Premiering this week on NBC as an 8 part miniseries it stars Peter Sarsgaard (Hector), Thandie Newton (Aisha), Zachary Quinto (Harry), Uma Thurman (Anouk), Brian Cox (Manolis) and Melissa George reprising her role as Rosie.
It is directed by Lisa Cholodenko (Olive Kitteridge) and adapted by Jon Robin Baitz (Brothers & Sisters, Alias, The West Wing) while Tony Ayres is credited as an executive producer.
Amongst some of the changes for the US version are those to its storytelling, which includes the courtcase as a result of the slap included each week -reworked for a litigious nation, no doubt.
There is no word yet where, or if, this will screen in Australia.
“The Slap” comes at an interesting moment, with networks trying some big-swing concepts (ABC’s “American Crime” being another) that come closer to territory generally associated with cable. Alas, those projects not only have a mixed track record, but need more care and feeding than an 8 p.m. Thursday slot is likely to provide. On the plus side, as adaptations of prestigious imports go, “The Slap” is a lot more appealing than Fox’s “Gracepoint.” Based on two episodes, it’s premature to give the show an unqualified endorsement. But it does represent the kind of drama that should appeal to a sophisticated palate if the ongoing quality justifies first impressions. Granted, the birthday celebration within “The Slap” is the awkward sort that everyone dreads, but give NBC credit for taking a crack at a show that’s partying like it’s 2015, not 1999.
The story and characters are the same as in the Australian version, but the settings and pace are different, and so is the class divide. The rich in the American version are richer, the artistes more artsy. But the creators wisely recruited Melissa George, who played Rosie, Hugo’s mother, in the original, to reprise that role in the NBC version. All the actors are good, but Ms. George is particularly beguiling. As Rosie she is absurd, infuriating, sad and very funny. As the title and promos suggest, “The Slap” examines how ordinary lives can be derailed in an instant by one rash, unplanned act. “The Slap” also shows how a single, seemingly spontaneous misstep stems inexorably from the learned behavior and personality flaws of the key characters. In their dispute, neither side is in the right — not Harry or the parents of Hugo — but both sides turn out to be equally wrongheaded. On this series, everybody has a point, but no one has an ironclad claim to the truth.
It’s an agitating piece of work by design, hoping to prompt conversation and create first impressions that it might later be able to subvert, but the takeaway is that none of the characters are particularly likeable, a large portion of the audience will probably want to slap the kid in question before he actually gets slapped and the voiceover narration is so god-awful it seems like a prank. Yes it’s an all-too-easy joke but, holy hell, you really do want to slap the crap out of so many of these characters and, three or four times in rapid succession, the narrator. In fact, I made the conscious effort to watch the first two episodes on separate nights just in case whatever irritations of life I’d experienced on the day I watched the first episode were missing the following day and thus might change my view of the show. Nope.
Whatever else you can say about NBC’s The Slap (Thursdays), it is a miniseries people will be talking about. From its premise (man hits someone else’s kid at family party, legal action ensues) to the hot buttons it pushes (income inequality, entitlement, kids today, parents today) to the didactic script, it is pretty much a getting-people-talking machine. This show will get people talking about it even if it has to personally smack every viewer upside the head.
The Slap, however, is a good first step. The subject matter is naturally divisive: viewers will agree with small bits of different characters’ behavior without agreeing with their actions entirely. It’s also a great way to dissect the touchy-feely, politically correct world of the Brooklyn bourgeoisie and everything that says about race, status, income and the oft-cited lives of quiet desperation that are playing out behind the front doors of a thousand brownstones.The dilemma and the characters are engaging, but there is something that is lacking from the first two episodes. Maybe it’s a sharpness of focus? The plot is trying to cover so much philosophical ground it’s not uncovering deep truths in any one area. Or maybe it’s just that the action is a bit predictable. Do we really need to see another bored father lust after the babysitter? And of course the angry man has problems when his son doesn’t excel at sports. The Slap wants to be like a long indie movie played out on network television. Right now it is wearing all the trappings of such fare without really inhabiting them.
TV shows are getting better at the modern ways of trolling, which, after all, is an ancient and perhaps fundamental feature of drama — the ability to stir emotions, get goats and raise hackles. Provocative characters make terrible decisions to draw us into their moral quandaries. How flattering that we each get a reserved seat in the judge’s chair. But “The Slap,” NBC’s heavy-hearted (and heavy-handed) drama based on an Australian series (which itself was based on a novel by Christos Tsiolkas), trolls a little too hard, knowing that our culture today is quite easily baited on matters of parenthood, coupling and modern manners. The result is a depressing — if engrossing — rehash of arguments found every day online.
How great, if at all, is the offense? How, if ever, can this wrong be put right? You, dear viewer, as your own judge and jury, must draw your own conclusions. It’s impossible to say how much of an attraction “The Slap” will prove to be. Even at a time when broadcast networks are trying edgy new fare, this is an exotic venture for the likes of NBC with its mass-audience demands. But the audience that comes to “The Slap” will be fully engaged, and it could make this miniseries a social-media sensation: Who could fail to have a reaction to the show’s pivotal event, and to feel like sharing it with the world, even as that position may shift with each episode’s disruptive new round of information.
The two episodes sent to critics aren’t perfect, but their flaws (pompous introductory narration, a weak performance by Thurman, a handful of telegraphed cliches in the plot) are easily overlooked. Other performances, especially those of Quinto and Sarsgaard, are stunning in this provocative and surprisingly literate character-driven drama.