Interview: Kevin Biegel from "Enlisted"
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.