Here is what you can expect from the first five minutes of “Swingtown,” a one-season fantasy that opens in July 1976. With “Your Love Is Lifting Me Higher” as the backing track, you get: a simulated simulated sex act; a simulated actual sex act; the sentence “My wife is gonna love you”; Grant Show, bred in a lab for just this role, sporting a pornstache and a white tank top; a large can of Tab with a soft aluminum pull; a threesome; Lana Parrilla; the sentence “I feel like I’m ready for the next thing.”
Yes, five minutes into this show, which aired on CB-freaking-S, you will know that the 99 cents you spent for the episode would have been a bargain at twice the price. The fun starts when Bruce (Jack Davenport) and Susan (Molly Parker) move their family (which includes a daughter named Laurie and a son named B.J.) to a fancier part of Chicago. They move right across the street from Tom and Trina (Show and Parrilla), who eye them like predators from the house across the street. The deal is basically done when Tom and Trina show up with a bottle of champagne the night the family moves in — and in matching red tops and white short shorts — to welcome them to the neighborhood and invite them to a party. I think I spoil nothing when I say that the party will include a great big basement orgy.
The episode goes on to include: a Harvey Wallbanger; a glass of Chablis; the line dance where you roll your hands; polyester halter dresses; the phrase “We missed the whole Woodstock counterculture thing”; the response “The train is still boarding”; cocaine being done with $100 bill; cocaine being rubbed on the gums; sunglasses that start dark but fade toward the bottom; quaaludes; hair so feathered that it might take off at the next breeze; did I mention the basement orgy?
But for all its flamboyance and audacity, “Swingtown” does a good job of exploring a generation of people who aren’t quite sure why they fell for the traditional value of marriage, which (like swinging, to me at least), seems like more trouble than it’s worth. It’s a meditation on conservatism, risk, values, fidelity and aging. And swinging.
Why did it have to die? Why was it pulled away from us too soon? Why was it gone before it could answer the question of whether people who have key parties bought the fishbowl just for the key party or if there was a dead fish in its past? “Swingtown” was a midseason replacement in the summer of 2008. Entities like the American Family Association and Parents Television Council wrote strongly worded letters to CBS to try to get a boycott going.
Man, I miss those swingers. There were cliffhangers in the season finale that I still think about. Mostly I’m grateful for “Swingtown” because it allows me to continue to participate in my fantasy that I think we all share about swingers, which is that all they think about is swinging — that it consumes their every day, that their lives are built around it.
I’m pretty sure the denizens of “Swingtown” would agree with me when I say that I don’t think guilty pleasures exist. Pleasure exists — I know they’d agree with me about that. But I beg you, do not feel guilty about the pleasure that “Swingtown” can bring you over the course of its thirteen delicious hours.
So go stream the season. Where else can you find an orgy for 99 cents? On second thought, don’t answer that.