I watched the premier episode of Swingtown last night.
My first though is, wow, i wish this was on cable. I want to see these good looking people a lot more naked than they are. Because it’s a hot show full of hot people, taking about and having a lot of sex.
My second thought was, wow, this is CBS? It’s hard to believe a show in which couples swing, in which teenagers talk about having sex, in which people pass joints, snort coke, and gobble qualuudes, is on CBS. FX, sure; Bravo, sure. But CBS?
The thing, though, that makes Swingtown interesting on first viewing, isn’t that it’s sexy, or even that it brings swing/poly lifestyles into the mainstream view; it’s that the level of era detail is astonishing. It’s not just the 1976 cars and the fashions; it’s not just the colors of the kitchen appliances. It’s not just the hair. It’s the camera work; it’s the lighting. It’s the products on people’s shelves. The grocery store, down to the last detail (the kinds of shelves, the meat counter, the decor, the color palate of the products on the shelves) all looked exactly the way they looked when I was fourteen years old. And the show, visually, looks like the shows I watched in those days. A lot of the scenes, when paused, looked like magazine adds from the era; I kept picturing the ads in playboy from the early seventies. I was wondering what visual tricks they used to get it to look so seventies; era cameras and lenses? Or just clever post-processing of video? It was hard for me to even pay attention to who was doing what to whom, and I had to keep running back to study minor details like product labels; it was so damned accurate, it almost freaked me out.
But how’s the show?
I’m not sure, actually.
The cast is great; Grant Show (best known for Melrose Place) has found his look and era; he’s so completely right in his seventies shag hair and mustache, I’d tell him to never play a modern character again. Lana Parrilla as his wife is sexy and edgy; you want to fuck her a lot, but you never know what she’s thinking. Molly Parker (Alma Garret on Deadwood, though I couldn’t place that until I looked her up on IMDB) is fabulous (and hot as a readhead), though she has a habit of mumbling so badly I had trouble hearing what she was saying.
But the first three quarters of the episode seemed like an introduction of a list of stock characters; “hip swingers couple”, “hot stewardess”, “uptight neighbor”, “cokehead neighbor”, “hip young teacher”, “dangerous lolita with crush on teacher”. It’s well executed, looks great, and has an amazing sound-track, all period correct (though this is the one area where it’s not accurate, the people are all too white-middle-class to be listening to music that’s this hip). But the characters seemed all sketch and no depth.
That changes in the last fifteen minutes of the show. We get a party scene that looks like a playboy fantasy, with disco-dancing hotties in farrah curls, polyester, chest hair, coke, joints, and quaaludes. And suddenly the major characters and their lifestyles crash into each other, swingers seduce straight-but-cusrious new neighbors, coke-head mom joins orgy in the ‘playroom’ basement with coke dealer and pile of sweaty babes. Uptight old-neighbor gets a glimpse of ‘the lifestyle’ and freaks right the fuck out, while her husband sighs and visibly wishes. And all of this while “Dream Weaver” plays with gradual increase of volume. The editing is great, and teh storytelling suddenly kicks into gear, with very little dialog.
I can’t see how this show can work as a series; it should be a mini-series, and it should be on cable. It’s hard to take characters in a life-style like this and not use silly devices to drive the plot beyond a natural arc. And network teevee,I fear, won’t tolerate a show about happy alternative lifestyles, so we will have to get some expose of what swinging does to people and how they all wind up unhappy (after covert affairs between people who are in theory swinging openly). I want to see it say, yeah, they’re all bed-hopping, but that’s just the background, and it’s *ok*.
Still, it’s interesting to see something so overtly alternative on network teevee. It’s cool to see drug use back in the public eye in a realistic way, and one hopes this opens a dialog about relationship openness for a lot of people who may think about it, but be afraid to raise the issue. And to me, if it does that, it’s a good thing, all entertainment aside. Because I think our culture has a lot of absurd baggage built up over the idea of monogamy, and anything that gets people to step back and question it is a positive thing.
As to the show; you bet it’s programmed into my tivo. If it stays anywhere near as good as the last fifteen minutes of the premier, it’s a keeper.