Since its June 2007 debut, Army Wives, executive produced by Grey’s Anatomy‘s Mark Gordon, has become the most successful original series in the history of the Lifetime Television network. Billed as a patriotic and thought-provoking serial drama, Army Wives centers around five military spouses who share friendship, secrets, home and heartache. If the drama is of the pure paint-by-numbers variety, the series at least has the advantage of topicality on its side (John McCain and Barack Obama have both recorded introductions for the series’ second season bow), which should be meritorious enough for undiscerning blue-collar viewers merely looking for a little scripted fare that reflects the same sort of struggles they have to deal with on a weekly basis.
The show’s talented ensemble cast includes Emmy winner Kim Delaney, ex-JAG looker Catherine Bell, Sally Pressman, Brigid Brannagh, Brian McNamara, Commander in Chief‘s Wendy Davis, Sterling Brown and Drew Fuller. Executive producer Katherine Fugate created the series using as a blueprint Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives, by journalist Tanya Biank, who also serves as a consultant on the show.
Set on a South Carolina military base, the first season acquaints viewers with the intertwined stories of four women and one man tied to career members of the armed forces. Married to earnest officer Michael Holden (McNamara) is the elegant, educated Claudia Joy (Delaney), who serves as den mother to a disparate group that includes Roxy (Pressman), a raucous, fun-loving bartender; radio show host Pamela (Brannagh), a surrogate mother trying to solve a financial crisis; Denise (Bell); and Roland (Brown), a psychiatrist whose most important patient is his PTSD-afflicted wife (Davis). Far from family and old friends, the five turn to each other for
emotional support, companionship and advice, as their loved ones tackle
the dangerous business of defending the country. Bound together by pressures familiar to many military spouses, they build a bond that sustains them through sacrifice, loneliness and unforgiving conventions of Army life.
Boiled down, that means for some pretty pedestrian drama — an affair here, a pregnancy scare there, a secret held by Denise that could destroy her family — though the game cast are all engaged enough to keep things moving at a solid clip. A couple subplots and character arcs misfire in major ways, though — namely one involving Amanda, Michael and Claudia Joy’s college-bound daughter. It certainly doesn’t help that Kim Allen, the actress playing Amanda, is 25 years old but looks more like she’s 35, but the way her character is written is just grating, in all honesty. Things also reach a crescendo of ridiculousness in the season finale, which involves a suspected terrorist munitions theft/illicit sale and a spurned husband-turned-suicide bomber. The mode of storytelling, the filmic vocabulary and framing used in these segments — but also at other times throughout the season — is jarringly at odds with the tone and intent of the show, all lurking, lazy hand-held camera work.
Housed in a cardboard slipcase and presented in a widescreen aspect ratio with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track, this DVD set includes all 13 episodes from the first season, including the aforementioned cliffhanger finale, and also comes with an array of exciting bonus features. Kicking things off are some episodic audio commentaries from Fugate, executive producer Deborah Spera,
Younger, Delaney, Bell and more. Next up are bloopers and outtakes, a clutch of deleted scenes and an un-aired storyline from the show, complete with optional producer commentary. A Q&A session with the cast features questions submitted by fans; “Have at It,” meanwhile, so named after Pamela’s radio show, finds the series’ executive producers holding forth on the challenges and joys of production. Finally, there’s a featurette that offers audiences a glimpse of real, home-front Army wives, and tells their own personal stories of life in the service. This may be the best thing about the set. C (Show) B+ (Disc)