“Army Wives” is one of cable’s most popular dramas. The show explores the lives of military families, a group of people that everyone admires but few outside of the armed forces truly understand. For six years, the show has taken viewers inside a fictional army base, showcasing everything from the military’s social hierarchy to the stresses of soldiers’ deployments on the spouses and children who are left behind.
XfinityTV asked “Army Wives” showrunner Jeff Melvoin to share with us in his own words his ten favorite episodes of the series, both to give new viewers a primer on the show’s history and to remind fans of the show’s most memorable highlights.
This salute to the men and women who serve our country makes for a perfect Thanksgiving viewing marathon. “It was hard to limit this list to only ten episodes,” Melvoin told us. “Truly, the series continues to stimulate and reward all of us on the creative side of things. We are very excited about what’s coming down the road in Season 7, and hope our viewers take equal pleasure in the journey,” he said.
Xfinity has every single episode of the series available on Streampix.
This week, from Nov. 20-26, Season 1 of “Army Wives” — and dozens of other top shows, like “LOST” and “Grey’s Anatomy” — are FREE for all Xfinity customers to sample.
1.) Season 1, Episode 1: “A Tribe is Born”
Where it all began. A stunning, energetic debut of an original new series. Which I had nothing to do with. I was hired as showrunner after Episode 2. It was the pilot that convinced me to take on the job. I loved it. Fresh characters in a setting I had never seen on television before. Terrific writing, acting, production values. I immediately cared about these people and their problems. I wanted to know more about them. Six years later, I’m still learning more about them – and still loving the show.
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2.) Season 3, Episode 6: “Family Readiness”
As a family drama, we often touch on major life events – births, death, weddings, and so forth (no Bar or Bat Mitzvahs yet). In this episode, the christening of Roland (Sterling Brown) and Joan’s daughter, Sara Elizabeth, brings our families together to celebrate. The ceremony, beautifully shot in a Charleston church, also serves as the backdrop for Denise (Catherine Bell) and Frank’s (Terry Serpico) reconciliation after tottering on the brink of divorce. Another highlight is the introduction of Haneen, an Iraqi girl in need of surgery, whose multi-episode arc reminds us of the many costs of war.
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3.) Season 3, Episode 15: “As Time Goes By”
This special episode pays homage to the army wives of World War II. As two Army widows share fond memories from the past, we tell their story through flashback, with our modern day cast portraying characters in the 1940s. This gave us the opportunity to tackle issues faced by military families at that time, including segregation, gender inequality, and class struggles. Our production team really rose to the challenge of creating a period piece within the budget constraints of a weekly television show. When the episode originally aired, many of our viewers were quite critical because it interrupted the flow of the ongoing stories in the present. I hadn’t seen that coming, but I was gratified to see at season’s end, viewers voted it the most requested repeat, and today I think we can look at it as the extraordinary hour that it is. I remain in awe of what everyone accomplished on this one.
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4.) Season 4, Episode 5: “Guns & Roses”
As one of only two “Army Wives” episodes that specifically highlights a holiday, (the other being “Independence Day” in Season 1, which just missed making this Top 10 list), this Mother’s Day episode featured a guest appearance by Ann-Margret as Michael’s Aunt Edie, a woman still unable to cope with the loss of her son, a Vietnam soldier who went MIA. The episode was a tribute to our military mothers and the unique challenges and sacrifices they face. It features a heart-warming scene where soldiers on leave from Iraq and Afghanistan surprise their families at a Mother’s Day brunch.
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5.) Season 4, Episode 13: “Army Strong”
This episode explored how deployment affects all members of military families – soldiers and spouses, parents, and children. The deployment scene at the end of the episode, masterfully shot at Charleston Air Force Base, features heart-breaking farewells. The final sequence of the hour, played with no dialogue, only choral music (Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitacre), is beautifully haunting, as we cut between our soldiers on the plane and the families they left behind, ending on the iconic image of a C-17 disappearing into the clouds.
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6.) Season 4, Episode 18: “Forward March”
Our season finale in year four was an emotional roller-coaster, forced in part by our need to write it without knowing if the show would be returning for a fifth season. The series continued to perform well, but the network wasn’t in a position to commit by the time we had to film. Consequently, we wanted to provide an extra dose of excitement, but then conclude in an upbeat way that would leave the audience satisfied if this turned out to be, indeed, the final episode of “Army Wives.” In that spirit, the final shot of the episode, which shows the tribe gathered around Denise after she gives birth, is a conscious homage to the final shot of the pilot.
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7.) Season 5, Episode 4: “On Behalf of a Grateful Nation”
The most-watched episode of our series (to date). After four years of a series about military families during a time of war, we thought it was time to present the combat death of a character we knew and loved. In doing so, we wanted to portray events as fully and accurately as dramatically possible. One of the advantages of being an ongoing series is we could devote an entire episode to the death and its repercussions. It was a wrenching episode to write and produce, and it was wrenching for the audience to watch. But it was an important, honest, and compelling story we had to tell to honor what “Army Wives” is all about.
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8.) Season 6, Episode 6: “Viral”
There is still a lot of fear and misconception among the public about Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). We explore this when David Burton’s HIV status is inadvertently revealed to the Fort Marshall community, resulting in an ugly public outcry. The Tribe rallies to support the Burtons in this difficult time. As a rule, we are not an issues-oriented, “ripped from the headlines” series, but we felt this was a subject worth airing. In the end, I think we produced a taut drama that did a responsible job in presenting the facts while continuing to entertain our viewers.
9.) Season 6, Episode 11: “Fallout”
This episode is the second half of a two-parter about our division’s rapid deployment to the fictional African nation of Narubu. As Michael conducts an investigation into the Army’s decision to leave orphans behind, tensions rise among our soldiers and their families. The most unexpected impact is on Jackie (Kelli Williams), who finds herself self-medicating with pills and alcohol to handle the mounting stress. This comes to a head at the Division Banquet when Jackie shows up intoxicated. Claudia Joy (Kim Delaney), Denise, Roxy (Sally Pressman), and Gloria (Alyssa Diaz) swoop in to the rescue, which paves the way for Jackie to develop closer friendships with the tribe. Another highlight is the introduction of Marcus, David Burton’s biological father, played by the terrifically talented Lawrence Gilliard Jr. Featuring the enlarging roles of Gloria and Jackie, and the surprise complication for the Burton family, this episode is a good example of how the series continues to renew its premise from year to year with the injection of new characters and circumstances. Nothing in the Army stays the same forever, and the same holds true for the world of “Army Wives.”
10.) Season 6, Episode 16: “Battle Scars”
In a richly textured episode that includes Roxy helping a wounded warrior and Claudia Joy forming an unlikely friendship with an elderly veteran, the highlight for me is Patti Lupone’s guest appearance as Lorraine, a mother who discovers that her daughter, Captain Nicole Galassini (the outstanding Kellie Martin), is planning to marry her lover, Charlie (the equally outstanding Ryan Bathe, who in real life is married to Sterling Brown, who plays Roland). It was our intent during this season to introduce a lesbian couple in an unexpected and natural way. In this manner, we felt we were reflecting the reality that we’ve observed researching the military since the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The capstone of that dramatic arc in Season 6 was Lorraine’s appearance and the emotional journey she is forced to undergo once she has to face the truth about her daughter.