ‬30‭ ‬years.‭ ‬You have to believe that there's a relationship there.‭ ‬And also it doesn't hurt if they sort of look sort of similar.‭ ‬They don't have to look exactly the same,‭ ‬but you wanna kind of believe that this is really a family,‭ ‬that they're three blood brothers.‭

‬So,‭ ‬early on in this whole process,‭ ‬we basically found Geoff and Geoff had a deal with the studio at the time.‭ ‬We were like,‭ "‬This guy could be good.‭" ‬And we were thinking,‭ ‬literally,‭ ‬about him and we said‭ "‬if we could get Geoff for this,‭ ‬it's perfect.‭" ‬He's charismatic,‭ ‬and he can be a leading man.‭ ‬He can be kind of a straight man,‭ ‬but he also can be kind of heroic,‭ ‬and he's an amazing actor so he can carry the emotional stuff.‭ ‬He's really funny too.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬he was kind of like the rock.‭ ‬He was the foundation,‭ ‬and we started building around him.‭ ‬And we read a lot of different actors,‭ ‬a lot,‭ ‬hundreds of different actors for the two roles of his brothers.‭ ‬And the great thing,‭ ‬and all‭ ‬credit goes to Geoff,‭ ‬is that every single time we did it,‭ ‬Geoff was always in the room.‭ ‬He was always there reading with the people.‭ ‬It wasn't someone just randomly coming in and they would talk to somebody,‭ ‬talk to a camera.‭ ‬Geoff was right there interacting with them‭ '‬cause we wanted to get a sense of them connecting and you can't do that over videotape.‭ ‬You have to be there.‭ ‬Having that one-on-one vetting process basically,‭ ‬you really could see who Geoff clicked with.‭ ‬And Parker,‭ ‬I think,‭ ‬came in first,‭ ‬and immediately,‭ ‬it was just like,‭ "‬Oh great.‭ ‬These guys just work‭! ‬This seems right‭!"

‬And then the hardest one to find was honestly was Chris Lowell's character,‭ ‬Derrick,‭ ‬because it's a tricky thing.‭ ‬He needs all of the sarcasm and be like Eeyore,‭ ‬kind‭ ‬of grumpy.‭ ‬He probably is the most emotional one out of all of them.‭ ‬He just hides it really deep,‭ ‬and he's probably the most troubled one out of all of them.‭ ‬He just stuffs it way down and you have to have somebody that can convey that.‭ ‬We were lookin‭' ‬and lookin‭' ‬and then,‭ ‬again,‭ ‬it was just one of these things.‭ ‬He comes in,‭ ‬he sits down and he starts talking and I was like,‭ "‬Holy s‭&*‬%$‭! ‬This is perfect.‭" ‬So we just got incredibly lucky.‭ ‬And the nice thing is,‭ ‬that immediately after everyone got cast they just...‭ ‬I said this before and it's true.‭ ‬They just turned into the characters.‭ ‬Geoff,‭ ‬even though Geoff's not an oldest brother,‭ ‬he kind of assumed the role of the oldest brother.‭ ‬It helped because he's been on a lot of shows before.‭ ‬He's like,‭ "‬I'll help you guys through this process and here's what you have to look forward to.‭" ‬Even though Parker's an older brother in real life,‭ ‬Parker turned into the youngest brother who's like‭ "‬Okay,‭ ‬Geoff,‭ ‬tell me what to do‭! ‬Where do I go‭? ‬Let's go over to your house and hang out.‭"

[‬laughter‭]

‬And then Chris Lowell,‭ ‬who has obviously done a ton of stuff,‭ ‬he would just be the guy who kinda rolls his eyes at both of them like,‭ "‬You guys are idiots‭!" ‬But then Chris totally wanted to hang out with them all the time.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬it was great.‭ ‬So that was‭ ‬for the‭ ‬three brothers.

MRR:‭ ‬Tell me about veteran actor Keith David and his role on the show.

