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Read our interview with Bracha van Doesburgh and Daan Schuurmans
Walter Presents’ newest arrival, the 10-part series The Swingers, went down a storm in its native Holland, and it’s not difficult to see why. Adapted from a bestselling novel, the premise is temptingly titillating: a couple move to the suburbs of Amsterdam, where they find themselves living opposite a sexy twosome, who, in their spare time, enjoy becoming a sexy foursome. That both couples are played by real-life romantic partners added to the risqué frisson when it debuted, where presumably a kind of prurient curtain-twitching voyeurism (apt, given the thrust of the series), accounted for much of its popularity.
Sadly, on the basis of the first few episodes, the premise and the outward hoopla is the edgest the show gets. Its original title The Neighbours would, one feels, be more apt – and not just because of the lack of any actual swinging.
The street Peter (Daan Schuurmans) and Eva (Bracha van Doesburgh) find themselves moving to, as they anticipate the birth of their first child, is like a Dutch Ramsay Street – a cul de sac that is brightly lit and full of gossip. Peter is a music journalist, who seems to specialise in very MOR, very white, very soft rock. At one stage, he turns down a drag of a joint because “it makes me feel like Chris Martin or Kurt Cobain” – presumably the first time these two have been mentioned in the same breath in regards to their drug intake. Eva, meanwhile, is a primary school teacher with a religious background, whose parents have more or less disowned her after she made the decision to use a donor to get pregnant. They are, in other words, a very tame couple.
Which cannot be said for their new neighbours, the dodgy drugs squad policeman Steef (Thijs Römer) and his wife, Becky (Katja Schuurman), a fitness expert and personal trainer, who are forever engaging in OTT public displays of affection in their driveway, generally atop a motorbike. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Jasper (Stefan de Walle) and Lilly (Anneke Blok), the meddling, middle-aged neighbourhood watch types who live nearby. Jasper’s a bit of a perv, with something of a stalker-ish obsession with Becky and soon, his peeking on them through his telescope at night escalates into something more sinister.
We know this is all going to end badly by the opening scenes of each episode, which show a crime being uncovered and investigated, and the police interviews of some of the protagonists – the bulk of the episodes are the flashback telling of what has happened in the months leading up to a bloody and violent confrontation. This framing grants the series what it otherwise lacks in interest and suspense; we don’t know who either the victim or the perpetrator is, but at least we have the promise that something interesting will happen, at some stage.
There are tonal problems throughout. While many will tune in to a show promising partner swapping and group sex, and the emotional fallout that will inevitably follow, the first few episodes feature Eva and Peter dealing with an unexpected tragedy. There is, too, a plot about Peter’s lazy sperm, and how best they should proceed to conceive another child. Frankly, it’s a bit of a mood-kill; it’s kind of the antithesis of raunchy fun.
Not that raunchy fun is all that we’re interested in, of course. But the initial episodes may seem a little like a case of false advertising, with very little in the way of titillation. The constant shifting of tone is off-putting, too – the programme becomes a mixture of neighbourhood farce, corrupt police procedural and a study of grief and the longing for a baby, plus sexy couples-swapping. By throwing in a little of everything, The Swingers becomes the sum total of none of them. And it all points towards a general confusion about what this programme is, or what it wants to be. While being by no means terrible, The Swingers could use a little focus.
The Swingers premieres at 10pm on Channel 4 on Thursday 23rd February. The whole season is then available to stream on Walter Presents.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.