When I told my husband that I was interested in watching Army Wives this summer his scoffed. To be honest, I was a little hesitant to watch a series on Lifetime, a network known for gossipy or over-sentimental made-for-TV movies. I’m a sentimental-type who’s been know to cry at commercials (you know the one where the GI calls home), but even for me Lifetime is over the top. However, I decided to give the show a shot, and I’m glad I did.
Being a Navy brat, I originally tuned into Lifetime’s Army Wives for the premise — family life on an Army post — and for the a cast that included Kim Delaney (NYPD Blue), Catherine Bell (JAG), and Brigid Brannagh (Angel), but I’ll be returning for the interesting characters and the captivating storyline.
You can tell that the show is from the producers of Grey’s Anatomy, because it has a similar formula — ensemble cast, a sudsy plot and complicated characters drawn together by circumstances. Like Grey, the cast is both easy on the eyes and diverse — not just by race, but economical and social backgrounds.
For instance, in the opening minutes we meet Roxy (played by newcomer Sally Pressman). A bartender (not quite Coyote Ugly, but close) and single mother of two boys (with different fathers), Roxy marries her husband, Private First Class Trevor LeBlanc (Drew Fuller from Charmed), a paratrooper in training, after just four days. This Alabama native struggles to fit in with the rules and regulation that come with Army life, while trying to support her husband’s career.
We then meet Claudia Joy (Delaney), an upper crust socialite from a well-bred family married to Colonel Michael Holden (Brian McNamara). The pair met in Harvard and now has two daughters. She is the perfect Army wife of one of the post’s highest ranking officers, simultaneously supporting her husband and his position while helping to promote his career. She is not happy he was passed over for the most recent promotion and she’s not taking it by sitting idly by.
Oh yeah, did I mention that one of the army “wives” is a man. How’s that for diversity? Roland (Sterling K. Brown) is married to Lieutenant Colonel Joan Burton (Wendy Davis), the first African American women of her rank at Fort Marshall. Joan found salvation from her tough teen years on the south side of Chicago as a cadet at the Citadel and now she has 400 men under her command. Roland, a psychiatrist who traded a striving practice to follow his wife, now works at Fort Marshall’s Mercer Army Medical Center. And like the other wives, he must deal with the repercussion when a spouse returns from a long deployment. And Joan’s latest deployment — to Afghanistan — was particularly hard on her and has left her with post-traumatic stress disorder.
But the Burtons are the only ones whose lives are complicated by military life. Denise (Bell) gave up nursing school to marry the man of her dreams, Major Frank Sherwood (Terry Serpico). Denise grew up with Army life so it’s no surprise that she fits in as the perfect wife of Frank for whom Army is a way of life, the only way. Despite his love for his family, Frank runs his household like his platoon, even ordering his son Jeremy (Richard Bryant) around like one of the men in his command. In turn, Jeremy retaliates for his father’s strictness by physically abusing his mother. But when his father is deployed in the pilot, Jeremy takes the abuse to a new level.
For the lynch pen that ties these “wives” together, we turn to Pamela (Brannah), who provides the event that brings the four women and Roland together. A tough-as-nails Boston cop, Pamela leaves the force to marry Delta Force member Chase Moran (Jeremy Davidson). The mother of two and an excellent shot, Pamela is a bit of an outcast and the subject of much gossip, including rumors that she’s a drug dealer and she’s seduced the Chaplain. But finances aren’t easy for an aspiring enlisted man and his family, especially if you’ve made a few mistakes, and Pamela’s latest venture to help alleviate the family debt will do nothing to keep the tongues from wagging if it gets out, not to mention what it’ll do to Chase’s career.
Unbeknownst to anyone but her husband and the Chaplain (whom she confides her fears), Pamela is a surrogate. She and Chase plan to tell everyone, including their own children, that the babies died at birth. But when she goes into labor early, she turns to Roxy, Claudia Joy, Denise, and Roland for help to get her to a civilian hospital (or the lie won’t work). The closest they make it is the bar where Roxy works. Denise and the others help Pamela deliver twins on a pool table. Will the event be enough to draw the five “wives” together in an unbreakable friendship? Will they all keep Pamela’s secret?
I, for one, am hooked. I’ll be tuning into Lifetime on Sundays at 10 p.m. to see the continuing saga of life on Fort Marshall. For those of you that are fans of Grey’s Anatomy, or even Desperate Housewives, I suggest forgetting that Army Wives is a Lifetime series (because it is so much better than a typical Lifetime series) and tuning in. There might be a few guys that’ll like the show too.
If you missed the pilot, Lifetime is airing it again at various times throughout the week or you can watch it online.
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