[True story: My parents were temporarily transferred to Florida a few years ago. I went to visit, and enjoyed a week in the sun hanging out at the pool at their condo complex. One night after dinner, after a particularly rigorous day of doing nothing in particular, I went to try out the hot tub. I grew up in New England, and there weren't a lot of them around. While I pickled myself with both the steamy bubbles and a Corona, I was joined by a married couple who lived at the complex. Friendly conversation ensued, until, at one point, it became clear - in my paranoid, beer-assisted mind -- that their invite to "check out their DVD collection" might have actually been, you know, an invite to
check out their DVD collection. Now I'm a firm believer in doing whatever frosts your cupcake, but, well, needless to say, this couple didn't look even remotely like the cast of
Swingtown. My starchy Yankee reflexes kicked in, I faked a strenuous Charlie horse, and fake-hobbled back to my parent's condo. There you have it in a nutshell: my storied swinging history. Life is an intricately woven tapestry, no?]
As a huge fan of HBO's programming past and present, I wasn't surprised to hear that
Swingtown was originally pitched to the cable network. I was, on the other hand, surprised to hear that once HBO passed, it was CBS -- home of
Murder, She Wrote,
60 Minutes, and a cagillion crime procedurals, that picked it up. How in the name of Rita Coolidge was the gray Eye going to sell a kooky drama about suburban swinging -- that is, partner-swapping group sex -- to its kindly, hobbled viewership? Well, I have no idea, but they're certainly trying, starting with the vintage CBS network promo that preceded tonight's telecast with the naughty tagline "Turn us on, and we'll turn you on." Oh, CBS,
The fun begins with the porn-mustachioed pilot Tom Decker (
Grant Show, he of
Melrose Place fame and subsequent casting pigeonholing) announcing his flight's imminent arrival in Chicago while a female head bobbed suggestively in his lap. Meow -- bring your tray tables and seats upright and prepare for takeoff! But oh, CBS, you scamp, the female in question is merely cleaning up a nasty coffee spill. But the smirky, flirty, saucy tone of the scene gave me hope that the decrepit, cane-assisted CBS might actually be able to swing with the swingers.
So let's meet the Deckers. Well, we know Tom already from his cockpit exploits. Tammy, the weepy, clumsy stewardess who spilled on Tom's uniform, made it up to him - by joining him later for group sex with him and his swanky, sexy stewardess wife Trina (
Lana Parrilla, who I remember as one of the doomed lady-Others who was in the underwater hatch with Charlie on
Lost), she of the perky flip hairdo and predatory stare that made me blush through my television.
Through vertical blinds, the Deckers spy their wholesome new neighbors, Susan and Bruce Miller (
Molly Parker and
Jack Davenport, who you probably recognize from the
Pirates of the Caribbean movies), who are moving on up from their quaint Chicago suburb, where they are friends with the uptight Janet and her henpecked husband, Roger (
Miriam Shor and
Josh Hopkins). Janet is Susan's most loyal friend, although Bruce thinks she's clingy and needy. Janet
is kind of a pill. Roger, on the other hand, seems ripe for swinging, judging from the way he moons over Susan several times during this episode. Is there a history there... or perhaps a future?
But for now it's the Deckers who have set their laser-focused sexy eyes on the Millers, welcoming them to the neighborhood with a bottle of Dom Perignon, the shortest short-shorts ever to go jogging, and an invite to come to a Bicentennial Fourth of July party. "You might want to get a sitter," Trina purrs. "This party will go late." The Millers are naturally intrigued.
I have to point out that CBS might owe some royalties to Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of
Boogie Nights, a film the party scene borrows from liberally, what with all the cocaine, group dancing (they even played the Commodores' "Machine Gun," which appears on the film's soundtrack), and, of course, the public sex. I can't imagine that this will be the last time that I notice some similarities. Fortunately, I'm a big fan of
Boogie Nights, so I will enjoy the "homage."
At the party, the Millers -- who have awkwardly invited square Janet and Roger to join them -- learn that the Deckers have an open marriage. I have to give credit to the actors here. Without Show and Parrilla's genuine warmth and seduction, the whole scene would seem rather unseemly. Instead, when Trina offers Susan a Quaalude to "take the edge off," you think to yourself: Hmm, I could really use a Quaalude, whatever that is. The producers have said that
Swingtown's success or failure rests in this single moment. If the audience can't empathize with Susan's decision to accept Trina's pharmaceutical party gift, then they're not going to be on board for the rest of the wild ride that
Swingtown's premise promises.
