Tuned In: 'Army Wives' is soap du jour

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Army Wives
When: 10 tonight on Lifetime.
Starring: Catherine Bell
Creature Comforts
When: 8 p.m. Monday, CBS.
   

First, the good news: Lifetime's "Army Wives" (10 tonight) is the best drama series the network has developed in ages. It's leaps and bounds above last summer's dreadful "Angela's Eyes," but that's not saying much.

That brings us to the not-so-good news: "Army Wives" introduces a disparate group of potentially interesting characters but fails to do much with them. The obvious, soapy stories plod along at a too-languid pace, leaving talented actors in their wake.

The big-name stars here are Catherine Bell, marking her return to series TV after "JAG," and Kim Delaney, still best known for her "NYPD Blue" role. But they play the most passive, least interesting characters in "Army Wives." Newcomers get the flashiest roles.

Single mom bartender Roxy (Sally Pressman) impulsively marries good-guy soldier Trevor (Drew Fuller, "Charmed") and finds herself learning the Army way while adjusting to married life. This is the series' liveliest couple, and "Army Wives" sparks to life anytime these two are on screen.

In contrast, Delaney plays upstanding mother hen Claudia Joy Holden, who has an ideal marriage to her colonel husband (Brian McNamara). Claudia Joy (never just Claudia) is close friends with Denise Sherwood (Bell), who harbors a dark secret that doesn't remain a secret long.

Pamela (Brigid Brannagh) also has a secret, one her husband (Jeremy Davidson, "The Kill Point") insists she keep: The twin babies she carries are not their children; Pamela is a surrogate, something husband Chase is loath to share with anyone else on post.

There's also an Army husband, Roland (Sterling K. Brown), a psychiatrist struggling to deal with his lieutenant colonel wife, Joan (Wendy Davis), who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In format, "Army Wives" is reminiscent of the home-front portion of "The Unit." Created by relative TV series newcomer Katherine Fugate and based on the book "Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives" by Tanya Biank, "Army Wives" offers an intriguing premise that's bogged down in its execution by uninspired, unimaginative stories.

'Creature Comforts'

Remember that animated "Saturday Night Live" sketch "Fun With Real Audio"? Robert Smigel takes real audio recordings and then animates something outrageous to go with them. CBS's "Creature Comforts" (8 p.m. Monday) is sort of like that, but much less outrageous and far too long. The show almost begs viewers to change the channel.

There's no plot, no coherent story. Just a bunch of sound bites culled from real-person interviews and put into the mouths of stop-motion animals created by Nick Park and Aardman Animations Ltd., the folks behind "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit."

"The first thing I remember is her eyes and her facial expression," says one animated bird as his mate rolls around a lazy eye and makes a strange face. This is emblematic of the humor in "Creature Comforts." Some of it is funny, some is boring, and some is bound to offend the easily offended.

The premiere episode gets off to an inauspicious start as two people can be heard describing the scent of wine while the animation shows two dogs sniffing the rear end of another dog. CBS's longtime viewers are bound to change the channel right then. Younger viewers will flip at the first commercial.

While some of the sketches -- organized into themes like "secrets and lies," "animal magnetism" -- have moments of good humor, they're best viewed in short, YouTube bursts. Strung together to fill out a half-hour, "Creature Comforts" quickly wears out its welcome.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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