ENLISTED Creator Kevin Biegel Opens His Heart (Literally)

The comedy writer shares his near death experience and how it shaped his new show.

I'm friends with Kevin Biegel, the creator of Enlisted (and co-creator of Cougar Town) and I've always felt bad about one thing: while I'm a big fat load my heart is as healthy as a horse, and the fit and handsome Biegel had a major heart attack at age 32. It seems like out of the two of us I should have been the guy with a stent in his heart. 

But it happened to Kevin, and it's predictably had a huge impact on his life. He's still one of the nicest, funniest and most enthusiastic guys I know, and he still shovels an entire animal worth of BBQ into himself when we go to Texas for Butt-Numb-A-Thon, but this experience has really come through in his work. He wrote a guest editorial in the Hollywood Reporter where he talks about how his heart trouble - and the ensuing years of dealing with his brush with death - influenced Enlisted, and very specifically this week's episode. Here's a taste:

While writing the pilot for Enlisted, trying to figure out why it was honest to me was tricky. I have a lot of military among my family and friends, so that part felt OK. And it's about brothers -- very much my relationship with my two younger brothers Ryan and Robbie -- and that felt right, too. But "right" wasn't hitting that "I need to do this" switch in my brain. What made it really click was the moment I realized that Sgt. Pete Hill (Geoff Stults) could be traumatized by his deployment. He is carrying something with him, and that experience has changed him -- he's still very much in the process of figuring out how -- and his brothers who love him don't really know this "new" him and he isn't even fully comfortable with it. 

Sgt. Pete Hill is a soldier. I am a writer. I would never equate my experiences to anything a man or woman serving our country goes through. All I can do as a writer is try to write and deal with my experiences, and I was going through something difficult that didn't end because I stopped talking about it. In fact, the more I didn't talk about it the more it festered and got worse and ate at me and twisted the living out of the day.

This idea in mind, I talked to my friends who were or had been soldiers. Most of them said they were OK, that things were fine, that what they did was a job -- full of the joys and frustrations of any job -- and some missed it, and some didn't. But c'mon, they were doing fine. Fine.

And then after time, at the edges, over beers, over late-night emails, when it was little easier to open up and admit things, some of them told me they weren't doing so great. 

Some missed friends, some saw things they can't speak of … some don't know what it was they went through, they just want the memories of it to stop.

I guess I'm used to being a writer, and wearing my scars like they're experience points. Look at this crazy experience I had: I get to write about it! It's not the same for some of my friends who served -- you bury these memories, literally and figuratively. I got the distinct feeling from some that you don't admit this stuff, that it's hard; that some things, you just learn to live with. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Say it together, P-T-S-D! PTS, as the Pentagon wants to shorten it. PTS -- it's not a bad word! And in most cases, it does not present itself like the streotypical depiction you see in pop culture. In reality it's not the stereotypical depiction you see in pop culture. Guy in the front yard with a gun, yelling at the world. That exists, but so do countless men and women wrestling with the demons of memory, uncomfortable, feeling they can't shake it. Human beings responding to extreme circumstance. PTS does not make someone a ticking time bomb; it is a body dealing with a trauma -- it is not a reason to deny someone a job, you specific asshole in Florida, dammit, you know who you are. PTS PTSD PTS. Stop being scared, dammit! It's not a bad word it's something that people we know and love are dealing with and living with and stop treating them like lepers right damn now. Right damn now.

I really like Enlisted, and I'm not just saying that because Kevin's a friend (although I understand why you would think that, which is why I don't review the show for the site), and I think it's been getting stronger every week. I'm excited to see what the show has in store for us this week, and I hope that some of you guys who haven't given it a chance yet will read Kevin's very personal, very funny and very moving (hey, just like the show) editorial and tune in on Friday night.