Army Wives: Season 4
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Army Wives: Season 4

Soap operas used to be something primarily viewed by bored housewives as modern domestic conveniences made their housework somewhat quicker and more efficient. Finding previously unheard of free time they began to find themselves turning to ‘their stories’ to fill the time. In the eighties many college campuses began showing soap operas in common rooms on campus to give the students a way to unwind between classes. Now those students have established careers and families of their own and the format of the soap opera has become more popular than ever. There is a simple reason why this means of telling a continuing story is extremely successful. The well established tenants of the soap opera are conducive to keeping loyal fans sticking around for years and, in many ways equally importantly, making it easy for new audience members to catch up on plot lines that in some cases have been going on for many years. Many recent television series try to conceal these soap opera roots cloaking the show in some other pretense. One thing that has to be said about the flagship series for the Lifetime network, ‘Army Wives’ they are proud to be one of the best prime time soaps around. While the show is on the ‘network for women’ I can readily say that it is okay for men to watch and enjoy. In fact when my best friend found out I received a preview of the fourth season DVD he quickly offered to watch with me. The underlying factor inherent in the series is a commitment to quality. The premise of the show, a look at the trials and tribulations of the spouses of military personal, is prone to some jingoistic plot lines but generally they are stories that everyone can relate to. During the Vietnam War many here in the States took out their disagreement with the purposes for the war on those serving in the military. While the current conflict in the Middle East is surrounded in controversy the civilian population for the most part supports the men and women serving in the armed forces. This series touches on some of the political motivations behind the war but the concentration is on the emotional toil it takes on family relationships.

The series was created by Katherine Fugate who previous scripted the first two flicks in the ‘Prince and Me’ rom-com franchise. This did provide experience in relationships played out against a background of a strong hierarchy. Unlike the more typical view of military life this series, as the name implies, is concentrated on the emotional reactions to life on a bust Army post. To its credit the writers did include one man married to an Army Colonel. There are also story lines involving the children in military families just to provide even more balance. The social structure within the group of wives mirrors the positions of their husbands to some degree. The queen of the hive is Claudia Joy Holden (Kim Delaney) married to the post commander General Michael Holden. As the forth seas opens Michael has just received his second star raising him to the rank of Major General. Claudia Joy has just been nominated for a very important award honoring the Army wife of the year. Placing a cloud on the proceedings is the return of her social rival, Lenore Baker Ludwig (Rhoda Griffis), widow of Michael’s late former superior and recently wed to another general. Claudia Joy’s best friend is Denise Sherwood (Catherine Bell). Her husband Major Frank Sherwood (Terry Serpico) is frequently deplored in combat placing so much stress on their marriage that they almost broke up. Their son Jeremy (
Richard Bryant) has just come back from deployment where he witnessed the death of his best friend. This made him so despondent that he attempted suicide. The gun shot ringing in the dark served as the season three cliff hanger as well as the pace car for this season. In need of psychological help her turns to Dr. Roland Burton (Sterling K. Brown), the husband of General Sherwood’s second in command Col. Joan Burton (Wendy Davis). During this season Joan has been injured initially affecting her sight than eventually manifesting in some brain injury. Not only does this affect her career but it impacts her performance of as new mother. Another pair of best friends is manifested between the two wives of the enlisted men. Roxy LeBlanc (Sally Pressman) is the Southern spitfire who tends to speak her mind. She keeps the home fires burning raising her two sons from previous relationships and running the local off post bar and grill, the Hump Bar. Her husband had been seriously injured and is now working State side. Her best friend is another feisty wife, the fiery red head Pamela Moran (Brigid Brannagh) who is in the process of divorcing her husband Sgt. Chase Moran (Jeremy Davidson) who is part of Delta Force. With their divorce Pamela return to the career she began before becoming a wife and mother, a police officer. Between the nurse and a cop the writers are given an amazing degree of freedom in story lines able to dip into two of the defining genres on television.

Naturally, the show is exceptionally patriotic but never to the point that the stories seem to be propaganda. The underlying motif is emotional. While only a portion of the audience can readily identify with the problem innate to a military spouse but everyone can relate to relationship difficulties or the problems a parent faces as their children become adults. The military setting offers a rich emotional backdrop that can take mundane problem intensifying it through the life or death drama of the armed forces. While the ladies and gentleman of the spouse inner circle tend to over look rank the fact that a general’s wife has more pull than a woman married to a sergeant does pop up. The hierarchy is less overt with the wives but it still manifests its effect. The problems faced here include the economic hard times and a woman having to return to work after a divorce, reestablishing her own sense of identity. The stories are exceptionally well written and the acting demonstrates the talents of an amazing ensemble cast. This is simply well worth watching.

Posted 12/12/2010

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