Having been granted “unparalleled access to embed cameras in the real lives of Army wives,” “Married to the Army: Alaska” can’t exactly replicate Lifetime’s scripted “Army Wives,” or even a “Real Housewives” knockoff, although there is some of that. Nobody can say military families’ plight has been underreported — media and politicians have been highly cognizant of lauding the troops and their sacrifices post-Sept. 11 — but that doesn’t make their uncertainty and strain any less real. As such, this series is a well-calibrated fit for OWN, a channel whose recruiting drive to enlist viewers has faced its share of challenges.
Seven women living at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska are featured in the series, experiencing the stress of raising children alone while their husbands are deployed, along with understandable apprehension whenever the phone rings.
As one of the wives notes, although her husband faces dangers serving abroad, when she chose to marry into the Army, “That’s a commitment I made that day, too.”
In some ways, technology has eased, or at least adapted, the burden of separation, allowing soldiers to see loved ones and vice versa via Skype. Yet as a later episode makes clear, that doesn’t necessarily make interactions less awkward when the military men return on leave, feeling like near-strangers to their young children and not always connecting with their spouses.
Inevitably, the show contains a number of “Real Housewives”-like elements. For all the talk of this unique sisterhood, the most memorable exchange involves Traci — who met her husband while working at Hooters — and Lindsey, who feels compelled to scold her for mentioning that little tidbit to the base commander’s wife. (Of course, if this were Bravo, somebody would flip over a table and yell, “Whore!”)
Such stock reality moments, however, are offset by hearing the commander’s wife, Yolanda, express misgivings about having her grown son follow in her husband’s footsteps, soberly discussing the difference between having her spouse and child in harm’s way, while acknowledging that if it’s not her kid, it’ll be somebody else’s.
OWN has often struggled to fulfill the demands of Oprah Winfrey’s “Live your best life” mantra — finding shows that are emotional and compelling, without feeling like the equivalent of broccoli TV.
By that measure “Married to the Army” is a solid addition to its lineup — and one that doesn’t require Oprah’s oncamera presence. Unlike many reality shows, moreover, it’s inherently emotional — which, given OWN’s profile, could be the foundation for a TV marriage that’s built to last.