Kevin Biegel:‭ ‬As‭ ‬for Keith David‭’‬s role,‭ ‬that was the easiest thing in the world because,‭ ‬literally,‭ ‬as I was writing a pilot he was the one actor I had in my head.‭ ‬I'm like,‭ "‬Okay,‭ ‬I'm writing this role and it's for Keith David.‭" '‬Cause I'm a giant Keith David fan.‭ ‬He's one of my favorite actors.‭ ‬He's been in a million things.‭ ‬He's so great.‭ ‬Hell,‭ ‬he's Childs from The Thing‭! ‬And he was in Platoon.‭ ‬He's so good and he can sing‭! ‬So,‭ ‬we finished the script,‭ ‬and we sent it to him and he immediately said,‭ "‬Yes.‭" ‬I was like‭ "‬This is great‭!" ‬So Keith was like a slam dunk.‭

MRR:‭ ‬What about Some of the women on the show‭?

Kevin Biegel:‭ ‬As far as Angelique Cabral who plays Sergeant Perez,‭ ‬that was one of those things where we had this very specific type in our heads.‭ ‬There's two types of females you see on TV a lot.‭ ‬One type she's like,‭ "‬She's so neurotic‭! ‬She's carrying her coffee and her Blackberry and her iPad,‭ ‬and her life is out of control‭! ‬And she doesn't know what's up from down,‭ ‬and she's trying to figure out relationships.‭" ‬It's like,‭ ‬okay,‭ ‬we don't need to do that again.‭ ‬There's also,‭ ‬as far as military shows,‭ ‬even though it was‭ ‬s good movie and a good show with the whole Private Benjamin model,‭ ‬where she's kinda like‭ "‬I shouldn't be here.‭" ‬Like that whole thing and my idea was like,‭ ‬let's not do that.‭ ‬Let's have her be super confident but not so confident that she can't even crack a joke.‭ ‬Have her be funny and have her just be better at her job than this guy that we kinda bring on the show who's like the greatest soldier here.‭ ‬Have her be super confident and composed and assured of herself and if we show any kind of cracks in that,‭ ‬let's make the natural character thing come out and not just like from the get go try to paint her as like a stereotype,‭ ‬and it was really kinda cool.‭ '‬Cause Angelique came in and just aggressively became that person and made the role a hundred times better than it was.‭

‬I mean,‭ ‬in the pilot there wasn't much honestly,‭ ‬and we had to cut stuff just for time.‭ ‬But as the show went on,‭ ‬it became a mission to go,‭ ‬okay,‭ ‬we have to,‭ ‬she's the main female on the show.‭ ‬We have to make sure right from the get go,‭ ‬she's a real character and she's not just like in the corner wagging her finger at scenes going like,‭ "‬You guys are crazy.‭" [‬chuckle‭] ‬That's not good.‭ ‬Then again,‭ ‬it's Angelique,‭ ‬all credit to her,‭ ‬she just jumped into it.‭ ‬All the actors kind of went on a very mini bootcamp.‭ ‬It's a total drop in the bucket,‭ ‬it was like four days,‭ ‬but it was four days of at least not being pampered.‭ ‬It was four days of getting their butts kicked a little bit and it changed,‭ ‬at least for Angelique,‭ ‬I know for the other one's as well,‭ ‬but especially for her,‭ ‬I think it totally changed who she is as a person and how she sees herself and that‭ ‬100‭ ‬percent went into her character.‭

MRR:‭ ‬You write for Cougar Town and now for Enlisted.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬you've written for a lot of women.‭ ‬Are they are harder to write for than men‭?

Kevin Biegel:‭ ‬No.‭ ‬I mean,‭ ‬I don't think so.‭ ‬I think it's just kinda character to character.‭ ‬I think as long as there's something,‭ ‬as long as you can kind of figure out what this person wants,‭ ‬what their goal is,‭ ‬what they‭'‬re going after in an individual scene and you're having a sense of what they're attitude is about certain things and even more than that.‭ ‬I've been lucky enough and fortunate enough to have a lot of really great women in my life.‭ ‬My mom,‭ ‬my wife,‭ ‬my sister,‭ ‬and they're huge influences on all this stuff.‭ ‬And they're some of the funniest people I know and they can give me s%‭&‬#‭ ‬like at a moment's notice,‭ ‬and they're hilarious and they've all put up with a lot of stuff.‭ ‬My mom was a teacher for‭ ‬30‭ ‬years,‭ ‬Chicago,‭ ‬then in Florida,‭ ‬and she's a ball buster,‭ ‬but she'll cackle,‭ ‬and she'll make everyone in the room laugh.‭ ‬I've had great models and templates to kind of write off of and also I've been lucky enough to work with really great actors,‭ ‬actresses.‭ ‬Everyone from Sarah Chalke in Scrubs,‭ ‬to Courtney and all the girls at Cougar Town and now to Angelique and the girls in the platoon here.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Do you ever write anything from your real life experiences‭? '‬Cause I enjoyed the prank episode and I wanna know if you threw any pranks in there from your real life‭?

