Army Wives is TV show on the US Lifetime network – I’ve been told it’s a network with a lousy track record when it comes to feminist-friendly characters and storylines – about the lives of the women (and token male) married to soldiers in the US Army. The fact it didn’t air in Australia until 18 months later as a nonratings period filler should have told me all I needed to know about the show.
The pilot opens with Trevor LeBlanc proposing to barmaid Roxy, who he met four days previously. It’s meant to be all romantic and love-at-first-sight, but seriously, four days? That’s not romantic, that’s impulsive, and it concerns me that there are such people, even fictitiously, in the armed forces. Roxy is every bit the white-trash-with-a-heart-of-gold stereotype, complete with big hair, skimpy outfits, homespun advice about relationships and complete ignorance of the workings of army life. Being a newbie isn’t much of an excuse; if I know civilians don’t salute officers, surely she can work it out, too.
Then we have Denise Sherwood (Catherine Bell), the wife of a career army officer who we first think is being beaten by her husband. But it turns out it’s actually their son doing the beating, being fed up with his authoritarian father and in search of a handy smaller target and all. Does Denise confront either the son or her husband about their loose cannon? Nope, she blames herself, confides in a couple she’s friends with, Claudia and Michael Holden, which prompts Michael to tell the son to straighten up or face the consequences of what men do to other men who beat up on women. Yep, ’cos that’s how women get out of domestic abuse situations, they get a bigger man to protect them. I know first-hand how difficult it is to get out of an abusive relationship, but I am so freaking sick of never seeing a woman leave of her own steam.
Lastly, we have Lieutenant Colonel Joan Burton and our token army husband, Roland. Joan is a career soldier who is constantly losing it following her two-year deployment in Afghanistan, getting drunk and crying over the horrible things she did and accusing Roland of cheating on her. Both PTSD and suspicion of infidelity sound perfectly plausible within the context of career soldiers, but how come we don’t see Trevor LeBlanc or Michael Holden lose it? Sounds suspiciously like a case of ‘the girl officer can’t handle it, y’know’.
And just to top it off, there’s a culture of back-stabbing and gossip: the wife of a senior officer spreading rumours about Michael and Claudia so her husband gets promoted over Michael, and a general culture of gossiping about another of the army wives, Pamela Moran. One day she’s selling drugs to the children on the compound, the next she’s having an affair with the chaplain. Apparently when they’re not playing up to stereotypes, women have nothing better to do than be a right bunch of bitches.
I have no idea what goes on between the spouses on an army compound, but I find it difficult to believe TPTB could find nothing more positive and fleshed-out to write about then this trope of stereotypes, back-stabbing and gossip. And the sad thing is, I would actually be interested in a show that, even fictitiously, looked at the stresses of army life, both for those on the front line and the ones they come home to. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen, Army Wives doesn’t deliver on this, which is a real shame because it’s one of those shows which could be so much better then what it is.