The Slap

There’s a scene in the opening episode of The Slap that is more film than television.

We’re in the middle of a suburban bbq in middle-class Melbourne. Hector (Jonathan LaPaglia) is turning 40 and family and friends have gathered for a lazy lunch. There are wives, cousins, sisters, parents, in-laws, partners and children sprinkled around the backyard in small moments of quiet conversation.

Thanks to the camerawork the viewer becomes an outsider looking in, with some characters ever so slightly out of focus. As if in slow motion, you can hear fragments of sentences. Conversations that are incidental to the subtext of character interaction. Sexual tension here. Frustration there. Menial tasks, a laugh, a sigh.

It’s the quiet before the storm, because in the midst of it all will come the inciting incident. To the absolute horror of the guests, a child is slapped by an unrelated adult. It is a moment that will ricochet across the series.

The Slap works quietly to establish itself as a slice of Australian contemporary life.

Hector has a pretty perfect life, married to Aisha (Sophie Okonedo) and father of Adam (Adrian Van Der Heyden) and Melissa (Liberty Townsend). He’s got a comfortable existence, digs jazz, is still sexy and loves his family. But he’s also very flawed, unable to give up smoking and on the precipice of succumbing to an affair with the 17 year old receptionist Connie (Sophie Lowe) who works at his wife’s veterinarian practice.

The first of 8 episodes will enter the labyrinth of The Slap through Hector’s eyes and subsequent episodes will focus on different key players. Shades of Kurosawa’s Rashomon perhaps….?

As the birthday boy he is tugged from all sides, by his wife British-born wife Aisha, his over-bearing Greek parents (Toula Yianni, Lex Marinos) and his obstinate, fiery cousin Harry (Alex Dimitriades). Then there are the kids, his own and the children of his guests, who can’t seem to avoid fights over the smallest incidents. He’d rather flirt with Connie, sneak in a bit of weed or masturbate in the bathroom. As if to cling to his youth, sometimes Hector likes to play with fire.

Other party guests include family friends Rosie (Melissa George), who mothers her child to the point of pampering, and Anouk (Essie Davis) a soapie writer bordering on rock-chick, who is dating a celebrity.

The marketing campaign for this drama asks us “Whose side will you take?” In the opening episode I found it hard to choose sides. How do you defend violence against a child, even if you’re at breaking point? So I look forward to being morally challenged by subsequent episodes as we delve deeper into its web.

Unlike so many Australian dramas The Slap is also instantly multicultural. On top of the Australian, Greek, British and African heritage, there’s also a Middle-Eastern Muslim family attending the celebrations. As a snapshot of Australian suburbia it is representation on the screen that is sorely lacking on commercial television.

As with dramas like Tangle or films like Lantana, The Slap also tells us family life is complicated, fragile, a work in progress…

LaPaglia is excellent as the imperfect Hector, in an ensemble cast that is universally strong. It’s hard to know who will deliver more in coming episodes: Davis, Dimitriadis, George or Okonedo. On that front, it’s surely an embarrasment of riches.

I also haven’t read the novel by Christos Tsolkias, so I can’t comment on how faithful the script by Kris Mrksa (Episode 1) is under Producers Tony Ayres, Helen Bowden and Michael McMahon and Director Jessica Hobbs. But I was completely hooked by its ability to present three-dimensional characters on the screen and its strength in telling an urban story. So confident are the sum of the parts that frankly it feels like this will only get better.

The Slap is one of the bravest dramas of the year.

The Slap airs 8:30pm Thursdays on ABC1.


  1. @ davo…I don’t go in for the namby pamby softie rubbish peddled by people in jobs who spend their whole lives producing drivel to justify their own existence. A good hard slap is a positive final sanction and is also exactly what will happen in most parts of the real world when someone steps out of line.

  2. Ah Herr Schmitt I though it was because they were shlapping ze lederhosen?
    Seriously though, the ABC finally makes some quality drama and all they get
    is insults, they can never win then. >:(

  3. This sounds really good and should set off a decent debate about giving kids the occasional good hard slap. Which is something I agree with only as a last resort and only by the childs parent….there you go debate started…

  4. Haha Anthony Mai, you made me choke on my apple! A comatose flea could go head to head with Underbelly and still win. I think the problem instead would be Masterchef/Terra Nova premiere (although the latter looks dodgy) on Ten.

  5. Just a slight correction. Anouk is a Soapie writer, not actor. but this be omes more apparent in the second ep and I can understand the mistake if youve just seen the first.

    The first ep is good, but it’s really just a warm up for the rest as it gets deeper and richer. I think Harry and Connie’s eps are amazing. This is not a turkey, but one of the finest pieces of Australian television ever produced. It’s a shame the ABC didn’t give it a Sunday 830 timeslot, but it may have been lost in the big brand name shows. This drama is both compelling and accessible.

    It has been sold to BBC in the UK and more to come. (I’m sure NBC in the states will syndicate it as they now own a share of the Australian producers Matchbox.

    It’s a must watch!

    It is a damn shame

  6. Like everyone else, I’m looking forward to this – and I hope it rates really well. But I’ve gotta say, it models itself on that brilliant Showtime drama Tangle – even down to the promos and its look. So let’s see how the ABC and the producers fare when they come up with something truly original!!

  7. “Respect and understand your own audience and we will be there for you.”

    Well put.

    I still hope it rates well for the ABC but I wish they’d had the nerve to stick with Sunday night, a much more natural home for a show like this.

  8. High hopes here. I read the book a fortnight ago and just about everyone cast is as I had imagined, except Hector unfortunately. But no biggie, it looks really good.

    More of it ABC, but put it in a better timeslot that doesn’t mess with my Crownies!!

  9. It sounds so great I cannot understand why the ABC did not have the courage to programme it on Sunday night at 8:30. An intelligent adaptation of a zeitgeist best-selling Australian novel is exactly what I want to watch on Sunday night on the ABC. Underbelly has only deteriorated with each additional series and is now a load of nonsense – the ABC did not need to be afraid of programming against it. Respect and understand your own audience and we will be there for you.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.