Swingtown sounded like it belonged on Showtime. Pay cable is normally where you’d see a series about a sweet family getting lured into a suburban pagan lifestyle during 1976. The carnality of its title hints you’ll be seeing naked flesh from the moment the Welcome Wagon lady rings the new neighbors doorbell. But this show really did air on CBS during the summer of ’08. It proved a network could take risks instead of merely naming a new location for the CSI empire. Would America be ready for series that wasn’t 7th Heaven?
The Miller family is moving on up in Chicago. Bruce (Pirates of the Caribbean‘s Jack Davenport) has been doing well as a trader on the Mercantile Exchange. He moves his wife (Deadwood‘s Molly Parker), daughter (Shanna Collins) and son (Aaron Christian Howles) to a neighborhood closer to Lake Michigan. Unlike their calm neighbors at the old homestead (Josh Hopkins and Hedwig and the Angry Inch‘s Miriam Shor), the new folks across the street have a bathing suits optional swimming pool. Grant Show (Melrose Place) and Lana Parrilla (Once Upon A Time) want to borrow more than a cup of sugar from the Millers. They’re veteran swingers. He’s got pilot wings and a pornstache. Shes got a sexy bob that merges the hair of Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Dorothy Hamill. This is a couple that can lure the innocent into debauchery.
“Pilot” opens up in the cockpit with what looks like Show getting orally pleasured by a stewardess. This turns out to be a tease, but theres a payoff. He puts the pornstache to work and brings the girl back home to share with the wife. This moment is what makes Swingtown significant. Anytime a network show deals with swingers, they reduce it down to a house key swap scene such as they did on The O.C. The husband and wife go off separately with their randomly picked lovers. They never show a couple that plays together with their new friends. Parrilla was a wife who enjoyed her bisexual pleasures in the company of her husband. Playing a character from the seventies allowed her to push the envelope in the 21st century.
Show and Parrilla aren’t crazed sex maniacs. They aren’t devious in their seduction of the Millers. They invite them over for a wild party to observe if newbies want to explore the lifestyle. The Millers old friends come along, but they become disgusted like Ned Flanders at Plato’s Retreat. The couple that’s moving up in the world decide to crawl into the crowded King-sized bed. We don’t have to suffer through dozens of episodes wondering if this will be the week they’ll all get it on. Although what follows are weeks of the Millers pondering if they did the right thing by making the beast with four backs.
The series wasn’t merely about the adults at play. There were subplots dealing with kids coming of age in the Bicentennial summer. The son develops a crush on the girl next door. Shes got problems in her home. Mom (The Devil’s Rejects‘ Kate Norby) is divorced, drugged up and the neighborhood skank. The Millers teenage daughter is having a fling with her summer school teacher although nothing gets physical until after the final exam. She doesn’t want to seem like this is all just a cheap extra credit project. The folks aren’t happy at this relationship.
The old neighbors get their moral compasses adjusted. During “Cabin Fever” Shor loses her Churchlady attitude after a pot brownie. “Go Your Own Way” has her hanging out with Deep Throats Harry Reams. Hopkins loses his job. While looking for work, he opens himself up to the desire that he wants to hook up with Parker. But does he wants to swing or just dump Shor for her. They become infected by the times. Likewise Show and Parrilla go through relationship changes as autumn approaches. Will any of their relationships survive past Labor Day?
Swingtown would have benefited from adult in language and nudity on a pay channel. But the broadcast standards didn’t lessen the dynamics at the heart of the series. As someone who still remembers the summer of ’76, they nail the period without getting too cheesy. The 13 episodes deal with subjects arising during that time instead of just altering the reliable family drama plots with funky hairdos. The cast of Eight Is Enough never dealt with how many people can safely fit in a hottub.
Swingtown gave hope that a network can green light a TV series that dares to step outside the safe cookie cutter programming. Unfortunately there was no second season. But with Swingtown: The First Season you can relive that summer when things seemed to be changing whether it be ’08 or ’76. I’m not sure why this isn’t called Swingtown: The Complete Series.
“Pilot,” “Love Will Find a Way,” “Double Exposure,” “Cabin Fever,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Friends with Benefits,” “Heatwave,” “Puzzlerama,” “Swingus Interruptus,” “Running on Empty,” “Get Down Tonight,” “Surprise” and “Take It to the Limit.”
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The transfers are clean and let you explore the detail in the shag carpeting. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital Stereo. Your ears get wrapped in the greatest hits of 76. It appears that none of the super songs from the original broadcast were replaced.
Audio Commentary on “Pilot” and “Take It to the Limit” have Mike Kelley and Alan Poul talking. They reveal how they shot the first episode in March of 2007 in Austin, Texas. They waited a long time to get this on the air. They discuss shaping the sex and innuendo scenes to meet FCC standards. They digitally removed a leg to tone down a shot.
Deleted Scenes (6:06) come from many of the episodes. The moments were snipped before they started laying on the sound effects for the background noises. Always fun to see people in quiet discos. Nothing too naughty was snipped away.
The Spirit of 76: The Making of Swingtown (22:55) gives a through view of what inspired the series and how the cast entered the times. The art department did their best to have the rooms look like their relatives old places. It shows they went though a little bit more of a creative process than That 70s Show.
Have a Nice Revolution: Sex & Morality in 1970s America (12:55) puts context to the historical carnality. Its odd to see Jack Davenport using his real English accent while still wearing his Swingtown wardrobe. Everyone talks about pushing the limits of the network standards. None of the cast or crew talk about personal swinging experience. Why wouldn’t any artist confess their art coming from their life? Nobody talks about the power of the pornstache.
Gag Reel (3:40) has Grant Show getting funky with the head bob when he blows a take. The cuss words are blooped. There’s a sneeze moment that could have worked in the episode. Molly Parker is so cute when she breaks character.
CBS DVD presents Swingtown: The First Season. Starring: Molly Parker, Miriam Shor, Jack Davenport, Grant Show and Lana Parrilla. Boxset Contents: 13 episodes on 4 DVDs. Released: June 18, 2019.
Tags: Deadwood, melrose place, Swingtown