update: full episodes are available for sale at ITunes. And the last two episodes, which I'd rank 2 and 4 respectively from this season, are still up at cbs.com as of 7:53pm on 9/25/08. Oh ... and yes, I bought the Pilot episode ...
Allow me to offer up a praise of what was unquestionably my favorite new show of last season. A well written, incredibly acted show that, if it only lasts for 13 epiosdes, still delivered every freaking week.
Hell, even the roommate was addicted to this show by the end.
I'm talking, of course, about "Swingtown".
From the moment the show opens, with the stewardess who spilled coffee on Tom expressing concern that "your wife is going to hate me" and Tom replying "no. My wife is going to love you", to the closing moments, when Susan shows up at Roger's hotel room, this show had it all.
The music. Good Lord. What a flashback. This is what I was raised on. Fleetwood Mac. Three Dog Night. The incredible Johnny Bristol. The music on this show just fueled the awesomeness of it. Rita Coolidge's "Higher and Higher" playing as the opening scene threesome unfolded, leading into Trina's first glimpse at Bruce and Susan, just the best 90 seconds aired on television this summer.
And for the ultra-sensitive among my readership ... CBS showed nothing. You saw clothes on the floor. You saw Trina get up, pop open a Tab, and head to the window with her robe on. Yet another reason why this show ruled: it delivered without having to go to the lowest common denominator. It trusted its audience to tune in for the drama, not the soft core porn.
Sure, there were plots and moments that bombed. I thought they had Laurie and her stoner boyfriend break up way too soon ... and way too easily. But even that had its moments, the beach scene as Laurie realizes she wants, she needs something more than someone in a VW van getting her high every night, and she runs to the lakefront as "Go Your Own Way" blares (again, the soundtrack kicked serious ass ...), who among us hasn't wanted to say "screw you" to the way our lives are, and just for one freaking moment, live like we don't have a care in the world?
But most of the storylines, the plots, were just incredible. The opening party at Tom and Trina's, that in theory set the story in motion. You had the swingers (Tom and Trina), the hard core conservatives (Roger and Janet), and the at-the-crossroads couple willing to experiment, but still having their doubts (Bruce and Susan).
A lesser show, plays that storyline out to an unsatisfying, boring, predictable conclusion.
"Swingtown" didn't. Over the next 12 episodes, the evolution of the characters was just remarkable. The writers chose to take the audiences built in expectations, based on the pilot ... and flip them again and again.
I thought the best episode of the run was the first lakehouse episode. Janet convinces Roger to blow off a weekend at Bruce and Susan's lakehouse, because she's upset about a number of things her best friend has done. (The primary one being that Bruce and Susan moved to a better neighborhood "a couple miles away"). So Bruce and Susan wind up inviting Tom and Trina to tag along for a couples retreat. Only, predictably, Roger convinces Janet to change her mind, and they show up just as Tom, Trina, Bruce and Susan are about to swap off.
And there, the predictability ends. Trina laces Janet's special brownies with a special ingredient of her own. After an incredibly awkward dinner ... the secrets start to spill out. And after a pot-fueled game of Twister, and some female bonding overnight ... the dynamics of the show have changed. Janet, the straight laced conservative, the straight and narrow, black and white girl ... is friends with Trina, for whom anything goes.
And that for me was one of the two defining moments of the show. (Both involved Trina and Janet). This was the first "game changer". Trina and Janet realizing that, save for their sexual appetite, they were the same person. Each clinging to the one "true" friend they had (Susan). Each living a life that was largely empty, devoid of meaning, devoid of value. In each other, they had a soulmate. Awesome, awesome moment.
I loved the house warming party episode. Susan couldn't figure out what wallpaper she wanted, but she knew she didn't want what was there. So ... down it came. And up went everyone writing what they wanted to say.
