These “Army Wives” Aren’t “Desperate”

“It’s not that show at all,” says Catherine Bell, rebuffing early criticism that her new Lifetime series, Army Wives, is simply Desperate Housewives set on an Army base. “It’s really just about people, dealing with things that real people deal with, as well as with the added drama of what the Army would deal with.”

And with all that affects military families today, this seems the perfect opportunity to explore some of these issues, which the show delves right into in the pilot episode. There’s a lot going on, which is understandable, as the episode is trying to introduce its five “wives” — one of whom is a man whose wife has just returned from fighting overseas. Both Bell and costar Kim Delaney feel the pace will slow as we get more comfortable following these characters in their daily lives.

“Like life, every day is going to be different,” says Delaney about the characters. “What I love about the show is it’s current; it can go anywhere.”

But how current it will be regarding real-life military events may be a wait-and-see proposition.

“The producers don’t want to make the show political at all,” Bell says. “It’s just more about the people that are in the military and the things they have to deal with. Whether or not they show a clip of Bush making a speech … we did that often on JAG, where we’d pull stuff from the headlines. I think that would be tricky [in this series].”

Bell also has recollections of her time wearing a military uniform on JAG that helped somewhat in this new series, in which she is in civilian duds.

“I think I got such an understanding [of the military], just being around it for nine years [on JAG]. [Army Wives] doesn’t deal with the protocol so much. … [On JAG] I learned all about proper salutes and protocol parts of it. I was able to help Wendy [Davis], who plays [Lt. Col. Joan Burton], kind of give her some pointers on that.”

In addition to reading Tanya Biank’s book Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives, upon which this series is based, Bell had some other experience with the military aside from her work on JAG.

“My daughter goes to school with an Army reservist who teaches about the military,” she says. I was asking his wife some questions.”

Bell also remembers a time when she got up close and personal with some real Army Wives.

“I remember being at Camp Pendleton once, filming there. There’s all these women with two, three kids, and their husbands had been gone eight months, a year. So I had a little taste of it there. … From what I’ve seen, they have the unique thing they have to deal with, where their husband leaves for six, eight, nine months — maybe more — and that horrible fear of not really knowing if they’re going to make it back. You’ve got that, and these women raising their families alone, or men if their wives are going off. So there definitely are some challenges there, and that unknowingness of what’s going to happen in life.”

Delaney has some close ties to the military that helped her get a feel for what these families go through.

“My dad was in the Army,” she says. “I have a really good friend [who was in the military].”

Also, for authenticity’s sake, the pilot episode was filmed on a decommissioned Army base … er, make that “post.”

“It’s a ‘post,'” Bell laughs. “It sounds funny; I’m so used to calling it a ‘base.’ I’ll probably still call it a base for a while.”

That may be a moot point, since Delaney says, “Now they’re going to have sets, once we get everything going.”

Although these characters are not in uniform, from watching the show, one gets the sense that among the women there are established ranks, just like in the military. Delaney agrees.

“It’s kind of like all the wives … whatever their husband’s position is, is what [their] position is on the base. My character [Claudia Joy] is kind of the top dog, because my husband’s the big guy.”

But even a higher rank or seemingly perfect life can’t protect all the characters from the secrets they have in their lives, and it’s this aspect of the show that may, in fact, be similar to Desperate Housewives, although the issues here are of a more serious nature. Some of them are revealed in the pilot; the others we’ll have to wait on.

“Even Claudia Joy has her secret!” laughs Delaney.

Army Wives airs Sundays beginning June 3.