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Army Wives on DVD: Season 1 Season 2

"Army Wives" The Complete Second Season DVD Review

Buy Army Wives: The Complete Second Season from Amazon.com Army Wives: Season Two (2008)
Show & DVD Details

Creators: Katherine Fugate, Marshall Persinger / Regular Writers: Tanya Biank, Katherine Fugate, Rama Stagner / Directors: Rob Spera, John T. Kretchmer, Kevin Dowling, Lloyd Ahern II, Joanna Kerns, Tawnia McKiernan, Stephen Gyllenhaal, Jeffrey Melman, Allison Liddi, Chris Peppe, Peter Werner, Carl Lawrence Ludwig, John Terlesky

Regular Cast: Kim Delaney (Claudia Joy Holden), Sally Pressman (Roxy LeBlanc), Brigid Brannagh (Pamela Moran), Brian McNamara (Michael Holden), Sterling K. Brown (Roland Burton), Wendy Davis (Joan Burton), Drew Fuller (Trevor LeBlanc), Catherine Bell (Denise Sherwood)

Recurring Characters: John White Jr. (Finn) Luke Bartelme (T.J.), Katelyn Pippy (Emmalin Holden), Patricia French (Betty), Richard Bryant (Jeremy Sherwood), Terry Serpico (Frank Sherwood), Melissa Ponzio (Angie), Jeremy Davidson (Chase Moran), Seamus Dever (Dr. Chris 'Getti' Ferlinghetti), Paul Wesley (PFC Logan Atwater), Gigi Rice (Marda), Mayte Garcia (Jennifer Connor), Matthew Glave (Lt. Colonel Evan Connors), David Call (Mack)

Notable Guest Stars: Kim Allen (Amanda Holden), Dan Lauria (Staff Sergeant James Favreau), Ana Ortiz (Sandy), Marsha Mason (Charlotte Meade), Len Cariou (Randall Meade), Alex Fernandez (Paolo Ruiz), Justin Smith (PFC Ryan Talbott), Pablo Schreiber (Tim), Novella Nelson (Vivian), Rumer Willis (Renee Talbott), John Newberg (Jerry), Kelly Hu (Jordana Davis)

Running Time: 811 Minutes (19 episodes) / Rating: TV-14

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: June 2, 2009 / Season 2 Airdates: June 8, 2008 - November 2, 2008
Five single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s); Suggested Retail Price: $45.99
Clear dual Amaray with embossed cardboard slipcover

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By Kelvin Cedeno

The second season of a television series can be interesting to watch. In Season 1, everyone involved in production is testing the waters to see what does or doesn't work. As such, debut seasons usually tend to branch in different directions quality-wise. The second year is the chance to put into use what was learned. Weak points are discarded, strengths are expanded, and creators can become more daring in storytelling.
While that description may not be true all of the time, the second season of Lifetime's "Army Wives" does exemplify those traits to varying degrees.

Picking up just shortly after the previous season's cliffhanger, the show's sophomore year follows the group known as the Tribe: Claudia Joy Holden (Kim Delaney), Denise Sherwood (Catherine Bell), Roland Burton (Sterling K. Brown), Roxy LeBlanc (Sally Pressman), and Pamela Moran (Brigid Brannagh).

As with any ensemble cast, each character has her (or his) own distinctive personality and arc. Claudia Joy copes with tragedy and pain from different angles, yet is determined to put on a brave face for her husband Michael (Brian McNamara). Denise grows tired of being taken advantage of and rebels in more ways than one. Roland acts as counselor not just to high school students, but to the Tribe and to his pregnant wife Joan (Wendy Davis). Buckling under the pressures of opening a bar is Roxy, questioning who her husband Trevor (Drew Fuller) loves more: his country or her. Meanwhile, Pamela grows weary of raising two children practically by herself while her radio show grows increasingly more censored.

Upon returning home, Frank (Terry Serpico) immediately senses that something is amiss with Denise (Catherine Bell) in the second season of "Army Wives." The Tribe (minus Denise) finally manages to dispel the building tension at Joan's (Wendy Davis) baby shower.

The main problem "Army Wives" faced in its initial season was its misuse of the army backdrop. With a subject matter surprisingly not tapped very often by networks, the series often let it go to waste in favor of petty soap opera plots. It wasn't until roughly halfway in that it finally addressed issues specific to its setting. The second season suffers a similar reluctance to tackle some of the more pressing matters, but at least this time the soapy aspects have more bite to them. Plot threads exclusive to army life are now spread out more evenly, so while there's roughly the same amount of meat in both seasons, the second one feels less lopsided.

If there's any real concern, it's a predictable over-reliance on marital infidelity. Having characters cheat on their significant others is time-tested, but if not handled with restraint, it comes across as a lazy way of stirring up drama. Still, it's preferable to some of the more milquetoast storylines in the early episodes.

