While the Lifetime network has gained a reputation of offering largely "movie of the week"-type dramas, the network has taken steps to turn this perception around, with new shows such as "Army Wives" (and nabbing "Project Runway" from the Bravo Network.) "Wives", from "Grey's Anatomy" exec producer Mark Gordon, is a drama that focuses on the wives of men currently serving in the armed forces. The series does occasionally find itself in soap opera territory, but the characters and situations are well-written and emotional moments often seem earned and not manipulative.
The main character is Claudia Joy Holden (Kim Delaney), who's joined by a varied group of other women, including: former cop Pamela Moran (Brigid Brannagh) , Joan Burton (Wendy Davis), Denise Sherwood (Catherine Bell) and Roxy LeBlanc (Sally Pressman). The series follows the women as they try to cope with the stress of having their loved ones very potentially in harm's way. Their enlisted husbands are Brigadier General Michael Holden (Brian McNamara), Major Frank Sherwood (Terry Serpico), PFC Trevor LeBlanc (Drew Fuller and Chase (Jeremy Davidson). In a reversal, there's also Dr. Roland Burton (Sterling K. Brown), who is married to colonel Joan Burton (Wendy Davis).
While the primary plotline of the series is the emotional hardship that those at home have to face with their loved ones away, the series did weave in some additional storylines in season 1 beyond that, including Pamela's decision to become a surrogate mother as a way to try to climb out of her debt, as well as relationship strains for Joan - difficulties with her relationship with Roland become a focus later in the first season - and the other women.
The second season starts with the devastating "Would You Know My Name", which follows the aftermath of the end of the first season, which saw a tragic incident take place at the Hump Bar - the local tavern. The reveal of a loss of a character is heartbreaking and deeply emotional, and the story of the episode plays out in an engaging, thoughtful and powerful manner.
The first part of the season has the characters trying to pick up the pieces, but while they try their best to move forward with their lives (and eventually trying to reopen the bar under a different name) they are changed at the core by the tragedy and find it difficult to get past the hurt they have experienced. The series continues to do a satisfying job portraying the importance of friends and family to rely on during the highs and lows, with some of the issues this season including Joan and Roland finding that they will become parents, Frank facing a difficult return home and Trevor's increasing addiction to pain medication.
The performances are above-average, although the series is especially helped by the duo of Bell and Delaney, who lead the show with two compelling, powerful performances. Additionally, engaging in supporting efforts are Brown, Brannagh and Pressman. The second season sees the performances continue to improve as the actors seem more comfortable in their roles and chemistry between the cast continues to improve. The show's writing also seems richer, but also helpful is the fact that the series continues to proceed in a manner that's honest and largely unsentimental - rather than Big Emotional Moments, the show finds the drama in little moments and within characters that have become more well-defined. While I thought this was a promising series in the first season, the second season sees the series really starting to reach its potential, with several strong episodes.
14. 8 Jun 08 Would You Know My Name
- Following the aftermath of the bombing at the Hump Bar, the Army Wives struggle to put their lives back together. Roxy awaits word about Trevor from his superiors. With the news of Joan’s pregnancy, Roland and Joan reevaluate their relationship.
15. 15 Jun 08 Strangers In A Strange Land
-The Army wives deal with the aftermath of an unexpected tragedy. Joan wrestles with her decision to terminate her pregnancy. Roxy takes in Betty while she recovers from the bombing at the Hump Bar. Pamela finds herself frustrated by Chase’s ongoing secrets about his work.
16. 22 Jun 08 The Messenger
- Claudia Joy makes a new friend, Harry (guest-star Bill Cobbs). Pamela and Chase’s daughter Katie stars as Joan of Arc in the church play. Roxy’s son Finn develops a school boy crush on Claudia Joy and asks her out on a date. Michael tries to teach his daughter Emmalin to drive a stick shift.
17. 29 Jun 08 Leaving The Tribe
-Roland is offered a job as a high school counselor. Denise makes a new friend, a doctor named Getti (guest-star Seamus Dever), who encourages her to ride a motorcycle she received as a gift from a patient. Joan informs her troops of her pregnancy. Roxy takes a job shelling shrimp at a shrimp pier. While on patrol at a marketplace, Trevor stops a civilian attack and becomes a hero.
18. 6 Jul 08 The Hero Returns
-Trevor returns home a hero but is conflicted about the praise being showered on him. Frank, still in Iraq, becomes increasingly worried about Denise’s newfound independence, particularly her affinity for her new motorcycle. Denise’s friendship with Getti (guest-star Seamus Dever) continues to grow.
19. 13 Jul 08 Thicker Than Water
-Betty (guest-star Patricia French) learns that her cancer is advancing and decides to fulfill her life long dream of driving across country in a Ford Mustang. Increasingly nervous about becoming a father, Roland spends the day at the hospital’s baby ward getting advice from Denise.
20. 20 Jul 08 Uncharted Territory
-Joan and Roland learn the sex of their baby. Denise’s son Jeremy (Richard Bryant) returns to Fort Marshall for the first time since Amanda’s death. Roxy is preparing to reopen the Hump Bar renamed Betty's Bar and Grill. Chase and Pamela attend a BBQ with the other Delta Force families.
21. 27 Jul 08 Loyalties
- Roland is suspected of inappropriate behavior with one of his students. Roxy hires a new waitress, Sandi (guest-star Ana Ortiz, "Ugly Betty"), to work at Betty's Bar and Grill. Pamela is stunned when Chase is arrested along with several other members of Delta Force.
