Empty10-11 p.m., Sunday, June 2
A couple of years ago, Steve Bochco's FX series "Over There" did something never before attempted: It dramatized the lives of soldiers fighting a war while the fighting was still taking place. It was a brilliant series, but it lasted only one season. Some postmortems suggested that America was uneasy about watching a war claim real lives on the news and make-believe lives on a primetime series.
Meanwhile, two other series -- "The Unit" on CBS and "24" on Fox -- have succeeded with general anti-terrorist themes that were only loosely connected to the reality of the Iraq War. Perhaps, then, viewers are ready for dramas about warfare and military sacrifice but not those rooted in the nitty-gritty details of the chaos and complexity of fighting in the Middle East.
If so, that bodes well for "Army Wives," a series about a group of women (and one man) who help each other get through the unique domestic problems associated with military life. The series, based on the book by Tanya Biank (who serves as consultant) takes the familiar Lifetime themes of sisterhood and mutual support and superimposes them on a culture with its own rigidly enforced social code.
The show succeeds on a number of levels and builds on a well-crafted premise pilot. Katherine Fugate's script creates many well-drawn characters, particularly Kim Delaney's Claudia Joy Holden, the most senior member of the group, and Sally Pressman's Roxy LeBlanc, the free-spirited newcomer, newly married after a whirlwind courtship. Other regulars in the ensemble are Denise Sherwood (Catherine Bell), who tries to camouflage signs of physical abuse while raising a rebellious son, and Pamela Moran (Brigid Brannagh), who fears that the money she earns as a surrogate is being squandered by her irresponsible husband.
Even the men have texture and depth, a welcome departure from much of the fare on Lifetime. I'm still waiting for Roland Burton (Sterling K. Brown), a psychiatrist and the lone man among the "Wives," to assert himself more with his wife, Joan (Wendy Davis), an alcoholic with post-traumatic stress, but their story has great potential. As for the other guys, they range from meek to mighty, from selfless to selfish.
One small caution, though. There's only so much mileage to be had from scenes in which everything stops while the characters focus on news footage from Iraq. Undoubtedly, that's what happens when a family member is deployed there, but that kind of realism, done too often, will sap the show's vitality and keep the characters from relating to each other on different levels.
For now, though, "Wives" is an early indication that DVRs won't be idle this summer.
ABC Television Studio
Executive producers: Katherine Fugate, Deborah Spera, Mark Gordon
Co-executive producer: Marshall Persinger
Producer: Harry Bring
Co-producer: Celia Hamel
Creator-teleplay: Katherine Fugate
Director: Ben Younger
Based on the book by: Tanya Biank
Director of photography: Lloyd Ahern
Production designer: William Arnold
Editor: Chris Peppe
Music: Marc Fantini, Steffan Fantini, Scott Gordon
Casting: April Webster
Claudia Joy Holden: Kim Delaney
Roxy LeBlanc: Sally Pressman
Pamela Moran: Brigid Brannagh
Michael Holden: Brian McNamara
Roland Burton: Sterling K. Brown
Joan Burton: Wendy Davis
Trevor LeBlanc: Drew Fuller
Denise Sherwood: Catherine Bell
Frank Sherwood: Terry Serpico
Lenore Baker: Rhoda Griffis