Wife-swapping series travels back to 1970s

A cross between “The Ice Storm,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Boogie Nights” and “The Wonder Years” is how series creator-exec producer Mike Kelley describes “Swingtown,” from CBS Paramount, bowing on the Eye June 5.

Set in 1976 during the celebration of the American Bicentennial, the series focuses on shifting sexual mores in a post-Nixonian era, a period where key parties, spouse swapping and other libertine liaisons reflect, per Kelley, the “freedom and choices and options and hope” of a group of close-knit neighbors in an upscale, Waspy Chicago suburb.

In the series opener, handsome, mustachioed airline pilot Tom Decker (Grant Show) seduces a ditzy stewardess into trying a threesome with his wife, the sexy, provocative Trina (Lana Parrilla). But it’s Susan and Bruce Miller (Molly Parker and Jack Davenport), the naive neighbors across the street, who attract the Deckers. When Tom and Trina stop by on their way out for a jog with a housewarming gift for the homebody husband and wife, they’re clearly offering more than the bottle of Dom. And with that, Susan and Bruce — virgins until married — are confronted for the first time in their adult lives with the temptation of sexual experimentation and carnal awakening.

“It’s about real people and real families,” says Kelley of why he believes the show will win over auds, even cultural critics of a conservative ilk. “These are your friends and neighbors. We’re not pushing any agenda. This is a real moment in time where everyone was letting everybody do what worked for them. We’re protected by the historical bubble of the ’70s. Clearly, that’s not who we are as a culture now. Hopefully, viewers will embrace the characters without judging them.”

The series, in fact, affects more a nostalgic rather than prurient tone in capturing the heady atmosphere of the mid-’70s, drawing upon a soundtrack of tunes from the time and a bevy of pop cultural innuendos (a son named B.J.; a clip from “The $10,000 Pyramid” with the category “Things That You Spread”).

Hot and bothered

As for its summer slot versus the more traditional fall start, Show considers the timing a major publicity plus.

“It worked for ‘Melrose Place,'” the show’s alum aptly notes. “And there’s not as much competition because there are only two or three other shows premiering. I think we’re going to be able to stick around all summer.”

But, ultimately, both Show and Kelley agree, it’s the series’ titillating subject matter, as well as its cast of multidimensional characters, that will keep fans glued to their TVs like a pair of Lycra hot pants on ’70s supermodel Cheryl Tiegs.

“The show comes from a really positive place,” counters Show, lest naysayers suggest this is just a series about promiscuous sex. “Maybe some of the characters are not making the best choices, but they’re good people. This wouldn’t work if they didn’t love each other really deeply. And there are sacrifices that you make in these situations. There’s a deep cost that Tom has to pay. There are internal conflict and battles that all the characters have to experience. That’s what’s interesting about this story.”

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