Army Wives­­ ­— “Centennial”

Army Wives­­ ­— “Centennial”

Reaching the 100th episode is cause for celebration for any TV show, and a very good reason (excuse?) to throw in something special (crazy?) for the fans; as General Holden says right at the outset of this milestone episode of Army Wives, “It’s a 100th anniversary celebration. We want the public to feel welcome.” This entire season has been leading up to the Fort Marshall Centennial celebration, with the wives all in a tizzy renting large tents, beefing up security, and neglecting their children in service of this undertaking. It is clear now that all the vague references to the event was a buildup to this episode, a clever little bit that ties the achievement of the show to that of its characters.

Unfortunately, the ladies in question don’t seem too impressed with this mind-blowing party in which the real and fictional worlds intersect, because they’re each too wrapped up in their own problems to take notice or in some cases even attend. Claudia Joy is absent for some weak reason that is probably code for Kim Delaney shooting a B movie somewhere or checking into rehab. Roxy has delivered one twin boy (in the tradition of all good film and television births, the supposed newborn that comes out of this poor woman is clearly 3 months old and magically free of the—very technical term here—“goop” that babies are supposed to gloriously arrive on the Slip-and-Slide trail of), but the other is in critical condition after being born with the umbilical cord around his neck. Gloria, otherwise known as the woman whose New York accent comes directly from a mediocre high school production of Guys and Dolls, receives a visit from the woman her husband knocked up, otherwise known as the most wan dish rag the South has ever produced. Joan is extremely busy both in preparing for the upcoming event and the even more exhausting work of constantly foreshadowing the arrival of the unhinged gunman by asking the General if he is sure the event should be open to everyone a good half-dozen times. You should have listened, General.

Denise and Jackie are in a spat about some hierarchical nonsense that is only worth mentioning because Roland’s involvement as peacemaker in the situation highlights the hilarious way in which his character has been used throughout the show. Roland does not only exist to make a cutesy point about how as hetero women advance in US military positions, they create a number of male army wives; he also plays the very important role of preternaturally sensitive black man who cares about dumb white girl shit. Any time a rich white woman sits down next him on this show, he looks deeply into her soul to see the rich white woman problems that lie within, and then cares. Deeply and verbally, if not always convincingly. For the record, Roland’s other major responsibility on the show is to add a little street flava, such as following up the heartfelt responses to his inquiries with such rejoinders as “Word.” Another cutesy joke since such bravado is always met with giggles; like the Blair Underwood of the army base, Roland is far too smooth and domesticated to use “gangsta slang” with any real conviction. This week, despite having dressed up for the Centennial in a spiffy seersucker suit, Roland smilingly suffers the humiliation of having to miss seeing his wife kill it at work so he can handle the pressing task of taking his son home to impart practical if tiresome wisdom about the inherent risk of foods that come on a stick.

I am the only person I know who watches this show, including friends who have family members currently enlisted in the military, a demographic I would imagine get the most out of seeing their day-to-day issues depicted in a partly realistic, partly melodramatic way. But the Army Wives recipe of nice warm schmaltz and family values tempered by real issues with a lil’ dash of WTF thrown in for good measure seems to be doing it for viewers; the show has been on the air far longer than expected and brought the Lifetime Network solidly into the world of original scripted content. Although it is never particularly complex, Army Wives has a kind of comforting familiarity of the Full House variety, an engaging combination of predictable structure and unpredictable plotting, an affirmation that a basic formula for drama does indeed exist and is there when you need it, like an overstuffed couch for your brain. This show’s formula works best when exploring the relationships and interactions between the titular women, and as such, an episode of significance should involve a confluence of each character’s storyline, dovetailing into one delicious, slightly preposterous climax.

Is it a little cheesy and silly to bring every possible character together under some pretense of plotting? Sure, but this show takes cheesy, polishes it up, puts it in a box, ties on a sweet bow, and makes you like it. And it hardly pretends to be above such a contrivance; the first season ended with all the major characters, women of very disparate military rank who wouldn’t normally mix (plus, of course, Roland) coming together while trapped in an abandoned bar during a thunderstorm, helping Pamela Moran, feisty former-cop-turned-frustrated-housewife, deliver babies she’s selling to keep her financially struggling family afloat. This soapy tale of a secret birth on a pool table on a dark and stormy night, this is the genesis story for these women’s tight-knit friendship and thus the premise of the show. So a setup in which the storylines of five or six people just happen to conveniently collide at at a fair or a BBQ or whatever (fireworks optional but preferable) is a pretty reasonable thing to expect.

Frankly, it’s all just a little bit dour for a centennial episode or party, and even more unforgivably, atypically lackluster besides. Whither the slain serial rapists, the illicit hospital romances, the faked diabetic seizures? One teeny little plane crash, or a rescue dog subplot perhaps? There is no better time to rest on your laurels, such as they are Army Wives, than in crafting the 100th episode of a middling show best experienced while having a lie down after a particularly heavy Sunday supper. A missed opportunity, but one that is troubling only until someone gets shot, stabbed, sexed, pregnant, fired, hired, injured, or deployed in episode 101.

Stray observations:

  • I don’t pretend to be familiar with military hierarchy, but is it really Joan’s job to collect RSVPs from visiting military VIPs? Isn’t there some PR underling who can do that, as opposed to a Colonel also responsible for the security of the entire base?
  • According to this show, a good indication of whether or not someone has the potential to be the next Unibomber is if they bump into people a lot. The clumsy are apparently very susceptible to extremism and terrorist philosophy.