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Case Number 15351

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Swingtown: The First Season

Paramount // 2008 // 547 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 5th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas is a partying swinger. He's also open to experimenting with slides and monkey bars.

The Charge

The neighbors are closer than you think.

Opening Statement

"From now on, let's be open to everything."

Facts of the Case

Bruce and Susan Miller are a happily married American couple. The year is 1976, and things are looking reasonably good for the Miller family. Bruce (Jack Davenport, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) is doing quite well in his job as a day trader, and Susan (Molly Parker, Deadwood) is excited to be moving into a slightly nicer home just a few blocks away from her former residence. The Millers have two children. Laurie (Shanna Collins, The Haunting of Molly Hartley) is very intelligent high school student who is quickly developing a crush on a young summer school teacher (Michael Rady, Greek). B.J. (Aaron Christian Howles) is a good-natured pre-teen who is also developing a crush. B.J. is fascinated by the young girl (Brittany Robertson, Dan in Real Life) who lives next door.

Of course, even a move this small comes with some growing pains. Susan's best friend Janet Thompson (Miriam Shor, Big Day) is upset about the fact that the Millers will no longer be living next door. Janet and her husband Roger (Josh Hopkins, Cold Case) are a very conservative couple, and do their best to follow a straight and narrow path at all times. The Millers are in for quite a change when they meet their new neighbors, the Deckers. Tom Decker (Grant Show, Melrose Place) and his wife Susan (Lana Parrilla, 24) are full-time swingers, and seem to be open to absolutely anything.

The Millers are immediately drawn to the Decker's lifestyle, and rashly decide to participate in a passionate foursome just after moving into the new neighborhood. The next morning, Bruce and Susan are startled by the sheer audacity of their decision, and determine never to do such a thing again. Even so, there is the unmistakable sense that the status quo has been permanently shaken. Will the Miller family run back to the safety of the Thompsons, or will they continue to pursue the adventures offered by the Deckers? An unexpected meeting between all six individuals begins to shift the ground under everyone's feet. The summer of 1976 holds some major changes for each and every one of these increasingly experimental grown-ups.

The Evidence

When I first heard about Swingtown, my first reaction was probably the same as yours: "What is a show about swinging in the 1970s doing on a network like CBS? Shouldn't a show so intently focused on sexuality be airing on HBO or Showtime?" I am pleased to report that Swingtown still manages to be a compelling and intelligent program that deals with mature subject matter in a mature way. In fact, I would argue that Swingtown offers a discussion of sexuality that is even more thought-provoking and complex than the material offered on shows like Sex and the City, Tell Me You Love Me, and Californication.

As with all of those programs, it's really not about the sex. It's about the characters. However, Swingtown has the specific disadvantage of not being able to show anything sexually explicit. It seems that this has forced the writers to bring even more complexity and nuance to the six primary characters here, allowing the subtle details in lives of these characters to fill in some of the off-screen blanks. Refreshingly, Swingtown never feels like voyeuristic exploitation. Oh sure, the foursome in the opening episode is a somewhat lurid hook to draw people in. However, one quickly realizes that this is a show that will never simply employ sexual elements for the sake of doing so. When such material is included, it is for the sake of adding something to one or more of the characters.

Most important, I found myself really caring about all of these people after only a few episodes. Initially, it seems as if the Millers are being thrown into the middle of an angel/devil situation with the Thompsons and Deckers on each side. Such stereotypes quickly fade when one looks just a little bit closer at these characters. Tom and Trina may be the most sexually promiscuous couple, but they both value honesty and openness in a manner that the other two marriages simply can't match. Good communication and honesty is the only way to make a marriage work for any substantial length of time, and these two swingers recognize that. Meanwhile, Janet seems as if she is simply a domineering housewife with rigid values, but ultimately proves to be one of the most thoughtful and open-minded characters in the program. All of the performances here are quite good, but I particularly liked Molly Parker. She makes Susan perhaps the most tormented and conflicted character in the program; constantly veering back and forth between curious boldness and timid caution. Grant Show also has a lot of fun in his role as married playboy Tom Decker. Also, I should add, he pulls off the remarkable feat of making the clothes, hair, and fashion choices of 1976 look awesome.

The transfer looks quite sharp, with well-balanced colors accentuating the accurate period detail. Flesh tones seem to be just about right, blacks are deep enough…nothing here concerned me in any substantial way. Audio is also solid, giving a strong boost to the terrific soundtrack. The music here feels very much like a "Best of the early '70s" compilation, with excellent song picks from Captain and Tenille, The Eagles, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and many, many others. The dialogue and sound effects are well-balanced, with none of the audio elements seeming too obtrusive or understated.

A few extras have been compiled here. Creators Mike Kelley and Alan Poul provide slightly melancholic audio commentaries for the first and last episodes of the season, and spend most of their time defending their artistic decisions. These are worth a listen, but could have been a little more informative. Two making-of featurettes primarily focus on the show's attempt to accurately recreate the period, and the gag reel isn't particularly funny. Kind of a disappointing batch of supplemental material.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

First of all, it looks very doubtful at the moment that Swingtown is going to receive a second season. CBS has given up on the show, and the rights have been purchased by Bravo. However, at the moment, it seems that Bravo is only interested in re-airing the episodes from the first season. That's a shame, because the first season ends with a series of startling new developments that would have been a great lead-in to season two. Here's hoping that some sort of miracle happens and this show gets a second life.

In terms of the actual quality of the program, I will say that the show repeats a few story beats once or twice too often. Scenarios that were interesting the first time around become a little tiresome when they are repeated later in the season. Additionally, there are a few moments in which rather cheap dramatic twists are used to advance the plot. Nothing major, mind you…just little things noticeable enough to be annoying.

Closing Statement

Keeping in mind that the program will not come to any sort of definitive conclusion, this first season of Swingtown is recommended viewing.

The Verdict

Not guilty. Anybody got a Quaalude?

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Scales of Justice

Video: 92
Audio: 91
Extras: 80
Acting: 92
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 547 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Drama
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentaries
• Featurettes
• Gag Reel
• Deleted Scenes

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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