What really helps the show is the talented cast onboard.
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They all approach their roles with authenticity and avoid the overwrought melodramatic trappings of more blatant soap operas. Even when it's all-too-easy to guess the next plot point, it's easier to invest in these happenings when the actors sell the material so convincingly. It doesn't hurt, either, that there's more for them to work with this time around. The characters of Denise and Joan, especially, develop further into more interesting personas. Arcs such as these allow the actors to make their roles more believable, even in spite of all the angst and monologues.

"Army Wives" may have storylines that veer towards the obvious, but it has strong enough characters that make things easier to swallow. The lead actors take the material above what may be called for and make the goings-on more memorable. The crew have obviously learned some things since the first season, and one hopes this leads to a third year that's unafraid to pursue some of the deeper aspects of army life.

Timed to the new season's premiere (Sunday, June 7), Disney's television and home entertainment branches released The Complete Second Season to DVD this week, a year after the first season was released. Though boasting six more episodes and two more discs, the second dose of "Army Wives" carries a list price just $6 higher than its predecessor. Synopses of the 19 featured episodes appear below.

Roxy (Sally Pressman), the closest thing to family Betty (Patricia French) has, stays by her bedside. Claudia Joy (Kim Delaney) and Michael (Brian McNamara) take a moment to reflect back on the recent events that have befallen them, in "Strangers in a Strange Land." The Tribe takes a much-needed break from its angst to share in some bayside cocktails in "Leaving the Tribe."

Disc 1

1. Would You Know My Name (42:31) (Originally aired June 8, 2008)
After the bombing of the Hump Bar, the Tribe tries to cope with the loss of a loved one. Roxy grows anxious after not hearing from Trevor since his deportation.

2. Strangers in a Strange Land (42:19) (Originally aired June 15, 2008)
Roxy takes Betty (Patricia French) into her home to recuperate from the bombing. Despite Roland's obvious standpoint, Joan can't decide if she wants to keep her baby.

3. The Messenger (42:11) (Originally aired June 22, 2008)
Tension grows in Pamela's household when Chase (Jeremy Davidson) confesses he can't stay long enough to see his children in a play. Finn (John White Jr.) develops a crush on Claudia Joy and asks her on a date.

4. Leaving the Tribe (42:14) (Originally aired June 29, 2008)
Denise becomes more self-assured when she takes up motorcycle-riding against Frank's wishes. Joan finally makes her pregnancy public.

Staff Sergeant James Favreau (guest star Dan Lauria) approaches the flag-draped casket of the best friend he hasn't seen in decades while Michael (Brian McNamara) and Claudia Joy (Kim Delaney) look on in "The Hero Returns." Trevor (Drew Fuller) engages in an unpleasant interview with a host (Stephen J. Cannell) who knows no boundaries. Pamela (Brigid Brannagh) demands an explanation from a nonchalant Jessica (Misti Traya) over the underhanded work of their partnered husbands.

Disc 2

5. The Hero Returns (42:37) (Originally aired July 6, 2008)
Trevor returns home as a war hero but isn't appreciative of all the limelight.
View a clip from "Army Wives": Season 2:
Claudia Joy and Michael are confounded when a Master Sergeant (Dan Lauria) refuses to attend her father's funeral.

6. Thicker Than Water (40:42) (Originally aired July 13, 2008)
While going away for chemotherapy, Betty leaves Roxy in charge of re-opening the Hump Bar. Denise's relationship with Getti (Sean Dever) sets rumor mills spinning.

7. Uncharted Territory (42:59) (Originally aired July 20, 2008)
Roxy struggles with planning and rebuilding of the Hump Bar while Betty's away. Pamela attends a cookout at a household that seems overly ostentatious.

8. Loyalties (41:47) (Originally aired July 27, 2008)
Chase is arrested on suspicion of war profiteering. When Roland is seen in close contact with a student, the administration steps in.

Emmalin (Katelyn Pippy) confides in Roland (Sterling K. Brown), using him as her personal counselor free of charge. Mother Charlotte (Marsha Mason) and daughter Claudia Joy (Kim Delaney) have a heart-to-heart talk that's been years in the making. Pamela (Brigid Brannagh) receives another disturbing call from Tim, a fan of the radio show who's recently taken up stalking as a hobby.

Disc 3

9. Casting Out the Net (42:12) (Originally aired August 3, 2008)
Frank's (Terry Serpico) return creates awkwardness between him and Denise. Roland convinces Roxy to pursue her GED, but her old high school habits die hard.

10. Duplicity (42:57) (Originally aired August 10, 2008)
Joan's pregnancy runs into a frightening roadblock. Trevor is devastated upon finding out he's too injured to return to combat.

