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Pop CultureMarch 5, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Back to the Softcore Seventies in Swingtown

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This Throwback Thursday, Alex Casey discovers a deeply bizarre 1970s period show packed with family drama and, er, neighbourly relations. //

I don’t know a lot about softcore pornography, but I know that the trailer for Swingtown looks like one:

This 2008 series is set in 1976, and was made with the hopes of recreating the loosey goosey liberal entanglements that the sexual revolution brought to the far reaches of suburban America. The tagline says it all, really:

“Susan and Bruce Miller move their family to a Chicago suburb, anticipating a new life of barbecues and kids on swings. When they meet new neighbors the Deckers, the Millers realise the kids aren’t the ones doing the swinging.”

I mean, there’s getting to know your neighbours and there’s getting to know your neighbours. Tom Decker, one half of the Big Deck swinging brigade, is a pilot with a bad moustache and a very erotic cockpit set up. His wife Trina Decker is a flight attendant (of course) and together they work to introduce the Millers to the groovy ways of group sex. Cue a bizarre entanglement of key parties, fully-clothed jacuzzi orgies and soft focus hands. But no nudity. Sounds weird right? It is weird. Here are the opening titles:

Part of the reason the show is so bizarre is that it was intended to be a whole different televisual beast with two backs. The creators had originally pitched it to HBO, hoping for a more “cable” approach to sex and nudity (pretty essential to the core premise of Swingtown). Alas, HBO had already taken on Big Love and Tell Me You Love Me, and there was no more room at the inn for non-conventional-sexual-relation-television. They had to go beyond cable, and took the hilariously-named pilot (“Pilot’) to the networks. It was picked up by CBS, on the proviso that they cut out all explicit sex and nakey bits.

The result is what you have witnessed: a fuzzily focussed exploration of hands and feet on satin sheets, so jarring and strange that it actually feels like something made in the past – and yet it was born of the same year as Breaking Bad. Where the show succeeds, despite having almost everything working against it, is in creating an authentic-feeling ’70s world. When watching it, however uncomfortable or horrified you are, you gotta give them props for the props, costumes, decor and capturing the musty vibes.

If TV3’s upcoming Outrageous Fortune prequel West Side does half as good a job of capturing that mustiness, I will be deeply proud.

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