Quick, someone get the saltpeter! That might be your reaction to Swingtown, the new series about wife-swapping that debuted this week on HOT's new Channel 3 Monday nights at 22:00. As HOT's been busy making all kinds of changes in its schedule, I suppose it's only natural for them to introduce a series in which everyone changes partners like they change socks.
The premise is simple enough: Susan and Bruce Miller have finally made it - financially, we mean - and saved enough to buy that dreamy new house in an upscale Chicago suburb. They've got two kids, oversexed teen Laurie and just-finding-out-about-sex son, BJ.
While the Millers are checking out their new dream house, they're spied from across the suburban sprawl street by their neighbors, Tom (Grant Show of Melrose Place fame) and Trina Decker. Tom's a pilot with a thing for stewardesses and Trina's a housewife with a thing for Qualudes. Their shared interest: they like to swing with other people. So when Tom tells the stewardess on the plane he's flying that "my wife is going to love you," he means it. Talk about your friendly skies.
Setting the scene of July 1976, with little extras like long sideburns and a superb soundtrack, series creator Mike Kelley does some good work doing what all good swingers must do: setting the mood. But what was originally going to be a cable drama had to be toned down for network TV, and Kelley's efforts unwind when it comes to the rather predictable plot.
After all, when Laurie starts throwing longing glances at her summer school teacher, Mr. Stevens, it's clear that she's looking for a different kind of advanced placement.
Then there's the mysterious Samantha, who had been breaking into the newcomers' house for some mysterious reason before the family arrived. When BJ finally moves in, he finds a locket she's left behind. So naturally we can expect those two to meet again.
The script is also full of double entendres. Example: Trina's sitting around the house planning her next tryst and a clip of a game show is aired, with the category: "Things that are spread."
Trina and Tom are the ultimate welcome wagon, but their invitation to the Millers to come to a party means they've got more than just Tupperware in mind. "You might want to get a sitter - this party will go late," suggests Tom, with a wink. But for now, the Millers are about as clueless as Bruce's idea of what constitutes reading: "the shark parts in Jaws."
Bruce knocked up Susan when they were both really young, lending an element of "Mom worried daughter will turn out like her." It doesn't really go anywhere, although we did approve of Laurie's advice to her mom when the latter said her concern was keeping her up nights. "You know, there are better things to do at night."
"Let's go to the neighbors' party tonight," says Bruce, as if we thought they were going to stay home and watch Johnny Carson. Before you can say Tony Orlando and Dawn, Susan's got on her best '70s duds and finery. Ding dong - sure enough it's their old neighbors, Roger and Janet, just over to see how they're doing. Yup - you got it. They're all off to the party, a look of amazement hitting their faces when Tom opens the door to the house of hedonism. "The more the merrier," says Tom to the unexpected guests.
While Janet's appalled, Susan's not. Giving her a tour of the house, Trina somehow lures her up to the bedroom. Before too long, she's giving Janet a crash course in Open Marriage 101. "Opening our relationship is the best thing that ever happened to me and Tom," she says, just waiting to move in for the kill.
Will the Millers join in the square dance and swing? Will Laurie find deeper meaning with her philosophy teacher? Will anyone help me get the great 70s soundtrack out of my head?
It's too bad Kelley didn't succeed in selling this series to a cable station, but HBO had Big Love and another similar series in development. Once it went network, its fate was sealed, since making it palatable for network audiences meant it had to be PG. The result is pretty much what Trina's all about: a major tease, but just not good enough.