11. Mothers & Wives (42:48) (Originally aired August 17, 2008)
Claudia Joy is unpleasantly surprised when her mother (Marsha Mason) shows up unannounced. Roland becomes a mentor to a boy who's recently lost his father.

12. Great Expectations (42:56) (Originally aired September 7, 2008)
Claudia Joy's father (guest Len Cariou) turns up, and she soon finds out hidden truths about both of her parents. Joan is reluctant to have a baby shower thrown for her.

Claudia Joy (Kim Delaney) can't help but notice Paulo's (Alex Fernandez) not-so-subtle way of getting physically close to her. Roland (Sterling K. Brown) and Joan (Wendy Davis) admire their new baby girl in "Payback." Roxy (Sally Pressman) muses aloud to Trevor (Drew Fuller) about the pressures and progress of the new Hump Bar, now called Betty's.

Disc 4

13. Safe Havens (41:30) (Originally aired September 14, 2008)
Denise's family is torn apart between Jeremy's deportation and Frank's anger over her recent decisions. A friend and associate of Michael gets uncomfortably close with Claudia Joy.

14. Payback (42:08) (Originally aired September 21, 2008)
Pamela finally comes face to face with an obsessed fan who's been terrorizing her life. Trevor comes to grips with drug addiction after a rude awakening.

15. Thank You for Letting Me Share (42:44) (Originally aired October 5, 2008)
In over their heads raising a baby, Roland and Joan are paid a visit by Roland's mother (Novella Nelson). Denise takes the time away from Frank to re-examine herself and her life.

16. Transitions (42:57) (Originally aired October 12, 2008)
Unable to find a qualified babysitter, Roland steps up to become a stay-at-home father. Claudia Joy and Michael are concerned about the age and ranking of Emmalin's pen pal.

Roxy's mother Marda (Gigi Rice) shows up unexpectedly with Jerry (Jon Newberg), her latest accessory. Joan (Wendy Davis) and Evan (Matthew Glave) don't see eye to eye in terms of how to tackle the problem of drugs in high schools. Claudia Joy's (Kim Delaney) recent news about Michael's promotion doesn't sit well with the rest of the Tribe when they realize the consequences of it.

Disc 5

17. All in the Family (41:47) (Originally aired October 19, 2008)
Roxy's mother (Gigi Rice) returns, but Roxy has difficulty forgiving her for the past. Claudia Joy and Michael offer to babysit while Roland and Joan have an evening together.

18. Departures, Arrivals (42:50) (Originally aired October 26, 2008)
Marda feels jealousy and regret when she realizes Betty has been more of a mother to Roxy than she has. Michael receives a prestigious promotion that affects his family.

19. Last Minute Changes (42:04) (Originally aired November 2, 2008)
As Michael and Claudia Joy prepare to move, things already take a turn for the worse as the Connors take over. Emmalin (Katelyn Pippy) makes a rash decision to keep her relationship alive.

Trevor (Drew Fuller) apologizes to Finn (John White Jr.) and T.J. (Luke Bartelme) for his recent mood swings around the house. Joan (Wendy Davis) and Roland (Sterling K. Brown) finally find out the gender of their baby via sonogram.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The second season of "Army Wives" arrives on DVD in the 1.78:1 anamorphic ratio of its high-definition broadcasts. The image contains similar strengths and weaknesses to that of the earlier season. The biggest problem is in regards to sharpness and detail.
The series contains a very soft focus look to it, partially to make the digital photography more cinematic, but it results in a loss of detail, especially in long shots. Some mild digital grain is visible, but it doesn't distract except, once again, in occasional long shots. Colors are nicely warm and vivid, and there's a lack of edge of enhancement or any other sort of digital tweaking.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtracks offer precisely what anyone familiar with television dramas would expect. Dialogue is clean and heavily focused front and center. Light ambience and other sound effects sporadically add life to the surrounds, but it's the score (both instrumental and sung) that gives breadth and scope to the tracks.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

This second season of "Army Wives" comes with a satisfying assortment of supplements. First up are three audio commentaries. The first is for the episode "Would You Know My Name". Participating here are executive producers Deborah Spera and Marshall Persinger along with actors Kim Delaney, Sally Pressman, Brigid Brannagh, and Brian McNamara. Despite having the producers in one location and the actors in another, the track is still seamless. Everyone involved shares behind-the-scenes stories, acting methods, and real life inspirations. It strikes a good balance between informative and entertaining.

Persinger and McNamara return for a commentary on "The Hero Returns", this time joined by actors Catherine Bell, Drew Fuller, and Terry Serpico. While the group reflects on shooting the episode, most of the commentary is spent dishing out praise. Some of the surprisingly snide remarks towards particular story points keep things fun, but not a great deal is gleamed.

