Emmy-winner Keith David remembers after the movie Platoon hit theaters two veterans approached him on separate days to say they “knew him” based on his performance in the film.
The impact of those statements wasn’t lost on David, a gifted actor who has bounced between television, movies and the stage for decades. Media images of soldiers leave a mark on the culture at large.
Now, David can be seen as Command Sergeant Major Donald Cody on the new Fox comedy Enlisted. The show’s creator, Kevin Beigel, comes from a military family and wanted to fuse a standard situation comedy with a tribute to a group of bumbling but good-hearted stateside soldiers.
That mattered to David, an admirer of the men and women of the U.S. military.
The series, which airs at 9 p.m. EST Friday nights on Fox, follows soldiers stationed at a small Florida Army post. They serve on a Rear Detachment unit working under the supervision of David’s stern but fair character.
“Not everybody is on the front line. Someone has to run the business of the Army,” David says of the show’s setup.
The humor is rat-a-tat-tat fast, but between the yuks are serious themes about sacrifice, loss and serving the families of those in harm’s way.
“I really love stories about sons and fathers of sons … men coming of age,” David says. “I don’t think we have enough male mentoring in our society, something that helps us look at ourselves to be better men. I like that.”
David did his homework before stepping in front of the camera once more. He spent time at Fort Bliss and learned firsthand from Sgt. Majors about their role. He found they act like the head of a large family, making sure everyone’s needs are met.
Real military members have been telling David how much they appreciate the show, which debuted last month. The series strives to get the minor details of military life right. Beigel apologized the press when the show’s pilot missed some of those details. Since then, more military advisers have joined the payroll to ensure accuracy.
David, who will star in the play Paul Robeson starting March 12 at the Ebony Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles, says Enlisted can tackle even meatier themes should it earn a second or even third season.
So far, Staff Sergeant Pete Hill (Geoff Stults) has dealt with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as the guilt that comes with no longer fighting alongside his fellow soldiers.
David connects the work he does on the show to his time reading Greek plays on military bases around the country.
“These plays were written to give the solders a chance to re-integrate into society, to show society what they went through in the war and understand, ‘how do we come back together?'” he says. “Part of the function of ‘Enlisted’ is giving us a glimpse into that.”