22. 3 Aug 08 Casting Out the Net
-Frank informs Denise he is coming home on leave from Iraq. Nervous about Frank’s return, Denise reevaluates her relationship with Getty. Never completing school, an intimidated Roxy enrolls in Roland's class to obtain her GED. Pamela befriends a journalist, Brenda (guest-star Tawny Cypress “Heroes”), who interviews her for the local newspaper.
23. 10 Aug 08 Duplicity
-Due to pregnancy complications, Joan is restricted to bed rest. Anxious to return to combat, Trevor is crushed when he receives news that his injury prevents him from doing so. Frank senses a change in Denise when he returns home from Iraq.
24. 17 Aug 08 Mothers & Wives
-Golden Globe Award ® winning and Oscar nominated actress Marsha Mason (“The Goodbye Girl”) guest-stars as Charlotte, Claudia Joy's mother, who makes an unexpected visit to the Holden household. Roland counsels a lonely teenager whose father was recently killed in Iraq. Insecure about her abilities, Roxy panics before taking her GED test.
25. 7 Sep 08 Great Expectations
-Claudia Joy learns the real reason for her mother Charlotte’s (guest-star Marsha Mason) visit when her father Randall (guest-star Len Cariou “Brotherhood”) arrives unexpectedly at the Holden household. Roxy, Denise, Claudia Joy and Pamela throw Roland and Joan a baby shower at Betty’s Bar and Grill. Denise pleads with Frank to go with her to marital counseling in order to work on their issues.
26. 14 Sep 08 Safe Havens
-A distraught Roxy confesses to Roland about Trevor’s growing addiction to painkillers. Michael and Claudia Joy host a visiting dignitary and old friend, Paolo (Guest-star Alex Fernandez). Frank and Denise discuss their relationship.
27. 21 Sep 08 Payback
-When Frank deploys to Iraq, Denise rents a creek house to reflect on their separation. Michael officially presents Trevor with a Silver Star medal for his actions in Iraq. Pamela’s situation with her stalker escalates when he involves her children.
28. 5 Oct 08 Thank You for Letting Me Share
-Evan Connor’s wife Jennifer (guest-star Mayte Garcia “The Closer”) arrives on post hoping to get involved in the FRG. Claudia Joy takes Jennifer under her wing, but they quickly butt heads. Denise is enjoying her newfound independence. Roland's mother comes to visit the new baby, Sarah Elizabeth.
29. 12 Oct 08 Transitions
-At the hospital, Denise befriends Renee (guest-star Rumer Willis), the wife of a young soldier who has been injured in Iraq. Joan and Roland struggle to find a suitable nanny for Sarah Elizabeth. Emmalin meets her pen pal, Logan (guest-star Paul Wesley), in person on the way to school.
30. 19 Oct 08 All in The Family
-Roxy’s mother Marda returns, with a new man. Joan and Roland struggle to leave their young daughter for a date night, but are eventually persuaded to let Claudia Joy and Michael baby-sit for an evening. Claudia Joy and Michael are faced with parenting problems of their own when they learn how smitten with each other Emmalin and Logan (guest-star Paul Wesley) are.
31. 26 Oct 08 Departures, Arrivals
-Joan and Roland face new challenges of balancing parenthood and their relationship when Joan returns to work. Michael receives good news relating to his job. Denise and Frank both continue to explore their separation. Roxy’s mother Marda (guest-star Gigi Rice) pays her a visit.
32. 2 Nov 08 Last Minute Changes
-The Holden’s face major changes. Pamela questions her decision to marry into the army. Roland is forced to help a former patient. Frank remains overseas leaving Denise more time to question her marriage. Betty's long lost nephew Collin (guest-star Ivan Sergei from “Jack and Jill”) shows up unexpectedly at Betty's Bar and Grill to talk to Roxy.
VIDEO: "Army Wives" is presented by Disney Home Entertainment in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Episodes looked surprisingly good for a basic cable program, as the show offered fine cinematography, as well as good use of locations. The transfer certainly presents the show well, as the episodes appeared consistently crisp and well-defined. While a few minor instances of artifacting appear, the picture otherwise appeared clean and smooth. Colors looked warm and rich, with very pleasing saturation and no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The show's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a dialogue-driven presentation, with relatively little in the way of surround useage (occasional slight ambience, largely.) Audio quality is fine, with crisp, well-recorded dialogue and clear, full-sounding music.
EXTRAS: Commentaries are included on: "Would You Know My Name", "The Hero Returns" and "Safe Havens" by members of the cast and crew. The remainder of the extras are offered on the fifth and final disc in the set. The most interesting of the bunch is "Operational Intelligence", which takes a look at how the Army has cooperated with the series (starting in the second season), which has resulted in greater accuracy. We learn more about how the cast and crew visited Fort Bragg and worked with technical advisers in order to improve the show's realism in terms of Army regulations and realities.
"Active Duty" sees the cast of the series visiting the soldiers at Fort Bragg. The cast members and producers discuss their experiences on the base and interview soldiers about the extreme hardship that they (as well as their families) have to go through. The interviews are very honest and, at times, very emotional. Just as emotional are "Army Wives Give Back", which sees the cast members helping out members of the military and their families. "The Tribe" is a look at the cast members and how they work together. Finally, we also get deleted scenes and some very funny bloopers.
Final Thoughts: "Army Wives" is an enjoyably acted and relevant drama that boasts a good ensemble cast and writing that manages to only occasionally cross the line into soapier territory. Overall, it's frequently a genuinely moving drama that may signal Lifetime beginning to try and change. The DVD set boasts fine audio/video quality, as well as a very nice selection of supplements. Recommended.