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Jonathan Storm: Would-be sexy show about a schlocky time

"If I wind up broke, well, I'll always remember that I had me a swinging time." - Elvis Presley

CBS's "Swingtown," premiering tonight, features (from left) Molly Parker, Lana Parrilla and Miriam Shor.
CBS's "Swingtown," premiering tonight, features (from left) Molly Parker, Lana Parrilla and Miriam Shor.Read moreMICHAEL YARISH / CBS

"If I wind up broke, well,

I'll always remember that

I had me a swinging time."

- Elvis Presley

That Elvis, always looking for a swinging time. But

Viva Las Vegas

was in the '60s, and by the time the '70s rolled around, the poor guy was bloated and drugged-up, trying to push on as a garish mountain of his former self.

CBS's new


sets up shop in 1976, a year before Elvis' tragic demise. It's ugly and bloated, too, bringing back memories of tawdry times, tasteless fashion and terrible music.

Its characters may swap sex partners, but the only interesting swinging in tonight's first episode comes when an angry little girl beats the heck out of a boastful boy.

"Who's up for a Harvey Wallbanger?" party animal Tom Decker asks his guests. It's amazing that anybody drank that stuff, much less that it was popular. They've dusted off Grant Show, who hasn't had a whole lot of success since

Melrose Place

, to play Decker, though with his mustache, big-collar shirts and weird hairdo, you might not recognize him.

Molly Parker, who was Eastern transplant Alma Garrett in


, is the only other actor who rings a bell.

Show plays a pilot, and everyone knows how sexed up they are, whose marriage to his floozy wife, Trina, is wide open. She loves it when he brings stewardesses, and everyone knows how much they love to sleep around, back to the house.

Remember those '70s National Airlines ads with cute stewardesses saying, "Fly Me"? Did you know that

Law & Order

overlord Dick Wolf started out in the ad game and came up with that campaign?

But we digress, which is OK, because your brain will probably wander off, too, watching


, if you don't muster quite enough energy just to turn it off, because every now and then some costume or prop as bizarre as Decker's turquoise Weber grill will keep you looking.

Parker's the sweet wife who moves across the street from the licentious Deckers and discovers, along with her husband, that she sort of likes the new, free ways. "Darn," she muses, "this Quaalude Tom gave me is swell."

Her buddies from the old neighborhood think it's all disgusting. It's at least a little funny when Trina sends the up-tight Janet Thompson down to "the playroom" to find her friends, and instead she discovers some naked sleazoid entwined in the arms and legs of who-knows-how-many others?

The kids in the show, who are way more interestingly messed up than their parents, have their own little subplots, which provide brief breaks from the tedium of their parents' nowhere lives.

All this is set to what the producers call "the incredible music of the era." But I don't care how many David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac tunes you play, they cannot overpower the sheer cringe-a-tood of "Dream Weaver," "Spirit in the Sky" and The Captain & Tennille.

CBS figured it would stir up some excitement this year with shows like

Viva Laughlin






The first flopped spectacularly, the second lingered longer. But when they saw


, even the easily self-deluded network suits knew things were as hopeless as those round-the-block gas lines that occurred in the '70s. They waited all the way till June to inflict it on a public that deserves better.

They obviously never heard one of Elvis' earlier hits: "Don't Be Cruel."

Jonathan Storm:



Tonight at 10 on CBS3