“Swingtown”

By Jae-Ha Kim
Amazon.com
December 9, 2008

A brilliant but low-rated series, Swingtown tackles the social mores of the 1970s by focusing on three couples.

Susan (Molly Parker) and Bruce Miller (Jack Davenport) have just moved into the wealthy Chicago suburb of Winnetka. Across the street, their neighbors Trina (Lana Parrilla) and Tom Decker (Grant Show) eye them with curiosity. The Deckers are swingers who’re hoping that their attractive new neighbors will be open to a little experimentation.

The Millers (who got married right out of high school) are tempted and promise each other that maybe they’ll try–just once. The looks on their faces when they attend the Deckers party–abundant in both sex and drugs–is a mixture of repulsion and relish. It is clear that while they may not understand what’s going on, they are intrigued.

While the show’s conceit is based on the promise of swinging, Swingtown really isn’t about sex as much as it is about the dynamics of a relationship, open or otherwise. When Susan and Bruce befriend the Deckers, their previous best friends and former neighbors Janet (Miriam Shor) and Roger Thompson (Josh Hopkins) feel slighted. And in the case of Janet, she feels betrayed.

There are story arcs involving the Millers’ high school daughter falling in love with her cute summer-school teacher, as well as a sweet storyline focusing on the enduring and complicated friendship between the Miller and Thompson sons.

But the stories that resonate the most revolve around the adult couples. While there are a few flirtations and affairs that don’t ring true, the plots more often than not offer a strong dose of reality and a good sense of heart.        

Swingtown is spot-on in capturing the mood of the seventies, from the music, to the clothes, to the kitschy gold kitchen appliances.

All the actors are well-cast in their roles, but keep an eye on Shor. Though her Janet initially is presented as a shrewish character, she shows the most growth in this debut season. Starting off as a jealous friend, an overbearing wife, and an overall fuss budget, Janet is the character viewers least want to see hurt.

But the the finale makes it clear her life will never be the same again.

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