‘Married to the Army: Alaska,’ routine
OWN series attempts to capture what military families go through
November 16, 2012
Ideally, a documentary should tell us something we don't know, and it should share that new information in new way.
OWN's documentary series "Married to the Army: Alaska" tell us something we all know — that the family members of soldiers also pay a price — and it shares that information by using the familiar methods of vérité TV. Although the message is worthwhile, the familiarity reduces its impact, and the show fails to make a strong impression.
Premiering this Sunday, Nov. 18, at 10 p.m., the series focuses on a group of women living on or near an Army base in Anchorage, Alaska, whose husbands are serving in Afghanistan.
The third episode, which was the only one available for review, happens around Mother's Day. Blair is trying to reconnect with her husband, Brian, a staff sergeant on a two-week leave who is in turn trying to bond with their infant son. Yolanda, whose husband, Morris, is the brigade commander, is enjoying a visit from her son, Cameron, an undergraduate at West Point.
Meanwhile, Sara and Traci, whose husbands are specialists, are enduring a "blackout," during which communications from overseas are cut off after the death or injury of a soldier in the field.
Blair and Brian's story dominates the episode. She says that she has become used to living without him, and the strain shows. He's having a hard time taking care of their son, who was only three months old when Brian went overseas.
What is supposed to be a romantic dinner out becomes tense when Brian asks Blair about a crafts business she had been planning to start and she thinks that he's implying that she doesn't have enough to do raising their son alone.
But after we hear Blair joke that "to nag is to love," we start to suspect that the tension might be due more to ordinary marital dysfunction than to the particular stresses of life in the military.
Yolanda and Morris provide a counterexample. After she gets some surprising news from their son, she struggles with whether or not to tell Morris. Over the phone, he senses that she's holding something back. Their conversation takes a moving and inspiring turn.
Sara and Traci's anxiety is conveyed effectively. After not hearing from her husband for five days, Sara talks about her increasing fear of getting a knock on the door.
She also says that her husband, with whom she moved to Alaska three days after their wedding, is no longer the man she fell in love with. She may be the first wife in history to complain that her husband has lost weight during their marriage.
Without minimizing the sacrifices these women are making, the fact that they're making sacrifices will be news to few viewers. This would be less of an issue if the show itself were more original. Instead, it's a standard mix of talking-head sound bites and staged conversations.
After the third time we see two people sitting down to a meal or a drink and one of them asks the other how he or she is feeling, we start to feel we've strayed into an unusually low-volume episode of a "Real Housewives" show.
The producers mix this up by having Sara and Traci take their kids to the zoo and having Yolanda and Cameron go fishing, but the segments still feel faked.
The woman in "Married to the Army: Alaska" are going through something extraordinary. The show shouldn't make their stories seem ordinary.
Tags: Afghanistan, communications, documentary, kids, married to the army, married to the army: alaska, married to the army: alaska review, military families, own, people, Real Housewives, time, tv, tv reviews, viewers, West Point
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