Success is in the details of swingin’ ’70s drama
There are two ways to look at Swingtown, the ambitious but flawed new period drama about swinging couples in late ’70s suburbia.
On one level, it’s a G-rated sex romp, an ensemble soap about wife-swapping, Quaalude-popping suburbanites that was originally developed for permissive/no-limits HBO by one of the producers of Six Feet Under.
HBO decided it had enough R-rated sex romps of its own — Tell Me You Love Me, Big Love, etc. — and so Swingtown was reinvented for conventional broadcast TV and picked up by CBS. (It will air on Global in Canada.)
The wife-swapping remains, but the nudity and earthy language are history: Swingtown is Boogie Nights for the Desperate Housewives crowd.
On another level, though — and this is the level that will appeal to the viewer with discerning taste who is looking for something different — Swingtown is a complex, thoughtful morality play that isn’t about sexual swinging so much as the swing of the social pendulum. At a surface glance, Swingtown has sex on the brain.
Deeper down, though, it’s about a society’s changing value system, played out against the backdrop of the 1976 U.S. bicentennial, when feminism, civil rights, an unpopular war, sexual experimentation and drug-taking became part of the social mainstream. Swingtown is earnest, faithful to its time and surprisingly engaging.
The details count for a lot, from the flared pants and feathered hairdos to the foxy ladies and groovy parties.
The cast is terrific: Canadian Molly Parker and Jack Davenport as a naive, newly married couple who move to a new neighbourhood; Grant Show and Lana Parrilla as the funloving, hard-living partygoers who introduce their new neighbours to a swinging lifestyle.
Swingtown feels real, too, thanks to a period score that is both nostalgic and telling: Captain & Tennille’s Love Will Keep Us Together, Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now, Gary Wright’s Dream Weaver — beautifully chosen songs that mean more than just sonic wallpaper.
Swingtown is not the best new drama series of the year, but it is one of the most interesting. And unusual.
Global, CBS, 10 p.m. Three to see: Think of the new anthology horror series Fear Itself as Masters of Horror without the “salacious sexuality and gruesome, bloody gore,” in the words of executive-producer Keith Addis, who produced both shows. First up: a “highoctane vampire thriller!” Sounds sweet.
E!, NBC, 10 p.m.
Are those crystal skulls real? The science doc Mystery of the Crystal Skulls tries to learn if there’s any scientific foundation behind Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, and finds that, where there’s smoke, there’s something resembling fire.
5 and 10 p.m. Discovery
An expanded, two-hour edition of Last Comic Standing finds Dave Foley and Richard Kind auditioning wannabe stand-up cut-ups in Toronto, while Josh Gomez and French Stewart double as talent scouts in San Francisco. All that, and a Top 10 countdown of the worst and craziest auditions of the season, too. How can you go wrong?
Global, NBC, 8 p.m.