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September 22, 2014

Swingtown -- An early look

by Allison Waldman, posted Jun 3rd 2008 1:02PM
swingtownHow swinging is CBS's new summer series Swingtown? It's not swinging in the Sinatra-Rat Pack-ring-a-ding-ding way. No, this Swingtown is set in an era ten years later, specifically July 4, 1976, the bicentennial. But Swingtown, which premieres on Thursday at 10 PM ET, is not a nostalgic, optimistic wallow. However, It does evoke a time when America was undergoing a lot of change as the college kids from the late sixties were moving into the seven-year-itch of marriage, raising children, exploring boundaries.

Swingtown reminded me of Knots Landing meets Boogie Nights with a dollop of The Stepford Wives thrown in there, too (maybe it was those scenes in the supermarket). Superficially, there are elements of Swingtown, in particular the attention to detail in the production design and music, that are as spot on for 1976 as Mad Men was for 1960. When you see that pop-top can of Tab, you can't help but go back in time.

Gallery: Swingtown

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Ultimately, though, what makes Swingtown potentially controversial is the sexual mores and social conventions with which it gropes. Three couples are the centerpiece of the stories. Bruce and Susan Miller are moving from their modest suburban home to a bigger, better place down the road. They're leaving behind their best friends, Janet and Roger Thompson, once their peers. However, now the Millers are moving on up -- like The Jeffersons, only it's not a deluxe apartment in the sky. It's a mini-mansion in Winnetka. Bruce's big new Cadillac convertible (I think it was an El Dorado) is symbolic of their upwardly mobile direction. And as they drive away, waving goodbye to Janet and Roger, they're literally moving on.

With their fancy new digs, the Millers also gain a gorgeous set of neighbors, Tom and Trina Decker. Bruce and Susan attend a July 4th pool party at the Decker's house, unaware that they are prey to Tom and Trina's experimental lifestyle. They swing. They have an open marriage. They want to reel Bruce and Susan into their intimate circle. Before you know it, Susan's being offered a Qualuude -- to take the edge off -- like it's an Altoid. Meanwhile, Tom is passing a doobie to Bruce. This is all a prelude to an invitation to Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice scene. When Janet and Roger come to the party, they are the proverbial fish out of water. Janet searches for the powder room and instead discovers the orgy room.

Swingtown is about how these three couples deal with the times that were a-changing. While there are questions about morality and what is acceptable behavior -- wife-swapping, sleeping with multiple partners while still professing love for only your spouse, taking drugs without conscience -- Swingtown is also about the couples' families, their kids. The canvas is much more than the sexual shenanigans. If creator Mike Kelly's show is to take off, it'll be on the strength of Bruce and Susan, Roger and Janet, Tom and Trina, more than the glimpses of writhing bodies in the Decker's basement.

For me, Swingtown's pilot delivered an interesting premise and I'm inclined to tune in again. The acting is very good, although for me, Molly Parker's Susan is not perfect casting. She seems a little low on voltage, but maybe she'll get more energized as the character evolves.

It's amazing to look back at that era knowing what we know now about where we've come. Is Swingtown's 1976 as much a turning point in American culture as Mad Men's 1960 was? Probably not. And if you were around in 1976 -- I was -- you're aware that the situations in which were thrust were not typical. Every neighborhood gathering wasn't about key parties and nude Twister. Not everyone was snorting coke and popping Ludes. In this way, Swingtown is not a universal as a show like The Wonder Years. But The Wonder Years never took the chances that Swingtown might.

So, bottom line, Swingtown has potential and promise. I'm intrigued and I think you will be, too.

One last thought: it's interesting to note that this show is on CBS. It's not the usual hour drama the Tiffany network presents. If you're expecting Swingtown to mesh with Ghost Whisperer or any of the procedural programs in the CBS wheelhouse, forget it. For that reason, unless Swingtown takes off this summer, I can't see CBS renewing it for a long run. So, if you have reservations about giving your time and attention to a show that may not last, think twice before getting hooked. But as an interesting summer series, this works.

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nattyff

boring

June 08 2008 at 7:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
DK

I didn't care for it.

June 07 2008 at 12:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Katie

***Poor Grammar Alert***

"While THERE ARE questions about morality and what is acceptable behavior -- wife-swapping, sleeping with multiple partners while still professing love for only your spouse, taking drugs without conscience -- ARE THERE, Swingtown is also about the couples' families, their kids"

Remember, spell check doesn't catch everything

June 05 2008 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cold Chilli

It was pitched to HBO and they turned it down. The CBS picked it up. i can't see CBS giving it the truth is needs with sex drugs and rock and roll. I can't wait for the "Very Special Episodes"

BTW, where are the Quaalude's now and why have people stopped taking them. Or do they have a new name?

June 04 2008 at 10:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Cold Chilli's comment
Terry

Quadludes have not been made by the pharmaceutical companies since the late 70's. They were considered to be too addicting...

June 05 2008 at 7:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
PORSCHE

"So, if you have reservations about giving your time and attention to a show that may not last, think twice before getting hooked."

That's a way to drive down ratings which in turn help cancel a show.

June 04 2008 at 1:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
George

I liked this piece, particularly your artful use of the word "gropes" in the third paragraph, but your misuse of the plural possessive is killing me. There are two of them, so they are the Deckers. The possessive is Deckers'.

June 03 2008 at 1:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carissa

I absolutely cannot wait to see this. I was 11 in 1976, and I'm still obsessed with the era. I will watch for the sets alone.

I've seen very good discussion and write-ups on the show so far, which leads me to believe it will be barely watched. However, I can't help but tune in.

Your take was another nail in the coffin that is my viewing pleasure - I'm sure I will be totally taken in and disappointed just as quickly when it is canceled.

June 03 2008 at 1:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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