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).
The second season of the series saw the aftermath of a tragedy that occurred at the local bar, and how the characters had to face the difficult task of healing and getting past the hurt and horror of what they had experienced. The second season opener, "Would You Know My Name", was an absolutely moving heartbreaker that followed the aftermath of the first season finale. The first part of the second season had the characters trying to pick up the pieces, finding it difficult to move on. As the season progressed new issues surfaced, including Joan and Roland learning that they would become parents, Frank facing a difficult return home and Trevor's increasing addiction to pain medication.
Season three picks up where the series left off at the close of season two. Joan has a lot to deal with in this season, including having to say goodbye to her husband and new baby girl, Sarah Elizabeth, before heading back to Iraq. Meanwhile, Roland is also facing a turning point as he juggles taking care of Sarah Elizabeth and deciding what career path he wants to take. On top of issues with her daughter, Claudia Joy discovers she has a health problem that she tries to keep a secret from her friends. Season three also delves further into the relationship between Denise and Frank as Denise must own up to her affair while the couple works on saving their marriage. Meanwhile, Roxy is set on reopening the bar, and ends up running into some financial trouble. Pamela gets a new job, but the joy is short lived after Chase doesn’t return home when expected and the truth of his whereabouts are revealed.
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 show continues to impress with its solid writing and honest, emotional moments. As the show continues to progress, the characters develop naturally without feeling manipulated to fit the plot. With several moving and memorable moments in Season three, “Army Wives” manages to maintain it’s run as a heartfelt and powerful series.
33. Best Laid Plans - Roxy, Denise, Roland and Pamela offer their support to Claudia Joy and Michael, who are unable to leave for Brussels because of Emmalin’s disappearance. Roxy struggles to take control of the bar away from Collin (Ivan Sergei). Denise faces serious consequences as news of her affair spreads around the hospital. Overseas, Frank volunteers to lead a dangerous mission.
34. About Face - Denise learns that Frank has potentially been injured in a mission and desperately seeks information about his whereabouts. With Michael in Brussels, Claudia Joy attempts to keep her family together. Roland questions the possibilities of what his career could have been had he not chosen the Army life. Pamela starts teaching a class for new Army wives that offers advice on how to adjust to life on the post.
35. Moving Out - As Claudia Joy searches for a place to live, Emmalin continues to act out. Trevor makes a bad judgment call during an important Army exercise that could have a negative impact on his career. Terrance (Clifton Powell), an outside therapist, confronts Roland about the kind of care soldiers receive on post. Pamela is determined to get a bigger home because her two children refuse to share a room.
36. Incoming - With help from Claudia Joy, Michael tries to rebuild his strained relationship with Emmalin. Pamela and Chase move into a new house which makes Trevor insecure about being able to provide for his family. Terrence Price (Clifton Powell) asks Roland to take a full time job as his partner. Overseas, Jeremy (Richard Bryant) has a near-death encounter, but is saved by a stray dog in the desert named Lucky.
37. Disengagement - Roxy throws a grand reopening party at the Hump Bar, but all doesn’t go as planned. Pamela’s knowledge of football catches the attention of her son’s coach who offers her a position on the team. Joan decides that she wants Sarah Elizabeth to be christened before she deploys. Chase surprises his family by returning a few days early from his deployment, but has a hard time adjusting to life back on the post.
38. Family Readiness - Joan and Roland prepare for Sarah Elizabeth’s christening with the help of Claudia Joy, Denise, Roxy and Pamela. Lucky, the dog, finds his way to Fort Marshall and to Roxy’s dismay, Trevor is put in charge of him. Terrance and Roland help a young Iraqi orphan, Hannen (Aleene Khoury), who suffered a severe hand injury.
39. Onward Christian Soldier - Pamela questions the practices that her son's football coach uses to teach the boys sportsmanship. Denise and Frank seek relationship advice from a pastor. Joan and Evan (Michael O’Neill) are assigned as opponents for Ft. Marshall's annual war games exercise. Haneen (Aleene Khoury) moves into the Holden’s house while she prepares for surgery.
40. Post and Prejudice - Joan and Evan compete against each other in Fort Marshall’s annual war games exercise. Haneen’s (Aleene Khoury) surgery is a success, but when it is determined that she will need further treatment back in Iraq, Claudia Joy and Denise to ask the FRG to sponsor her. Frank and Denise continue to work on their relationship. Pamela gives a young army wife advice on starting her own business.
41. Coming Home - Roxy learns that Finn has been struggling in class and has him tested for a learning disability. Claudia Joy accompanies Haneen (Aleene Khoury) back to the Middle East to reunite her with her family. Michael and Emmalin spend time alone together in hopes of repairing their relationship.
