A TV drama about wife-swapping ’70s suburbanites might sound daring, but the lack of focus in Swingtown makes its debauchery feel more like a desperate bid for attention than a legitimate creative strategy. Beginning with the debut episode’s opening scene—in which airline pilot Tom Decker (Grant Show) appears to be receiving an in-flight hummer, before the camera pulls back to show that a flight attendant is actually mopping spilled coffee off his shirt—viewers are slammed with endless jokey reminders that they’re watching a series about disco-era bedhoppers. The nudges only drive a wedge between the audience and the material: Unlike the works Swingtown’s producers seek to evoke (among others, Boogie Nights, The Ice Storm, American Beauty, Mad Men and The Wonder Years), it’s never possible to surrender to the story and experience it from the perspective of the characters.
Deadwood’s Molly Parker (done over as a redhead) plays Susan Miller, a housewife whose life is instantly transformed when she, her dim but ambitious husband, Bruce (Jack Davenport), and their kids move from one Chicagoland burb to an ever-so-slightly-fancier one down the road. The childless Tom and his wife Trina (Lana Parrilla) quickly target the Millers as fresh meat for their wild parties, while another couple, the more conservative and downscale Janet and Roger Thompson (Miriam Shor and Josh Hopkins), try to sustain their friendship with the Millers. The pilot revolves around Tom and Trina’s raucous Bicentennial Eve bash, which affects the three marriages in entirely predictable ways. The plot lines concerning the adolescent Miller and Thompson kids are much more interesting, but that could just be because their stories receive so little screen time that there’s scarcely room to shoehorn in clichés.