Swinging in Plain Sight

Swingtown (Thursdays on CBS)

I have this amazing (if useless) superpower: to watch a show for mere seconds and be able to tell you the network like that. One would think Swingtown, a show set in the ‘70s about those freewheeling scarf-wearing couples, would be on FOX, or possibly CW. However, it is very apparent very quickly that Swingtown is a CBS venture, which is a very strange thing. Or maybe not.

My theory (and I know you’re dying to hear it) is that is CBS is not really marketing polyamory to the under-25 crowd. For reasons no one can grasp, the network, which has been #1 most of this decade, just does not go after young viewers. No, I suspect they are going straight at people who were teens or so in the ‘70s; they’d be in their 40s or so now. (Math rules!)

Anyone could have figured that out, but here’s where my noggin comes in: despite what you may have heard, the “Swinging ‘70s” were never really that swinging. Sure, there were key parties, but they were few and far between. Call it “Suburban Legend.” But people talked like every Tom with a hairy dick was out there and loving it. They did this for the same reason people in your high school all claimed to be “doing it,” even though most were not: people lie about their sex lives because they think it makes them look cool.

If I am right (and I am), what CBS is selling with Swingtown is not XXX Drama (though they will drool if Conservatives give the show free pub in their anger), but rather, nostalgia for an era that did not actually exist. This strange configuration is what we call in semiotics a simulacrum. Groovy.

The proof is in the pudding, as by far the most important details are the music and the costumes. After all, you cannot sell nostalgia if it doesn’t look right, and sound right. (After the episode we are immediately told where to go listen to all the awesome music, and download it too; giving Time Life a run for their late night money.)

Hey; I’m no hater. The soundtrack is cool, and the costumes and décor look great too. It’s just that it feels like the entire show was designed around the mis en place rather than, oh, I don’t know; decent characters and a believable story. There wasn’t a single person on screen who caused me a moment’s empathy, and the plot points would make a cliché blush. That last point won’t be a problem. Heck: CBS has always built their empire on giving audiences the familiar. But Swingtown is the one thing A SHOW ABOUT ORGIES should never be: achingly boring.

Disagree with Hyperion? Check out the pilot episode yourself at CBS.com


The gigantic success of SATC notwithstanding, women do not go to the movies as men do. Men go to their favorite films in force, and they go back. And back. And back. This is why, more than all other factors put together, the big movies, and usually the good ones, are made with men in mind. However, when it comes to TV, it is just the opposite. Chicks rule. Not only are they loyal to their shows; powerfully loyal, but they don’t flip around nearly as much on the commercials!

It is no wonder, then, that recently we have seen a spate of Power-Chick shows. TNT showed the way: a woman in law enforcement; pushing 40, mess of a social life, but absolutely kick-ass at her job, and not afraid to be sexy. We should all be so lucky.

Again: I’m not hating. A 39 year-old woman who knows what she is doing is about the sexiest thing on the planet. Enter Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon, a hard working utterly dedicated sexy ballsy take-no-prisoners US Marshal whose job is to protect witnesses. As in witness protection.

And her social life is a mess and she pushes people away because she’s been hurt, which is why she’s so tough, and she breaks all the rules but she has a good heart and….you get the picture. Sounds a lot like either of the TNT shows, huh?

It does, and that’s a problem. There is plenty of room for shows about tough chicks in law enforcement with messed up personal lives, but at some point it’s going to become a cliché. I have hopes, though.

A bigger problem might be the set-up. McCormack (at least in the pilot) does plenty of first-person voice-over narration, usually a bad sign. It doesn’t really fit with the show. Also (and this is completely my issue), but I cannot stand her partner, played by Fred Weller. For some reason the dude has been on my nerves since THE SHAPE OF THINGS. And, he sounds EXACTLY like Randall from CLERKS. It’s unnerving. But his character is cool, so I’m willing to give Fred some space. The other side characters (especially Mary’s crazy mother, played by Lesley Ann-Warren), seem promising.

I’m being fairly lenient here to a show that really didn’t give me much, but that’s probably because in some ways IN PLAIN SIGHT is sort of porn for me. Not in the traditional sense (although, if USA wants to have Mary McCormack get more nakeder, I’m behind her, I mean behind USA), but more the idea of Witness Protection. The very thought that I could pack up my life and disappear somewhere, even New Mexico (where the show is shot, in a refreshing non LA/NY change) is pretty cool to me. Yeah, it would suck to never see anyone I love again, but still…..


IN PLAIN SIGHT could quickly become predictable and boring. I was excited about last summer’s SAVING GRACE with Holly Hunter, but never managed to watch an episode beyond the pilot. But I really like Mary McCormack. There was even some side-boobage in the first episode, and I would like to think USA would have the good sense to follow up on that. Or maybe I just like to dream about another life, one where no one knows I suck.

See if Hyperion’s right. Watch the pilot for IN PLAIN SIGHT either at hulu.com or on USA’s website.

June 6, 2008


Dragon said...

I agree with you. There wasn't one character in swingtown that I liked. Not sure I'll watch it again.

Anonymous said...

Hehehe you'd get behind her all right

Hyperion said...

Dragon - Now if only they could get the kids to start swinging....

Anonymous - I'm actually a big supporter of the Women's Movement, as I like to be "right behind them" during that movement.