42. M.I.A. - Pamela’s excitement over Chase’s upcoming return home is cut short when she loses her wallet, forcing her to spend the day frantically retracing her steps. Roxy is surprised when Stella Raye (guest-star Shelby Lynne), a country music singer she adored growing up, comes to the bar looking for work. Joan struggles with her deployment as she comes to the realization that she will be missing many of her daughter’s milestones.
43. Operation: Tango - Claudia Joy and Denise find themselves serving as companions for the widower of a former senator, Mrs. Jean Calhoun (guest-star Kelly Bishop), who is visiting post for a ground-breaking ceremony. Roland finds a way to comfort Joan about her upcoming deployment. Roxy tries to impress the principal at an exclusive private school where she hopes Finn is accepted. Country star Jack Ingram performs at the Hump Bar.
44. First Response - Claudia Joy and Denise get into a car accident on their way to a spa weekend. Routine tests from the accident lead to a shocking diagnosis for Claudia Joy. Finn enjoys his first day at his new school, leaving TJ feeling left out so Trevor takes him on a fishing trip for some father-son bonding time. In Iraq, Jeremy is reminded of the importance of life when a fellow solider is harmed.
45. Duty to Inform - Michael and Emmalin are puzzled when Claudia Joy informs them that she does not want her friends or anyone on post to find out about her medical condition. Trevor begins his work as an army recruiter and finds the job is more challenging than he initially thought. Two weeks after Chase was expected to return home, Pamela begins to wonder why he hasn’t gotten in touch with her. Demanding answers, Pamela camps out in front of the building where she believes Chase is being treated for injuries.
46. Need to Know Basis - Pamela finally gets the answers she's been seeking about Chase's whereabouts. Denise begins EMT training in an attempt to find a new career in the medical field. Jeremy is involved in an unexpected bombing in Iraq that has lasting impact. Roxy comes to a decision about having a baby with Trevor.
47. As Time Goes By - When Roxy and Pamela meet two older army wives, Elise (guest-star Lois Smith) and Virginia (guest-star Barbara Barrier), in a nursing home, they get a glimpse into Fort Marshall during WWII. Elise and Virginia share their stories and relive their experiences through flashbacks. Roxy and Pamela discover the parallel challenges that army wives have dealt with throughout the years, while also seeing how society has evolved culturally.
48. Shrapnel and Alibis - Consumed with guilt over the bombing in Iraq, Jeremy returns home. Joan says an emotional goodbye to Roland and Sarah Elizabeth. Pamela and Chase struggle to get along after she catches him in a lie. Trevor’s hard work finally pays off as his first recruit is sworn in.
49. Fire in the hole - Viola (guest-star Tonya Pinkins) surprises everyone with her singing ability when she fills in for the lead singer at the Hump Bar. Michael learns that General Ludwig (guest-star Michael Nouri), a 4-star general will be making a visit to Fort Marshall, leaving him anxious about the purpose of the visit. Denise’s competitive side comes out during the annual FRG golf tournament.
50. Fields of Fire - Michael and Claudia Joy prepare for Michael's promotion ceremony. Pamela reaches a breaking point in her marriage. Roland struggles with his increase in both workload and parenting duties since Joan's deployment. Roxy stresses about the family's financial future. Jeremy continues to struggle with grieving and must deal with the consequences of his actions at the Hump Bar.
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: “Stationed in the South” - At just over twenty minutes, this is a nice feature that not only highlights the behind-the-scenes workings of “Army Wives” cast members, but also the beauty of Charleston, South Carolina. The show is filmed on location in Charleston and the feature does a nice job showing how the location is used to its advantage. The cast are interviewed about some of their favorite things to do in Charleston and how they give back to the community. Again, the feature not only gives a nice insight to the cast off-screen, but is a great, up-close look at the location.
“Army Wives Gives Back” - Some of the cast of “Army Wives” go to the homes of three different military families to surprise them by taking the time to give back and do something nice for each of them. This is a very nice feature that gives a glimpse into the life of real-life army families and does a wonderful job surprising them.
“Webisodes” Six webisodes are included on the DVD set. Three of the webisodes focus on the Burton family while the other three focus on Jeremy Sherwood. While none of the webisodes run longer than three minutes, they do offer further insight to the characters and may appeal to fans of the show.
“Bloopers” For such a serious show, the bloopers are actually pretty entertaining. I found myself laughing along during a few flubbed lines. Also included on the DVD are 16 “Deleted Scenes” with optional commentary by Executive Producer Jeff Melvoin. There’s also a play all option or you can watch each scene individually.
Sneak Peeks included on the DVD are: "Greek: Chapter Four", "10 Things I Hate About You","The Boys are Back"
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.