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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
(TBA at midseason)
The network's description: "SWINGTOWN, from the director of "Big Love" and "Rome," peeks into the shag-carpeted suburban homes of the 1970s to find couples reveling in the sexual and social revolution that introduced open marriages, women's liberation and challenged many conventional wisdoms. During this heady era of provocative change, Susan (Molly Parker, "Deadwood") and Bruce Miller (Jack Davenport, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest") move their family to an affluent Chicago suburb in search of a different sense of community, and they look forward to barbecues and get-togethers with their new neighbors, as well as a change of pace for their teenage daughter and pre-teen son. Enter Tom (Grant Show, "Melrose Place") and Trina (Lana Parrilla, "24") Decker, a striking, outgoing couple on the hunt who redefine the term "neighborhood watch." After a mind-blowing evening with them, Susan and Bruce realize that couples in this town share much more than recipes, local gossip and a view of Lake Michigan, and are worlds apart from their former conservative neighbors, Janet (Miriam Shor, "Big Day") and Roger (Josh Hopkins, "Brothers & Sisters") Thompson. Susan's loyal friend Janet is appalled by what she witnesses in this new neighborhood, while Roger, though dutiful to his wife, may be more intrigued than she knows. In a changing social climate - defined by its music, fashion and style - everyone in SWINGTOWN is confronted with personal choices, experimentation and shifting attitudes. Shanna Collins ("Wildfire"), Aaron Howles and Brittany Robertson ("Freddie") also star. Mike Kelley ("The O.C.") and director Alan Poul ("Six Feet Under") are executive producers for CBS Paramount Network Television."
What did they leave out: Yes, this show is really going to air on the Tiffany Network.
The plot in a nutshell: The bicentennial provides the backdrop to our introduction to the Millers, the Deckers and the Thompsons, three families living in the Chicago suburbs. The former clan - Susan (Molly Parker) and Bruce (Jack Davenport) - are moving up in the world, having just purchased a house on the ritzier side of town. And for the most part the high school sweethearts are happy and still in love, except lately Susan finds herself longing for more out of life (and their bedroom antics). Enter then Tom (Grant Show, complete with era-worthy mustache) and Trina (Lana Parrilla) Decker, their new neighbors who seem to have it all - looks, money and - more importantly - the kind of happiness Susan longs for. They're a far cry from their previous neighbors - Janet (Miriam Shor) and Roger (Josh Hopkins) who suddenly become square pegs in the Millers' new round world. Along for the ride then are the Miller's kids - Laurie (Shanna Collins), a wise-beyond-her-years teen, and B.J. (Aaron Howles), who's recently stumbled across his dad's porn stash. They too seem to be longing for something more - in Laurie's case her nice guy summer school teacher (Michael Rady) and in B.J.'s a troubled neighborhood girl named Samantha (Brittany Robertson) with a train wreck mother (Kate Norby). Anyway, the Millers quickly find themselves invited to the Deckers' latest "get a sitter for the kids" party, where they're tempted by the Deckers' open marriage lifestyle. It's an attraction that bristles recently-anointed-fifth-wheel Janet, but secretly intoxicates her husband. In any case, the Millers opt to give into said temptation, a decision which seems to give Susan the "missing something" she was looking for... or does it?
What works: For all its we-can-be-like-HBO-too-ness, believe it or not there's actually a real show in here. Susan's plight proves to be a surprisingly effective springboard without feeling Skinimaxy (that's an adjective right?). She simply marvels at Trina and the bond she has with her husband, not to mention the confidence that springs from it. Said dynamic actually makes her subsequent decision to accept Trina's offer for drugs and potentially sex with her husband, not only credible, but shockingly natural. Helping matters is an extremely likeable Parrilla and Show, who both seem to be having the time of their lives with these roles. Likewise director Alan Poul and creator Mike Kelley do a great job of building up to the figurative "high" of the party and opting to literally cut the action off the second the consequences start to be realized.
What doesn't: Unfortunately, all the good parts of the show are often drowned out by the aforementioned we-can-be-like-HBO-too-ness as well as its did-you-catch-we're-in-the-70s-ness. Between the endless needle drops (there literally isn't a minute that goes by without one) and anachronistic name checking (Tab! The $10,000 Pyramid!), we're spoon fed all the expected period cliches - smoking on airplanes, allusions to the Mile High Club, snorting coke out of $100 bills and so on. Not that showing those things is bad, it's just that they're presented in a wry "did you catch that, did ya?" kind of way rather than as organic background elements. Ang Lee/Rick Moody's "The Ice Storm" this certainly is not. Also mucking up the works are the kids, who prove to be decidedly less interesting than the parents. Laurie's not-so-subtle courting of her teacher for instance comes off as creepy rather than her intended sexual liberation. Likewise Miriam Shor's Janet isn't given much depth other than to be the neighborhood prude, a characterization only made more apparent by a surprisingly complex one for her husband (a well cast Josh Hopkins). In the end however, the show's interesting core shines through enough to make me want to stay tuned. We'll see if it can hook me though.
The bottom line: Once its period-ness wears off, there could be a great show in here.