My initial feeling when I sat down to watch the freshman season of Army Wives  on DVD and the new episodes from its now-airing second season on Lifetime was one of guilt. I’ll admit that as much as I love news and politics, I don’t frequently think about the lives of the family members who sacrifice their husbands, wives, fathers, mothers and siblings to the armed services in this time of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. While I’m busy obsessing over the start of the second season of Mad Men, it’s a bit too easy to blot out the messiness of war from my mind, ignore the current plight of military families because to actually have to ponder the costs they’re bearing is extraordinarily depressing. I have the luxury of putting all of that out of my mind while military families don’t.
So from that point of view, I am very sympathetic to the concept of the Lifetime drama: The lives of fictional families living on an Army post in Charleston, South Carolina. The show features a variety of characters, among them:
-- Joan Burton (Wendy Davis), a female lieutenant colonel and second in command on the post on which she lives with her psychiatrist husband Roland Burton (Sterling K. Brown).
-- Claudia Joy Holden (Kim Delaney), a Harvard Law educated mother of two teens (one who died in the first season) who abandoned her career and married an Army guy, now Brigadier General Michael Holden (Brian McNamara).
-- Roxy LeBlanc (Sally Pressman), a cocktail waitress and mother of two whose new husband, Army Private First Class Trevor LeBlanc (Drew Fuller), just came back from serving in Iraq where he was injured.
-- Denise Sherwood (Catherine Bell), a self-described Army brat and nurse who resumed her career after an 18-year hiatus while her husband, Major Frank Sherwood (Terry Serpico) -- who strenuously didn’t want her to work even though their son was grown and enlisted in the Army -- then left for Iraq.
-- Pamela Moran (Brigid Brannagh), a former cop now radio talk show host and mom of two whose husband Chase (Jeremy Davidson) is in the super-secret Delta Force, meaning he can’t tell her when he’s shipping out, to where and for how long.
In the first season of Army Wives, Burton overcame alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from service in Afghanistan, something many soldiers are facing with an all-too much frequency and it seems that every week we see a new story about a troubled soldier  coping with trying to readjust to life in the States. “What I did over there, if you knew, you wouldn’t love me,” Burton told her husband, Roland, who had no idea how to handle the situation. (He slept on the sofa for a few weeks after her return.) In the current season, Lt. Col. Burton is pregnant and concerned that she’ll lose career traction after having her baby.
Trevor LeBlanc’s story is also a common one: A soldier who returned from Iraq grapples with the tension between wanting to return to his unit and being with his new family on the Army post, while worrying that his wife’s boys, whom he adopted, will forget him while he’s serving overseas. “It’s a real fear for soldiers, being forgotten by their children,” said one of the wise wives.
The Army Wives spouses learn of Black Hawk downings and IED attacks on the news and then wait to learn if their lives are about to implode, knowing that if their spouse is killed they’ll be unceremoniously booted from the post in a few months, as was the pregnant wife and mom of one whose husband was killed in action in season one. They have to figure out what to tell their kids, how to protect them from the fear and how to live their lives by working, raising children and sometimes evolving into different people while their spouses are away fighting. Most of the TV programs and films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan center on the soldiers, like HBO’s miniseries Generation Kill , and downplay what happens to the families left behind.
For all of these reasons and more, I really wanted to love Army Wives, a show that has many passionate fans. What I found when I waded through season one and saw several of the new episodes in its sophomore season, was that, while there is a lot of hit-you-over-the-head-with-the-point scenes, some stiff acting, stilted dialog and occasional too-quickly-resolved fixes to problems, there were also tender and poignant moments, storylines that are being played out with military families right now. When I watched scenes of Army spouses and family members waiting for word from their soldiers who are in theaters of war, I couldn’t help but think of the stories I’d read about Cindy McCain who, when her son was serving  in Iraq, anxiously carried her BlackBerry with her at all times so she wouldn’t miss his call whenever it came and was devastated if she did miss him.
“We serve too,” said Claudia Joy Holden of military families during a July 4th celebration on the Army post, “. . . [T]ogether we fight for our freedom.”
Army Wives may not be the best, most well written show on television, but it’s got a huge heart and sheds light on a subject and a group of people we largely ignore because we don’t want to face the harsh realities of war. Army Wives deserves some props for taking up their cause, and if I’m a little bit soft with my criticism it’s because I admire it for trying to do a good thing.
Army Wives airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. and repeats on Monday at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.