Kevin Biegel:‭ ‬There are tons.‭ ‬The emotional reality of it for me is the brothers,‭ ‬their relationship.‭ ‬That's my relationship with my two younger brothers.‭ ‬Like dude,‭ ‬that's where the show came from,‭ ‬that's why it was created,‭ ‬and‭ ‬it still is kind of the driving engine behind a lot of the show.‭ ‬There's minor things even from throwaway lines and jokes of things that have happened in our real life too.‭ ‬Like in the prank episode,‭ ‬Randy says at one point,‭ ‬he would replace your suntan lotion with mayonnaise,‭ ‬like that's something we did growing up,‭ ‬and we would mess with each other.‭ ‬There's so much stuff in there that's real and happened,‭ ‬to me and my brothers.‭ ‬But also the great thing is there's a really great writing staff on this show and,‭ ‬from day one,‭ ‬we were pretty adamant that this isn't going to be some kind of vanity thing where it's like,‭ "‬Only stories that really happened to me.‭" ‬Like hell no.‭ ‬Like this is from everybody.‭

‬So,‭ ‬everyone's contributing and then the actors contributed as well.‭ ‬And then to be honest,‭ ‬we put a lot of time and effort into and still do into talking to military folk.‭ ‬I talk to a ton of my friends who served and some still serve and before the show even went,‭ ‬I said,‭ "‬Okay,‭ ‬guys.‭ ‬Here's what I'm thinking about doing...‭ " ‬and I would just pepper them with questions and they would write me back these long great responses,‭ ‬and then off of those responses I'd write more questions.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬when production had started,‭ ‬we had this‭ ‬100-something page book of just emails from all my knucklehead buddies telling me about their experiences,‭ ‬and it was a ton of stuff in there that made it into the show.‭ ‬And then we had great military consultants,‭ ‬and we talked to them about a lot of this stuff and‭ ‬then they just went off on the prank thing.‭ ‬They were like,‭ "‬Oh we did this,‭ ‬and we did this,‭ ‬and we did this...‭ " ‬So,‭ ‬I think every single thing that we mentioned,‭ ‬I know for a fact,‭ ‬every single thing we mentioned in that prank episode is something that‭ ‬someone who was in the military that was either one of my friends or our consultants or one of the friends or family of one of the writer's actually did.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬it's all,‭ ‬every single thing was based on something real,‭ ‬even the porta-potty thing.‭

[‬laughter‭]

‬Although we don't know if anyone ever put a command sergeant major in a porta-potty,‭ ‬but putting somebody else in it,‭ ‬like a private in it and chucking it out in the middle of nowhere,‭ ‬it totally happened.‭

[laughter‭]

MRR:‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬thanks so much for talking with me Kevin.‭ ‬When and where can people see the show‭?

Kevin Biegel:‭ ‬The show is on,‭ ‬now we're on Friday nights at‭ ‬9‭ ‬o'clock,‭ ‬right after Bones on Fox,‭ ‬8‭ ‬Central.‭ ‬And this week,‭ ‬this Friday‭ (‬January‭ ‬31‭) ‬there's a new one,‭ ‬the shows are a little out of‭ ‬order and because there's a Super Bowl this weekend obviously,‭ ‬so Fox is airing an episode that has a football element to it,‭ ‬so they're airing that one.‭ ‬It's like the ninth episode,‭ ‬the only weird thing in it is Chris Lowell's character now has a girlfriend,‭ ‬like out of nowhere,‭ ‬but if you've seen the episodes before then they meet and they kind of fall for each other,‭ ‬but that should be pretty easy for people to pick up.‭ ‬But yes,‭ ‬it's on Friday nights on Fox after Bones at‭ ‬9‭ ‬o'clock and at‭ ‬8‭ ‬Central.‭ ‬I think we're going to be on next Friday as well with the first week of the Olympics,‭ ‬and then we're going to go on repeats for two weeks,‭ ‬because we'll be against the Olympics and then we're going to come back after that.‭

MRR:‭ ‬Cool.‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬thank you so much for talking with me today.‭

‬‬Kevin Biegel:‭ ‬Of course.‭ ‬It's great talking to you.‭