For me, I think Parker nails it. Her fluttery hand gesture when she asks if Trina and Tom have an open marriage goes a long way to conveying her nervousness, shock, courtesy and curiosity all at once. Her expressive, honest face and gentle, quivering smile asks us what we would do in her place. For her part, in a
Matrix-y instant, Susan downs the 'lude and descends the Decker rabbit hole. And off we go.
But in case this seedy scenario is not your cup of Chablis, we have Janet on the scene as kind of a morality Greek chorus. She squirms and fidgets her way through the Deckers' party, speaking up only to defend her place as Susan's oldest, dearest friend. "If you say 'old neighbor' one more time, I'm going to go home and hang myself," Janet whines, when Susan introduces her to her exciting new friend Trina. When she discovers the
real party going on the Deckers' basement playroom, she most definitely disapproves, and is thrown for a loop when her old friends decide to stay for a nightcap (nudgenudgewinkwink). In response, she goes all Lady MacBeth on her oven when she gets home, and cringes when her husband offers a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "Don't... touch me," she snaps. Someone's got some issues, ay?
But you probably want to hear about the sex, right? Well, this is CBS and not HBO so the actual on-screen interaction is limited to some cheesy, softcore-inspired choreography involving a clothed backrub (a backrub is
never just a backrub) and some daintily symbolic close-ups of interlaced female fingers. It's art-directed just cornily enough to seem both illicit and dreamy, and spares us of the actual ugliness of sex, which - let's face it - probably doesn't have a place in this glazed network-TV fantasy.
Oh, also... there are kids! I'll get into them more later in the season, but, for now, a brief introduction:
The Millers' daughter, Laurie, looks like a young Ali MacGraw, which seems appropriate to the time period. She's a snarky, smart girl with a stoner boyfriend who brags about getting in her pants, a crush on her summer-school teacher (who takes AP philosophy over the summer?), and her own struggles with freedom, sexual and otherwise.
Laurie's little brother, B.J., has a best friend Ricky (Janet and Roger's son), with whom he reads porno mags and talks uncomfortably about girls. I might be wrong, but I got the impression that B.J.'s sexuality - and his close friendship with Ricky - is something that the show will explore to a predictable, only-on-TV conclusion. Ricky, who seems mostly oblivious to his pal's discomfort, had his own plotline launching pad tonight when a girl he lied about having seen naked, the snappily named Betsy Burdiss, beat the crap out of him for his untruthful boasts.
And then there is a creepy, mysterious neighbor girl, Samantha (a sort of mini-Rollergirl, which is unsettling). It seems she has plans to run away, having broken into the Millers' vacant house and stashed some provisions. There is mention of her absent (?) father's wedding ring, and her cokehead mom, Gail, asks her to go to the store to buy mass quantities of aluminum foil, which Gail then uses to block out the windows in her bedroom. Does anyone have a clue why she's doing that? Is it a drug thing? A sex thing? A tanning thing? Only time will tell
It will be interesting to see if a show about swinging can sustain itself once the initial excitement of, you know, deciding to swing is resolved within the pilot episode. But, for now, I'm intrigued.
How about you? Are you boarding the express train to
Swingtown? Or does the show's racy premise offend you? Or are you a dirty perv who thinks a show about group sex without any actual sex isn't worth it?
Poll: Did Swingtown Offend You?
Swingtown Celebrates the Sex (and Realism) of the '70s
[True story My parents were temporarily transferred to Florida a few years ago I went to visit and enjoyed a week in the sun hanging out at the pool at their condo complex One night after dinner after a particularly rigorous day of doing nothing in particular I went to try out the hot tub I grew up in New England and there werent a lot of them around While I pickled myself with both the steamy bubbles and a Corona I was joined by a married couple who lived at the complex Friendly conversation ensued until at one point it became clear - in my paranoid beer-assisted mind -- that their invite to check out their DVD collection might have actually been you know an invite to check out their DVD collection Now Im a firm believer in doing whatever frosts your cupcake but well needless to say this couple didnt look even remotely like the cast of Swingtown My starchy Yankee reflexes kicked in I faked a strenuous Charlie horse and fake-hobbled back to my par