The final track, this one for the episode "Safe Havens", brings back Persinger and Delaney. Director Lloyd Ahem and actors Sterling Brown, Wendy Davis, and Jeremy Davidson also contribute. This track falls somewhere in the middle of the previous two in terms of presentation. It's not quite as illuminating as the first track, but it feels more substantial than the second one. It's also more amusing, especially to hear reactions from the cast members who've forgotten most of the episode.

A noticeably scruffier Brian McNamara calls out a real-life army wife who has an opinion to voice in "Active Duty: The Cast of Army Wives at Fort Bragg." In "Operational Intelligence: Getting the Army's Support", Army advisor Gavin McCauley explains Drew Fuller's uniform pins. "The Tribe" showcases some of the members of said group enjoying each other's company in between takes.

Video extras appear on Disc 5, beginning with "Active Duty: The Cast of Army Wives at Fort Bragg" (19:57), an unexpectedly honest featurette that follows leading cast members for a day at an actual military base. We see their experiences in training sessions for acts such as helicopter diving and hear their viewpoints on the different military routines they witness. Most of the piece is devoted to Q&A sessions between the cast and real soldiers and Army wives. Thanks to the actors' direct and thought-provoking questions, the feedback from those interviewed is frank and enlightening. It's well-produced and avoids being too fluffy or gushy.

"Operational Intelligence: Getting the Army's Support" (9:30) takes a look at the Army's involvement with the show. The roles of on-set advisors are explained, as are the Season One inaccuracies that were rectified for this year. Some other behind-the-scenes info such as making actor David Call look like a double amputee is also revealed. These factors make it a tight and informative feature.

"The Tribe" (12:15) features interviews with the cast and crew on each of the main characters that make the "Army Wives" tribe. The actors share their thoughts about their respective roles, other characters, and working with their peers. It's lightweight and filled with praise, but the B-roll footage and obvious sincerity of the participants make this watchable.

Sally Pressman and actual army wife Jetta Fuhrman go for a ride on the new gifts donated to Jetta and her friends. Pamela replays a voice message from Tim in hopes of expediting her concealed weapons permit in this deleted scene. In the bloopers reel, Catherine Bell has no idea what to do when finding that Sterling K. Brown has actually fallen asleep before a take.

"'Army Wives' Gives Back" (10:27) is a series of promotional clips that originally aired on Lifetime. All five of the lead female cast members surprise real-life Army wives by granting various wishes and giving away free gifts. It's an obvious means of advertising as each gift's brand name is conveniently showcased, but the wives' reactions still manage to be effective.

Thirteen deleted scenes (13:46) follow. Most of these either show things referenced in the final episodes or simply relay information that's been covered elsewhere. Still, they're a good inclusion, and quite a few are good enough to be edited back in. These are accompanied by commentaries by executive producers Spera and Persinger. The two explain how most of the scenes were cut for time, with only a handful removed because of storytelling faults.

Finally a set of bloopers (3:11) cap off the set. Because of how light-hearted the set of "Army Wives" seems to be, this reel is more amusing than most, especially with Brian McNamara's out-of-character antics.

Disc one opens with trailers for Confessions of a Shopaholic, The Proposal, and Cheri. These can be found under the Sneak Peeks menu along with promos for Blu-ray Discs and SoapNet.

The main menus of all five discs feature the same montage of show clips joined by a flag billowing in the wind. The song "Lifeline" by Mat Kearney plays over this. All other submenus are static with unique score and feature the same layout as the main menu with only the montage replaced by publicity photos.

The five discs feature minimal art, with a different character headshot on each and a blank, reflective background that's prone to fingerprints. They're all stored in a clear Amaray case that comfortably places the discs in swinging trays. The clear color of the case allows for publicity photos and disc breakdowns to be posted in the interior. This case slides into an embossed, cardboard slipcover that matches well with the Digipak of the first season. A booklet advertising Buena Vista Blu-rays is included, as is a leaflet advertising South Carolina tours on one side and "Raising the Bar": The Complete First Season on the other.

In Pamela's (Brigid Brannagh) radio booth, Claudia Joy (Kim Delaney) voices her opinion on the attention army wives are given on base. In the season finale, Emmalin (Katelyn Pippy) and former pen pal Ryan (Justin Smith) spend one last stroll out together before her family sets out for Europe.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

While there's still an overabundance of conventional storylines, the second season of "Army Wives" is a bit of a step up from the previous one thanks to a more dramatic flair. The performances, as before, are what keep the show more involving than it ought to be. The DVD image is above average and with a serviceable audio track. Supplements are deeper than anticipated and should please most fans. Such admirers have no reason not to pick up this set. For fans of soapy television dramas, it's recommended to catch an episode on Lifetime first to see if the series suits their tastes.

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Reviewed June 4, 2009