On TV, it's the summer of the wife.
Barely had Desperate Housewives wrapped its third season than a sudden blitz began: USA Network's comic The Starter Wife (Thursdays, 9 pm/ET), ABC's insipid reality show Ex-Wives Club (Mondays, 9 pm/ET) and a fifth and final season of BBC America's campy Footballers Wive$ (starts Wednesday, 8 pm/ET).
Since Lifetime couldn't possibly sit this wave out, along comes Army Wives (premieres June 3 at 10 pm/ET), a sudsy home-front drama about military families set against a current backdrop of war and wrenching deployments. It fits this network's brand like a dress uniform on parade day. If you like Lifetime, you'll probably love this one.
Which is to say: Don't expect the second coming of FX's gritty Over There or the poignant classic China Beach. Think The Unit minus the paranoia and secret-ops action.
Army Wives succeeds best at dissecting the rigid social structure of a Charleston, South Carolina, Army post, where idle gossip and inconvenient scandals — like a teenager arrested at a peace rally — can threaten careers. There is a timely undercurrent of fear and loss as couples face separation and worse, but the tone is more escapist than hard-hitting.
Some subplots, including a surrogate pregnancy and domestic abuse, are as familiar as the TV-friendly cast, which includes Kim Delaney and Catherine Bell — though the breakout is newcomer Sally Pressman as scrappy, proudly trashy Roxy, who met her paratrooper-in-training husband less than a week before marrying him.
If the show feels at times contrived and more than a little square, I'm betting few among Lifetime's loyal audience will hesitate before enlisting.
Who doesn't love a talking animal? The twist in CBS' animated Creature Comforts (Mondays, 8 pm/ET), based on the Oscar-winning short and subsequent British series, is that the loquacious critters, from cuddly pets to exotic wildlife, are voiced not by actors but by average Americans being interviewed on commonplace subjects. The juxtapositions are hilarious: a hippo whining about being weighed by skinny girls, a monkey reciting “He loves me, he loves me not” as she picks nits off her mate. I hung on and laughed at nearly every word.
The hokey material would have felt stale in the '60s. The sloppy execution comes off like bad dinner theater. Actually, more like a rehearsal. If the family comedy weren't already nearly dead, Tyler Perry's House of Payne (Wednesdays, 9 pm/ET, TBS, see page 36) would make you want to kill it. (Helps you appreciate an underrated gem like Everybody Hates Chris all the more.) Still, if the thought of a chubby curmudgeon (LaVan Davis, a poor man's Cosby by way of Ralph Kramden) griping about his overcrowded house seems novel and funny to you, go for it.