Saturday, August 02, 2008


Swingtown CBS. TV Series. Currently on at 10 pm on Fridays (tho I think last night it was not shown until 11.) Past Eps available at the website.

The Plot: The summer of 1976; three suburban couples face the changing times. Tom and Trina embrace the new philosophies; Bruce and Susan are not sure what they want but both want something different; Roger and Janet are shocked (shocked, I tell you) at anyone wanting anything than the traditional white picket fence.

The Good: Most descriptions of this show focus on the sexual revolution aspect of this show, specifically the swingers, Tom and Trina; and Bruce and Susan's exploration of swinging, with Roger and Janet as the stick-in-the-mud traditionalists.

After the "shock value" of couples who don't confirm to the "traditional" has worn off, what this show really is about is much more than who sleeps with whom.

Tom and Trina are swingers; but in many ways, they are the healthiest and happiest couple. They are honest and open; and while both are happy to have an open relationship, they also "close" it when necessary. There is a hint that Tom cheated in the past and that rather than breaking up or pretending it didn't happen, as a couple they embraced Tom's straying by swinging and being open about who they sleep with rather than hiding it. Grant Show plays Tom; Lana Parilla Trina. They wore born in 1962 and 1977; and while ages aren't mentioned much on the show, that age difference is still there. Grant Show deserves a lot of respect for taking this role; because often, the close ups on him say "yes, this is a 40 something guy who looks his age." Not old; he doesn't look old. But he is a perfect 1976 fortysomething because he has wrinkles and lines on his face.

Bruce and Susan... who doesn't love Jack Davenport and Molly Parker? They play former high school sweethearts who got pregnant. Bruce, without college diploma, has worked hard to make it "big" (he and Susan just moved up to a better neighborhood), while Susan is a stay at home mother to two teenagers. And here are more reasons this show rocks: a self made man, as it were, who hustled and worked hard and didn't get anything handed to him. And people who look young but are indeed old enough to have teenagers. Usually, anymore, actors as young looking as Davenport and Parker play cool single people or people without children or people with very young kids. Growing up, parents were in the Jack and Molly age bracket, tho maybe about 4 or so years older. Bruce and Susan swinging is as much about them trying to experience a youth they lost because of teen pregnancy and marriage as anything else; and Susan's yearnings for something more are as much about someone who has never worked outside the home, never gone to school beyond high school, wanting something more in her life and yet not knowing what that "more" is. If Swingtown gets picked up for more seasons, I'm betting we eventually see Susan going to college.

And now Roger and Janet, who began as almost a joke; the straight-laced couple to be mocked. Thankfully, that quickly ended and Janet has become my favorite character on the show. Josh Hopkins and Miriam Shor, like Davenport and Parker, are actually playing their ages, rather than playing down. Roger and Janet are the middle class neighbors, back in the 1970s when a couple could own a nice house in the suburbs (not the big house of Tom & Trina's area, but still nice) while the husband worked and the wife had a "little" job. Janet sells Tupperware; I use the term "little" because I think that Janet sees what she does as something "little," as "pin money," as not a "job." Janet likes her life; is a little too uptight; but loves her husband and is not nearly as judgmental as others think she is. For example, her reaction to Roger losing his job was not yelling and tears; it was supportive. I feel sorry for Janet; because she is happy with her life, and Roger is not. He was unhappy in his job, he has a flirtation going on with Susan that neither admits to, and Janet is trying to be supportive but... I'm not sure. Oh, and like Susan & Bruce, they have a teenaged son. Who may be gay. That should be interesting.

Yes, that is all rather wordy. But I wanted to make a few points:

This show is about more than teh sex.

It has some wonderfully developed characters.

The show leaves you guessing about what is going to happen next.

And it has the best soundtrack.

And, it needs more viewers. I'm not sure why more people aren't watching. Maybe because it's a grown up show, about relationships. In a way, it is a YA novel, because there is strong feeling of "coming of age." Just because you're in your 30s or 40s doesn't mean you have all the answers or know what you want or who you are; and the changes of the 1970s raised even more questions.

EDITED TO ADD: NYT interview with Grant Show


Sophie Brookover said...

I love this show, and I admit I started watching it because of Grant Show, and the Liz Phair score, and well, teh sex. Who doesn't love a little 70s prurience? I agree with every point you've made, though -- this is a show that's about way, way more than the naughty factor of good heavens! Swingers! It's turned out to be a much richer viewing experience than I'd anticipated.

Keri said...

I love this show and I will be heartbroken when it gets cancelled (and the ratings and the fact the CBS wants to get back to their crime dramas pretty much guarantee this). I know its rare but I feel like this show would really work on TNT or FX. It has great character development. I don't love the Laurie storyline but I find the younger brother to be totally sweet.

Liz B said...

SB, I had no idea you were watching also! How funny!

Keri, I dread this getting cancelled and agree that perhaps it would be better served on a smaller network.

The actress who plays Laurie doesn't work for me at all, and neither does the storyline. I think I like the idea of Laurie more than Laurie herself. If the series does get picked up, I hope she gets early admission to college back East or out in California. Bye, Laurie!

I do like the BJ/Samantha storyline, especially because the Samantha storyline is showing the dark side to the swinger lifestyle. Tom & Trina not having kids makes sense; but Sam's mother, and her "not handling" the drinking, the drugs, and the sexual partners shows that people are getting hurt. In this case, Samantha.

Anonymous said...

Then we wonder why the kids we teach are so screwed up!