When CBS pulled Swingtown from its fall 2007 lineup, many wondered what would become of the much-hyped drama about sexual liberation and its discontents in America's bicentennial year. The answer came in summer 2008, as the network burned off the series' 13 episodes against the usual off-season fare of reality shows, reruns, and specials. Although Swingtown was never as fresh or daring as its creators might have hoped, its outstanding performers and adept delineation of complex characters made it a bright spot for viewers still reeling from the aftereffects of the writers' strike.
In the pilot, set on the Fourth of July in 1976, Molly Parker and Jack Davenport move to Chicago's North Shore and meet Grant Show and Lana Parrilla, owners of the fabulous pad across the street. Show and Parrilla have an open marriage and a basement orgy pit, and they invite their new neighbors to experiment beyond monogamy. Miriam Shor, Parker's friend from the old neighborhood, is none too happy about the direction Parker and Davenport are headed; after witnessing group sex at the neighbors', Shor returns home to scrub her oven, exclaiming, "This place is full of filth!" Meanwhile, Parker and Davenport's daughter is falling for her summer-school philosophy teacher, and their son forms a friendship with a girl who used to hide out in his closet when her mother was on a coke binge.
Wife-swapping, pot brownies, and "Coffee, tea, or me?" stewardesses make Swingtown's episode recaps sound like pay-cable voyeurism. But in spite of the poor fit with the Tiffany Network's middle-America-friendly programming philosophy, the CBS pickup might have improved the show. Instead of focusing on titillation, creators Mike Kelley and Alan Poul look deep into the souls of the three women at the show's core, and find some telling moments of existential crisis. Parker wonders if Davenport will ever value her as more than a homemaker. Parrilla longs for motherhood, although it would mean the end of her swinging lifestyle. And Shor discovers that freedom has a new meaning in America's third century—as something to be simultaneously desired and feared. Under all the shag carpets and 8-tracks, Swingtown's exploration of the country's tightrope walk between the '60s revolutionaries and the '80s reactionaries delivered a fleeting summer glimpse of thoughtful television.
Key features: A delightful featurette about the set decoration and costumes, plus the creators' somewhat rueful commentaries on the pilot and final episodes.