'Swingtown': More than just a summer fling
Between Nina Tassler's tantalizing promise that CBS would "push the envelope" and the Parents Television Council's early condemnation of the program as "one of the most sexually indulgent shows we've seen on broadcast television in a long time," you'd had thought "Swingtown" was the Sodom and Gomorrah of summer television, wall to wall with hot bodies and steamy sex.
But apart from Lana Parrilla's eye-catching retro swimwear and the recurring nods to amorous air crews, "Swingtown" turned out to be a compelling family drama -- not exactly for the family, but about the family.
While its opening credits breezily flipped through the iconic images of the decade (from Jimmy Carter campaign buttons to Farrah Fawcett's famous poster) "Swingtown" at its core has been all about reflective pauses: a suburban couple who married early and wonder about the roads not taken; a pair of wedded traditionals buffeted by the changes in society and their own gender roles; teens looking to find their own path while their parents veered from the traditional one. Adding further irony -- given all the hype about the show's presumed assault on mainstream morality -- even the show's swinging adventurers, Tom and Trina, ended up heading down the road toward conventionality as they pondered the responsibility of having a child.
"Swingtown's" cast is uniformly compelling, with Parrilla, Grant Show and Molly Parker especially showing a willingness to dive into the era's vibe and their characters' lifestyles. Add in the smart '70s soundtrack and those quirky dissolves between scenes, and "Swingtown" has been an intriguing summer surprise -- one that deserves a second season and a better showcase. The finale of the 13-episode summer run certainly left open plenty of hooks for followup.
Despite trumpeting the show as groundbreaking, CBS never seemed entirely comfortable with the concept, and advertisers didn't seem to be clamoring to be part of it either (even early on, the ad breaks were routinely populated with infomercials for '70s song compilations and ads for CBS's own TV on DVD fare). Ratings have been far from eye-opening, too. Word is that the show was initially conceived for cable, and maybe that's where it belongs.
Certainly, CBS sibling Showtime would seem to be a better thematic home, potentially allowing "Swingtown" to embrace its swingers milieu more explicitly and to have its cast speak more directly about the issues underlying its period. Alas, Showtime doesn't seem to have room for it on the sked.
There's a potentially daring series nestled at the core of "Swingtown." And while I'd love to see buttoned-down CBS give the show some room to grow in a second season (midseason replacement might beckon sooner rather than later if the Eye net's frosh fare doesn't spark) and there are already fans at saveswingtown.com trying to make sure the series does get a second season, maybe Showtime would be a better fit. "Californication" and "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" have used frank sexuality as a provocative hook to explore their characters' core personalities.
"Swingtown" might be better moving from the 'burbs to downtown.
-- Brian Cochrane