Buena Vista // 2007 // 552 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // July 2nd, 2008
The army has its code...the wives have their own.
Premiering in June 2008 on Lifetime, Army Wives (based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Tonya Biank) scored the largest debut ratings in that channel's 24-year history. As the series returns for a second year, Army Wives' first season is coming to DVD.
Army Wives is the story of the following five families, who all live on an army post near Charleston, South Carolina:
Roxy (Sally Pressman) is a free-spirited bartender who impulsively married the young Pfc. Trevor LeBlanc (Drew Fuller, Charmed) after only knowing him for a few days.
Claudia Joy (Kim Delaney, NYPD Blue) is raising two teenage daughters and continues fighting for her husband Michael (Brian McNamara, Billionaire Boys Club) to get a promotion to brigadier general, even after he was passed over.
Pamela (Brigid Brannagh) is also raising two children and is pregnant with twins -- though she is only acting as a surrogate for a wealthy couple. Pamela's husband Chase (Jeremy Davidson) is training to become a member of Delta Force, which leaves little time for romance in the relationship.
Denise (Catherine Bell, JAG), whose husband, Maj. Frank Sherwood (Terry Serpico), is shipped off to Iraq, is left to at the mercy of her moody and abusive teenage son, Jeremy (Rochard Bryant).
Lastly, there is Dr. Roland Burton (Sterling K. Brown) who, while technically a husband, seems to be an honorary member of the army wives club. Roland's wife, Joan (Wendy Davis), is a lieutenant colonel, who recently returned from Afghanistan. Though Roland is a caring, supportive husband, he finds himself struggling to care for her debilitating battle-induced fatigue.
The first season of Army Wives contains 13 episodes spread over three discs. Those episodes include:
* "A Tribe is Born"
* "After Birth"
* "The Art of Seperation"
* "One of Our Own"
* "Independence Day"
* "Who We Are"
* "Hail and Farewell"
* "Only the Lonely"
* "Nobody's Perfect"
* "Dirty Laundry"
* "Truth and Consequences"
* "Rules of Engagement"
* "Goodbye Stranger"
Before staring the first season of Army Wives, my wife and I had varying -- and equally inaccurate -- expectations of the series. Mine were low. For some reason I couldn't quite verbalize, I was prejudiced again Lifetime, perhaps only because I couldn't think of any previous original programming that aired on their channel. My wife, on the other hand, was excited. The print ads she had seen for the show had given her the impression that Army Wives was going to be smarmy and salacious -- and might even serve as a substitute for Desperate Housewives, which is in between seasons.
Now, after finishing off the first season...I'm slightly impressed; my wife is slightly disappointed. This is because Army Wives is an affecting, well-made drama that proves to be far more thoughtful than sensationalistic. This isn't to say the show isn't melodramatic. There's plenty of theatrics and raw emotion here, but no one gets chained up in the basement, and no one is shot at the supermarket. And that's a good thing.
What it most intriguing about the show -- for me, at least, who has never been in the army, never considered joining the army, and doesn't have any close friends in the army -- is the insight it provides about life in the military and, to be more specific, on an army base.
One of my biggest complaints with HBO's Big Love is that the show only exhibits a superficial knowledge of fundamentalist Mormonism, a topic I had been eager to learn more about. Instead, the show's main characters exhibited a behavior that was practically secular, with the notable exception of the multiple wives. On Army Wives, the army culture and America's two concurrent wars permeate nearly every storyline.
There are newly enlisted and career servicemen; there are those who are just returning from, or departing to, Iraq and Afghanistan; and there are wives who are bored, scared, and lonely. Mixed in with all this is a pronounced love/hate relationship for the army, one that is rarely depicted in the national media. In particular, the spouses of those who are overseas -- or who have returned in an injured state -- have complicated feelings for the armed services.
One of the most effective subplots is Roland's relationship with his wife Joan after she returns from Afghanistan. After years fighting terrorists in a foreign land, it is no surprise Joan has trouble adjusting to life on a sedate military base. What successfully elevates the story, though, is the gender reversal, which is novel in narrative fiction, but is probably becoming less and less unusual in the real world. And much credit must go to Sterling K. Brown. Roland could have easily been caricatured as a sissy, but Brown plays him as a strong man, and the story is all the more moving for it.
But really, nearly all of the stories are effective, and the show makes few missteps. The only real liability is the occasional overly melodramatic storyline, performance, or music cue (this is Lifetime, after all). That said, Army Wives is a show that would be, and should be, enjoyed by nearly everyone, not just those who have an interest in the military.
In addition to a crackin' good series, Buena Vista has put together a pretty good box set for Army Wives. There are loads of substantive extras, most notably audio commentary from five episodes featuring assorted producers and actors, as well as loads of deleted scenes. The picture and sound are clear, but as this is a television series, there is nothing here that will blow you away.
For some reason, after finishing the first season of Army Wives, I thought the show was far too good to be produced by Lifetime. Then I realized that cable television -- led by FX -- is turning out great original programs; it's about time Lifetime joined the party. While Army Wives is hardly in the same league as The Shield or Rescue Me, it is a smart drama that provides genuine insight about life on a military base to regular citizens like myself. For those suffering from Desperate Housewives withdrawal this summer, you could do a lot worse.
Review content copyright © 2008 Brendan Babish; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 552 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Q & A with Cast
* An Inside Look at Real Army Wives
* Commentary on Selected Episodes
* Deleted Storyline (with optional commentary)
* Deleted Scene
* Official Site