Dr. Scholl’s sandals, the ones with the wooden soles.
Tab in the bright pink can.
Hamburgers cooked in a grease-filled frying pan.
While watching CBS’ new salacious and intriguing summer soap, “Swingtown ” – set in the summer of 1976 in a Chicago suburb -- it’s hard not to get caught up in nostalgia. At least it was hard for me to stop reminiscing about my own 70s childhood while watching the show, starring Grant Show (best known as Jake from “Melrose Place”) . . . though I wasn’t nostalgic for the “swinging” part of the 70s as I hadn’t the faintest idea of what that was back then. (The show’s creator says he wrote the “Swingtown” scripts based on his memories of watching his parents and their friends during this era.) With distinct memories of my own parents listening to eight-track tapes of 70s music that dots the “Swingtown” soundtrack, I recognized clothing that my mom wore from that era on the show’s actresses, like the wide, denim skirt with the tie in front and the button-up red, white and blue patchwork blouse.
It was a time before the advent of cable TV, personal computers, the Internet, cell phones, MP3s, AC in nearly every vehicle, cassette tapes, fax machines, tele-commuting and infertility treatments. It was a time before women really stormed into the workforce en masse. Before people had even conceived of the phrase “work-life balance.” Before women started outnumbering men on college campuses. Before the Berlin Wall was rendered obsolete. Before the Soviet Union was no more.
Yet . . . here we are, in 2008, talking again about high gas prices like folks did in the late 70s. “Women’s lib” may not be an issue today per say, but, after the first serious female presidential candidate has folded up her tent and gone home, some of her supporters are still saying that garden variety sexism was a major factor in sinking her campaign. Also back from the 70s: Bell bottom pants, platform shoes with cork heels, clogs and espadrilles. The style for young men and boys’ hair is shaggy (think Zac Efron of “High School Musical” fame). Big sunglasses that practically cover half of your face have likewise been seen on the today’s celebs. Vinyl records  are even enjoying a mini-renaissance.
The fictional women of “Swingtown” -- the most compelling characters -- make for an interesting lens through which to look at how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. The main character, Susan Miller, is an at-home mom of two teens who feels self-conscious about her status as a “homemaker,” particularly in the second episode when she met a stylish married woman who put herself through law school by working as a waitress at the Playboy Bunny Club and is now a partner in her law firm. It didn’t take much convincing to get Susan and her husband Bruce in the premiere episode to “swing” with the neighbors, Trina and Tom Decker across the street (the Quaalude the trendy Trina gave Susan helped). Susan, who married Bruce as a teen after she became pregnant (her daughter’s now the same age she was when she got pregnant) isn’t sure they should spouse-swap again, though Bruce, a successful stock broker, has other ideas.
As the swanky swingers-in-chief, Trina and Tom have issues of their own. With no children at home, Trina – who “retired” from her stewardess job after marrying an affluent airline pilot – appears to do nothing but watch TV, swim, jog (in hideous track suits) and party. Now that her husband has been offered a route to fly from Chicago to Tokyo , Trina will likely have a whole bunch of time on her hands, time to figure out what she’s doing with her life.
Then there’s Susan’s prim friend Janet Thompson, the married mom of one. If you were to create a character who’s the polar opposite of sexually liberated/women’s lib types, it would be Janet, an anal retentive homemaker with very black and white ideas of what’s right and what isn’t and there’s not much room in between. She reminded me of Bree Van De Kamp Hodge without the money, but with plenty of rigid decorum and Tupperware. Hopefully her character, which seems to represent “the past,” will evolve into more than a stereotype.
How is women’s lib going to play out in “Swingtown?” How has it played out circa 2008? These same women, wearing different clothes and hairstyles of course, are still around: The at-home mom who’s not sure if she made the right choices in life, the married/non-mother career woman and the married/non-mother housewife. The glaring omissions are working moms (which comprise the majority of moms these days and who tend to give birth at later ages than in the 70s) and the single gals a la “Sex and the City.” But for something that’s supposed to provide the nutritional equivalent of a summer slushie, “Swingtown” is a bit like an anthropological dig through nostalgia, under the light of a disco ball and set to a Three Dog Night and Captain and Tennille soundtrack.
“Swingtown ” airs on CBS on Thursdays at 10 p.m. Episodes are available on the CBS web site.