Grant Show is proud of his mustache.
When asked about the authenticity of his facial hair, the former “Melrose Place” heart throb is quick to boast that it’s 100 percent real. Show sprouted the Burt Reynolds-style whiskers and a shaggy hairdo for his role as randy pilot Tom Decker, one half of a pair of suburban swingers, on the sudsy new CBS series “Swingtown.”
“Anything else just doesn’t look believable,” he tells The Associated Press during a break from filming episode 10. “The whole time that you’re wearing any kind of wig or prosthetic in a scene, you’re thinking about it in your head. You can’t do this. You can’t do that. You can’t make out with somebody. It’s so much easier to just grow it yourself.”
Show’s real ’stache is only the beginning of the bona fide ’70s vibe found on the set of “Swingtown.”
While the sex and drugs on the lusty drama are completely simulated, just about everything else — from the gaudy home furnishings to the polyester threads to the Deckers’ swimming pool — is entirely authentic.
“Most ’70s movies and TV shows look like it’s as if everyone went out and bought shag carpet yesterday,” executive producer Allan Poul says. “We don’t do that. We want ’Swingtown’ to feel like the world as it was lived in for those of us who were alive during that time.”
Not every actor on set is as thrilled as Show about the realistic approach to recreating the sexual revolution in suburban Chicago.
“I probably have the worst wardrobe,” says Josh Hopkins, who plays square-but-curious dad Roger Thompson. “It’s the most ill-fitting with the worst patterns and colors and the most nipple rubbage. There’s bad chafing, and it’s always tight in all the wrong places. What’s sad is that I’m kinda getting used to it.”
Some viewers haven’t been so accepting of “Swingtown.” The Parents Television Council and the American Family Association have urged CBS stations across the country to pre-empt “Swingtown” because, among other things, it “drives a stake through the institution of marriage and family.”
“We were given the mandate to push the envelope,” says creator and executive producer Mike Kelley, who based much of “Swingtown” on observing his parents and their friends when he was 8 and 9 years old.
“It was originally intended for cable, but it turns out all the explicit nudity and language weren’t necessary,” he said. “The content is the most important.”
So far, the sex — and interpersonal drama — seems to be selling. Critical reception for “Swingtown” has been toasty. The premiere episode was watched by a respectable 8.6 million viewers, and was the sixth most-watched drama of the week, coming in second place behind the NBA finals during its Thursday timeslot, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Beyond the sizzling salaciousness, “Swingtown” drips with timely nostalgia.
People who live in glass houses
The show’s crew have transformed the Van Nuys, Calif., production facility where “Jericho” and “Beverly Hills, 90210” once filmed into an genuine representation of the Me Decade. Outside, sets simulate a commuter train station, department store and supermarket, alongside the off-camera remnants of the town of “Jericho.”
The homes of the three families featured on “Swingtown” — the uninhibited Deckers, the straight-laced Thompsons and the somewhere-in-between Millers — exist inside the facility’s soundstages. For every episode, the crew has about seven days to scour Southern California prop houses and vintage shops to devise what will appear on screen.
Beyond their wardrobes and attitudes about sexual liberation, the families’ differences are illustrated in their home furnishings. Middle-of-the-road couple Bruce and Susan Miller (played by Jack Davenport and Molly Parker) are starting mostly from scratch after moving into a new house and experimenting with group sex in the first episode.
The humdrum middle-class home of Roger and Janet Thompson (Hopkins and Miriam Shor) is bathed in various shades of green with several accessories from the ’50s and ’60s. Poul brought personal items from the house he grew up in, such a flowery tissue box and plastic pendant lights, to accentuate the Thompsons’ stodgy abode.
Tom and Trina Decker (Show and Lana Parrilla) are at the other end of the spectrum. The swingers’ lavish modern dwelling has a sunken living room, fully stocked bar and a heated swimming pool that had to be dug out of the soundstage’s cement floor. Glass walls and doors separate the inside from the outside area, which appears to overlook Lake Michigan.
“We wanted to say metaphorically that these characters live their lives transparently,” says Poul. “So that’s why there’s so much glass throughout their house. The marriage is open, and they’re always open about it. They really do live in a glass house and have nothing to hide.”
Of course, the biggest risks “Swingtown” will take in upcoming installments have nothing to do with home decor or hairdos. For example, when Trina Decker’s ex-boyfriend pops up around episode six with aspirations of rekindling their high school romance, he ends up bedding both of the Deckers.
“Trina and I pretty much do everything together,” says Show, flashing a grin that exaggerates his ’stache. “That, I think, is the craziest thing I’ve done on the show. It’s probably going to flip America up and down the most. It’s sort of left to the audience as to how far that goes, but I think that’s going to be controversial.”