SWINGTOWN. 10 p.m. tomorrow, Channel 3.
TELEVISION KEEPS trying to adjust the picture on my memories of the '70s.
First it was "American Idol" judge Randy Jackson's touching pronouncement that the 1970s were his favorite musical decade, casting a rosy light on an era that, OK, maybe sounds a little better from a distance than it did to those of us jammed next to the speakers.
BBC America's "Life on Mars" - which next season becomes ABC's "Life on Mars" - gave us a look at 1970s police work through the eyes of a 21st-century detective who's bewildered to see his colleagues slamming through doors without warrants and roughing up suspects.
Historically accurate? Perhaps. But while cop shows have become more, not less, gritty in the past 30 years, it's shows like "The Streets of San Francisco," "Police Woman" and, of course, "CHiPS," that probably formed many a civilian's view of police work in the days before "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue" introduced complications.
Tomorrow night, CBS takes a swing at my parents.
Not my actual parents, mind you - in 1976, the year "Swingtown" begins, my parents were way too busy raising seven children to have time to participate in orgies with the neighbors.
I'm pretty sure the most exciting thing that happened to my father that year was his children's pooling their money to buy him the family's first color TV set (a purchase whose delay he'd long explained as a desire to wait "till they get the color right").
Though I baby-sat for a few couples who, looking back, strike me as possibly more, er, adventurous than my parents, even they were usually home early enough to preclude much hanky-panky. Anyway, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
The adolescents of "Swingtown" aren't necessarily going to be so lucky.
Some of their parents are engaged in the kind of activities that even the most self-absorbed tween or teen is going to suspect sooner or later.
The Parents Television Council, whose eruptions rival those of Yellowstone's Old Faithful, outdid itself earlier this week when it issued a warning about "Swingtown," declaring that "it drives a stake through the institution of marriage and family, and that children should not be allowed to watch the show."
You can't pay for advertising like that. But CBS might want to send a nice gift basket, anyway.
Because if I hadn't already seen "Swingtown" at that point, I might have been intrigued by the possibility of a TV show that could upend Life As We Know It. And one on in the summer, no less.
Sadly, though, there's nothing quite that earthshaking going on in "Swingtown," which boasts the same eye for detail that characterizes AMC's early-'60s drama "Mad Men" - from a woman smoking on an airplane to another sipping a Tab - but none of its style.
"Mad Men," returning July 27, has received a pass so far from most critics on some of its forays into melodrama, but I'd like to believe it's because we're seeing a wink in there somewhere.
In "Swingtown," it's more of a wince, beginning with the opening shot, which finds an airline pilot being ministered to by a flight attendant in a way that in close-up looks very, very naughty but plays out like one of the more idiotically suggestive bits from "The Nanny."
The innocence, if you can call it that, ends there. The pilot, Tom Decker (Grant Show), has plans for another flight attendant - I guess I should call her a stewardess - and when he tells her, "My wife is going to love you," he appears to really believe it. Tom's wife, Trina (Lana Parilla), may be less enthusiastic than he about this particular souvenir, but she shares her husband's eye for new talent, and when she spies a couple of new neighbors, Bruce and Susan Miller (Molly Parker and Jack Davenport), from across the street, you just know their life's about to change. There's something more than vaguely vampirish about the Deckers, so much so that I couldn't help wondering if "Swingtown" wouldn't have been a little less creepy if some of its major players actually were vampires. We're used to seeing them behave badly. Plus, it works well with PTC's "stake" metaphor.
It doesn't help the non-vampire version that the Deckers, the Millers and the Millers' former neighbors, the seemingly traditional Thompsons (Josh Hopkins and Miriam Shor), are written more as types than as living, breathing people. Or that their children's lives seem more interesting than theirs. It's not for lack of trying on behalf of the grown-ups, who really are doing their best to behave shockingly - or shocked - on cue. Given time to get over itself, "Swingtown" might even grow into something worthy of adult attention. For now, though, I'd stick with "Wife Swap" on ABC. *
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