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TODAY

Saturday, April 20

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Airbags

On July 2, 1976, an airplane pilot announces the descent into O'Hare. A tearful stewardess, who spilled hot coffee on his shirt, tries vainly to get the stain out. She sniffles, "Your wife is gonna kill me." He puts his hand over hers, wedding ring and heavy gold watch prominently displayed, and replies, "My wife is gonna love you." Cue the music and dim the lights, because it's time to get frea-kay.

Or not. Welcome to CBS's summer drama Swingtown, created by Winnetka native Mike Kelley. The series, set in an unnamed Chicago-area suburb, follows several families through the mid 1970s. Susan and Bruce Miller — played by Deadwood's Molly Parker and Pirates of the Caribbean's Jack Davenport — and their two teenagers move from their modest digs to a lakefront mansion only a few blocks from their old neighborhood and their closest friends. But it might as well be miles away from their former life. (End dramatic announcer voice.) The aforementioned pilot and his wife, Tom and Trina Decker, live across the street and invite the Millers to a bicentennial party (snicker, snicker) before jogging into the night in matching terrycloth outfits. At the soiree, there's open cocaine and marijuana use, distribution of Quaaludes, ingestion of Harvey Wallbangers, an orgy in the basement playroom, and an offer to swing. You see, Tom and Trina have an open marriage, which is the opposite of cheating and opened them up to "a whole other level of intimacy." Susan and Bruce, who have had some trouble in their bedroom activities lately and are flying high on combinations of sedatives and alcohol and pot and booze, take them up on it.

WELL. You'd think certain organizations would be up in arms, picketing or protesting or demanding a boycott this glamorization of days gone by. What about morality? What about family? Susan and Bruce have children! However, there's been little to no uproar about this series so far, other than the wonder that the stodgy Eye network put it on the air at all. If Swingtown were an HBO or F/X property, we would most likely see detailed couplings or at the very least, bare asses. We see a glimpse of Tom and the stewardess — a girl named Tammy who lives with her parents in Schaumberg — in bed. The group sex showed only a man's face and chest with women's faces and heads surrounding him. Two couples walk hand-in-hand with their spouses to a bedroom, which the camera does not enter. Shocking! Kids smoke weed while driving and skinny dip and flirt with their teachers. One girl beats the snot out of a boy who lied and said that she put out. The Millers' next-door neighbor covers her interior walls and windows with tinfoil as her daughter wears her dad's wedding ring on a chain around her neck "to remind [her] not to do anything stupid, like get married." This is far more disturbing than several people in bed together. And more interesting, too.

New Trier High School graduate Liz Phair composes the score, but what would a show about the 1970s be without some classic tunes? The first episode featured the following:
• "Spirit in the Sky" - Norman Greenbaum
• "(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher And Higher" - Rita Coolidge
• "Get Closer" - Seals & Crofts
• "Golden Years" - David Bowie
• "Come and Get Your Love" - Redbone
• "Let Your Love Flow (Instrumental)" - The Bellamy Brothers
• "Saturday in the Park" - Chicago
• "Love Will Keep Us Together" - Captain & Tennille
• "Machine Gun" - Commodores
• "Go Your Own Way" - Fleetwood Mac
• "Dream Weaver" - Gary Wright (for the seduction scene! Of course, this was 15 years before Wayne's World)
"I Can See Clearly Now" - Johnny Nash

Some of these selections were probably chosen for mood or their tongue-in-cheek factor, which grew less clever after a second watching (as did the ham-fisted dialogue: "whatever you're into" and so forth). But time traveling was required for the Fleetwood Mac song — Rumours wasn't released until 1977. I know this because we played the hell out of the 8-track and LP at my house.

Speaking of, there are plenty period-appropriate details: TAB sodas with pull tabs, satin jackets, rainbow shirts, cans of pudding, Penthouse magazines. The clothes are fairly spot-on, especially one patchwork sleeveless red-white-and-blue shirt. But there's an odd absence of chest hair, and Tom wears only one simple gold chain. Come on, he's a pilot! And even though I was distracted by Davenport's American accent as well as the obviousness and overdone exposition that are part of any pilot, I have to say that the acting — especially by the young cast — is very good. There were some subtleties I liked as well, for example, when Susan calls her best friend Janet after the move and says that the house is "so big," there's a genuine awkward pause handled nicely by both acctresses. Or when the parents thought nothing of two boys riding their bikes to the movies. (They saw, of all things, The Omen.) Swingtown has the potential to be more than a soapy summer pleasure, and I hope that it gets past its hook and continues to offer a slice of warped Americana.

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the CW's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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