The television series Army Wives will debut on June 3 at 10:00 EST on Lifetime. The series is based on the book, Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives by Tanya Biank. "Real" Army wives have been buzzing about this for a few months. Will Army Wives be a sensational, Hollywood portrayal of life as an Army wife, or will it be pretty close to the real thing? I had the opportunity to view the first episode of Army Wives, and it's too early to make a definitive judgment, but after viewing the DVD four times, as of now, my answer is... yes, and yes.
I can only assume that the producer of Army Wives hired consultants who were insiders. Nearly all of the scenes featuring checkpoints, uniforms, homecomings, departures, post housing, formals, etc. were well done. If the details were not realistically presented, we would notice them in an instant and it would become a distraction.
Army Wives features five military spouses. Refreshingly, one of them is a male spouse. Three spouses are married to officers and two are married to enlisted men. Not surprisingly, the entire cast is beautiful. Each actor is brilliantly cast and the performances are solid. Based on our own experiences, each of us will relate differently to the characters. The two wives that stick out to me are Roxy LeBlanc and Claudia Joy Holden.
Roxy LeBlanc marries her soldier only days after meeting him. She's a rough-around-the-edges gal who has clearly lived a tough life. Roxy is completely unfamiliar with military life and learns her lessons the hard way. I did too, but Roxy is less bothered by her faux pas than I was, which makes me like her all the more.
In one funny scene, at a formal event, Roxy takes her lead from her husband and salutes a Major. She then goes on to spill a glass of wine all over the table, and her dress. When Roxy receives her first invitation to a "tea" she says to her husband, "I'm never going to fit in here." Many of us have felt that way at times. Roxy also struggles with the world of acronyms, the secret language of the military. The language that each of us have to learn quickly in order to communicate.
Claudia Joy Holden is the wife of a Colonel. Claudia is the perfectly pulled-together, squared-away Colonel's wife who is fiercely protective of her husband and his career track, which is evident when she takes on a General's wife. Claudia is approachable and likable, but she's apparently hiding a secret.
One flaw I've found with Army Wives has to do with the relationship between LTC Joan Burton and her civilian husband, Roland. Joan returns from an apparent two-year tour in Afghanistan (which I didn't quite understand) and has trouble readjusting. She and Roland have sex in the ladies room at the same formal where Roxy spilled her wine and Claudia had a run-in with General's wife. Later in the episode, Joan gets drunk at a "Jody bar" and dances provocatively on top of the bar. It's clear that this story line is meant to deal with the difficult process of reintegration, but I found these scenes to be unrealistic. I thought it a real stretch to see a LTC drunk and dancing in a Jody Bar.
I'm hoping that as the episodes unfold, we'll see a more realistic portrayal of the reintegration process and the hardships it can place on relationships inside the home. In my opinion, reintegration is one of the hardest issues we deal with and the reality of reintegration would certainly make for dramatic viewing, no embellishment necessary.
Pamela Moran and Denise Sherwood are the other featured Army wives. Pamela is a feisty redhead who is the favorite target for post gossip. Pamela takes some extraordinary measures to pull her family out of debt. Denise Sherwood appears to be the perfect wife and mother, but life at home is not very tidy, you'll be surprised to find out why, I know I was.
Although I can't relate to all of the characters, I've known all of them in some form or fashion since I became an Army wife. I know about gossip, the process of trying to figure out the system, the rules and military etiquette. I also know what it's like to be proud of my husband for what he does, and I was happy to see that, so far, these wives (and husband) are proud and supportive milspouses.
What I didn't like was the promotion of some old stereotypes. Pamela comments to a chaplain that "soldiers don't like their wives to work." In thirteen years, I haven't seen any evidence that this is true. Then there's the "rank has its privileges" storyline, which came into play when Claudia, the Colonel's wife, attempts to squeeze her daughter in for a last-minute medical appointment by essentially jumping in line, though not in a rude manner. There's some backstabbing, pettiness and gossip shown, but this happens everywhere, not just on a military post. Yes, I'm cherry-picking some scenes, but only because they seemed to be the ones where all-to-easy stereotypes were highlighted.
I liked much more than I didn't like. Specifically, I was happy to see that no political agenda was visible. I hope it stays that way. As I mentioned above, the milspouses are very supportive of their husbands and wife, which is important. At the end of the first episode, something happens that brings the five spouses together. It's hard to believe that the situation would ever occur in "real life", but I did appreciate the message it conveyed. We do stick together and help each other out.
I realize that producers have to take some liberties to make a television show dramatic and interesting, which led me to ask this question of myself, "is there this much drama in the life of an Army wife?" In my opinion, no. Not to this degree, and not for everyone, and not all the time, but clearly, the most intense and emotional situations that we as Army wives deal with will be the focus of Army Wives, as it should be. So far, they've touched on homecomings, departures, reintegration, what it's like to be the new kid on the block and the personal relationships that we form with other Army wives, and that's only the first episode. How entertaining would a television show be if it featured trips to the commissary and the process of renewing ID cards? Well, if it featured airforcewife doing those things...
This is not a reality show, it's a drama. Although the military community is a large one, and one which will likely be interested in this show, I believe that non-military viewers will enjoy this series and will be interested in it. What we as real Army wives can hope for, especially in a time of war, is that Army Wives will capture some of what we're about, the sacrifices we make as military spouses and what our lives are like inside the gated, guarded walls of a military post. I've said it before, and airforcewife repeated it in San Diego, we experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I think we'll see all of the peaks and valleys in Army Wives.
I laughed a lot while watching Army Wives. The humor is well-placed. I was surprised to find myself becoming emotional during a couple of scenes, though. The episode I watched reminded me of the miles I've logged as an Army wife, and all of the stages I've been through so far. All things considered, I liked what I saw. I'm looking forward to watching the rest of the episodes. I want to know what happens next, and I want to watch lives unfold on screen. I want to know if the series will continue to be something I can somewhat relate to, or if it will take a dive off of a steep cliff and become an unrecognizable caricature of our lives as real Army wives. One thing's certain, I'm going to stick around to find out.
I look forward to reading your reactions when the series debuts. I'm sure we'll have a wide range of opinions, we always do....
We'll open a discussion thread at SpouseBUZZ on June 3, and we'll have one each night the series is on television. Should be interesting. For now, tell us what you would like to see in Army Wives, and then we'll compare your wish list with what you actually saw on June 3.
You may want to tape/DVR the show and watch it more than once. I found that my expectations and what I took away from the episode changed each time I viewed it.
Update: Did you watch the premiere? If so, join the June 3 discussion thread and share your thoughts.
Update (June 11): June 10 discussion thread can be found here.