But the next to last episode ... I thought the series most emotional, high point moment, the second defining moment of the show, was Trina confiding in Janet that she was pregnant. Janet had taken a job at the Tribune once Roger was laid off. She was so solid with advice, that she was filling in as the writer of the Dear Trudy column (a "Dear Abby" ripoff). And now, in this one scene, the evolution complete. From socially repressed ... to going gung-ho to win the Secrets scavenger hunt, only to have her world ripped apart because of the "secret" Roger had ... to the go-to person for the most socially evolved person on the show.
There were so many other moments that rocked. The hilarious episode when Susan and Bruce bring home Tom and Trina's friends for a night of fun ... only Laurie and her teacher boyfriend had planned on a night of fun. The shout-out to Reagan in that episode was so true. "Thank God they picked Ford. Reagan would have won".
And that scavenger hunt episode. I thought the pairing of Tom and Janet was beyond perfect. Tom, Mr. Laid back. Janet, Ms. Have to be the Best at Everything. This was kind of set up in the first lakehouse episode I referenced earlier, but man, did this pay off. You can judge Tom and Trina's lifestyle as morally bankrupt, fine ... but it doesn't mean the people themselves are devoid of the values that count in life. The key to the swinging lifestyle, we're told, is trust. Which is all well and good. But the key to life, the thing that gives this life meaning, other than religious aspects of course ... is loyalty. To have that one person, or if you're lucky more, that doesn't judge you, but loves you. That doesn't point fingers against you, but throws punches for you. What I loved about this pairing ... is that Tom found his rock in Janet. Not the other way around.
The producers promised that the ending would leave everyone in a satisfying place, in case there wasn't a second season. And they delivered. Roger got offered a new job ... in Cincinnati. He decides to take it, partly because he needs work, he needs to provide for his family, but also because he and Susan don't want to deal with their feelings for each other. Only, further completing her evolution, dutiful housewife Janet refuses to move. She's got her career now, and she'll be damned if she's giving it up for a man. Even if that man is her husband.
Bruce opts to pursue the fling with Melinda, the intern. Ensuring his marriage descends further into chaos.
Laurie's teacher boyfriend takes off for Guatamala, where his college roommate is missing and presumed dead after an earthquake. Leaving Laurie ditched yet again. Or you would think, only ... he left her the key to his apartment, to use for herself until he returned. As someone who's had someone they love, care deeply about, I don't know, let's just say, hypothetically, "travel down to TCU to spend a weekend with you, only she winds up hooking up with another buddy of yours who goes to Baylor while she's there, and eventually gets knocked up by him" ... yeah, I felt her pain. I spent a few nights crying in the pillow back in the day, just like Laurie.
Tom and Trina ... the pregnancy. Trina is publically, to Tom, willing to end it. She thinks its what he wants. Only ... Tom puts his foot down. Parenthood is what he wants. He wants a kid. Exactly the same as her. Sometimes, destiny hands you what you really want. (That, and the failure to wear a condom or take the pill. Whew, thank God we're more evolved and aware than our folks were ...)
But the best ending ... was how the "first season" ended. Susan, knowing her marriage to Bruce is in shambles, knowing that her best friend (Janet) will be crushed beyond belief ... decides "screw it", and put all the chips on the table, and takes off on a drive. Pulls into the hotel parking lot. Knocks on the door. And on the other side is ... Roger.
And ... end scene. Hopefully not end series.
If you didn't get into "Swingtown", I'm sorry. This show freaking rocked. There's still a couple full episodes up at cbs.com. I assume the full season will be out on DVD at some point. I'll be purchasing it. I'd also guess its available for purchase as a download out there somewhere, be it ITunes or wherever. Do yourself a favor and just buy the pilot episode. Give it a chance. It was that good. And as great as the pilot episode was ... it was maybe the 8th or 9th best episode of the season.
CBS, do the right thing. Even if its just a summer show like "Big Brother" or whatever other crappy game / reality shows you fill the lineup with, give it a season two. "Swingtown" f*cking rocked. Those of us who are addicted to this incredibly well written, well acted, well plotted show, deserve to know what happens in the morning after at that seedy hotel near O'Hare with Susan and Roger ...
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