The Slap Review: NBC's New Miniseries Just Doesn't Hit Hard Enough

NBC has advertised its new miniseries The Slap as "provocative." The show features an impressive cast, and it's based on an award-winning Australian miniseries that itself is based on an award-winning book. It's the type of drama that makes you want to think.

If you decide to tune in for the eight-part miniseries (the first two episodes, "Hector" and "Harry," were made available to critics, and I labored through both of them just for you), you might find yourself forming opinions on such topics as parenting, family boundaries, and whether or not it's acceptable to bang an 18-year-old who works for your wife on the day before you turn 40, but the question that's most likely to cross your mind is, "Why am I wasting my time watching horrible people argue?"

The Slap is about a slap. Or more specifically, it's about an instance of hand-to-face contact between the cheek of a misbehaving child and a palm that does not belong to one of the child's parents. The incident takes place at a family barbeque and results in a ripple effect of legal action, with plenty of infidelity, vacation debates, mishandled iPads, infidelity again, smoking, and inexcusable jazz music along the way. But really, it feels like attending a gathering of crazy people where any and all pleasantries are just window dressing for deep-seated hate, jealousy, and regret—and once the titular slap rings out, it rips the Band-Aid right off.

The Slap's most fundamental flaw is its characters. They're introduced almost all at once during a birthday barbecue, and with little background information, so viewers must mentally draft a family tree to figure out who's related, who's an in-law, who's just a friend, and whose kids are whose. And because the show is all about drawing lines within the family and putting pressure on individual relationships once the slap forces people to start taking sides, that kind of information tends to be pretty important. However, after two episodes many important details remain unclear; for example, I'm still not clear on how Uma Thurman's character is related to everyone else, and it's probably telling that I'm not particularly interested in finding out.

Of course, I could probably get away with referring to any given character as "that annoying guy/lady," because nearly everyone on the show is borderline intolerable for one reason or another. And that's because, instead of crafting rich, three-dimensional characters, The Slap has populated its world with walking arguments that ricochet off each other in a carefully constructed environment designed to stimulate conversation among viewers. Zachary Quinto isn't Harry, the menacing ball of anger who slaps the kid, he's the pro-discipline representative of the one percent. Melissa George isn't Rosie, the hippie mother of a 5-year-old who's still breastfeeding, she's the physical manifestation and ferocious voice of coddling parents everywhere.

These walking talking points get their verbal jabs in as quickly and heavy-handedly as they can, because The Slap is an eight-episode limited series and it doesn't have time for actual character development. It's certainly an effective approach in terms of getting you to mull who's in the right and who's in the wrong. You'll think about whether the monstrous kid deserved to be slapped, you'll think about whether the mother has the right to sue, you'll think about what you would do if your in-laws surprised you with a lavish yet totally inconvenient gift and expected you to accept it without question. I just wish it was more enjoyable to ponder these things; unfortunately, The Slap spoils a lot of the fun because it's is less of an open-handed caress and more of a ham-fisted pound.

That brings me to what I believe is The Slap's most egregious error, which will be a dealbreaker for some: The show employs an unseen narrator who speaks as if he's reading a bedtime story to toddlers but uses SAT-level words, to ear-splittingly pretentious effect. There's no real reason for him, either—he essentially dictates what's already obvious from the story and the actors' performances. Consider this nugget: "His reverie shattered, Hector took solace in the clarity of his life's limits. And in knowing that his few transgressions existed only in his dreams." Translation: The guy was fantasizing about getting busy with an 18-year old. Over the course of the first two episodes, any aggravation you feel toward The Slap will be amplified by these intermittent voiceovers, and I'm not exaggerating with I say that off-camera narration has never been used more poorly. The Slap needs to marathon Jane the Virgin to get a feel for how voiceovers should enhance the action on the screen, not repeat what viewers already know in the most annoying way possible.

The Slap does have a few interesting things going for it, like the first episode's concentration on Peter Sarsgaard's Hector, who's turning 40 and watching his life crumble around him. His predicament feels very real, with a midlife crisis lurking around every corner as he struggles to stave off a total loss of control. The situation makes for some compelling drama, but it only accounts for a fraction of the story, which quickly becomes dominated by the aftermath of the slap. And since subsequent episodes concentrate on other characters' perspectives (Harry gets Episode 2, and Thurman's character Anouk gets Episode 3), Hector's troubles kind of fall by the wayside.

However the cast sure gives the material their all. In addition to Sarsgaard, Thurman, Quinto, and George, The Slap's roster boasts Thandie Newton, Thomas Sadoski, Penn Badgley, and Marin Ireland, all familiar faces. It's just too bad that the material doesn't really work.

With its lofty subject matter and sprawling cast, The Slap is the type of series that needs room to breathe, but with a limited run of eight episodes and a premiere that's bogged down by clumsy writing, it hyperventilates. I can't really recommend it. And yes, the kid deserved it.


The Slap debuts Thursday, February 12 at 8pm on NBC.


Comments (21)
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Mar 10, 2015
Reviewing a show and making assumptions of it's entirety from the first two episodes doesn't seem to be a well though out method of reviewing a show.
First you say there is no character development. Notice how each episode is named for a specific person in the story? That's the character development, each episode is dedicated purely to character development!
You also go on to criticize the show for not offering crafting rich characters.
Well if you read the book, or watched the Aussie version, or even noticed the names of the episodes, you would come to the conclusion, that this is probably the only show with full feature rich character development. Except of course for shows that span 24 episodes, this manages to do it in just 8.
Even though your opinion still states that "this is a limited series and doesn't have time for actual character development, meanwhile you only saw two episodes, and still haven't caught on to the fact that each episode is dedicated to the one thing you are criticizing the show for not having.
You then take a jab at the fact that the first episode concentrates on Peter Sarsgaard's character; Hector, even though the name of the episode is.....HECTOR!!! And this is AFTER you just finished saying there isn't any character development.
Are you high?
That unseen narrator is reading right out of the book, you did realize this was based on a book right?
I am sorry that SAT level words are too much for you, perhaps you should be watching cartoons instead. You may be able to better understand Bugs and Daffy's characters, they usually don't use SAT level words that would help you better understand what's going on.
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Feb 18, 2015
Which rabbit hole are the writers trying to go down? Midlife crisis, parents right to raise their children as they see fit (disciple/breast feeding), interfering family ... the initial premise is that everything traces back to "the slap", right? How does the midlife crisis storyline fit that premise? I will continue to watch because of the actors, and pray that it all comes together.

And I agree with most ... can the narrator
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Feb 14, 2015
Currently watching this and I have a serious question.........WHY IS THERE A NARRATOR?!
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Feb 13, 2015
I have only seen previews of this show and it appears the kid is a brat, but hitting someone else's kid is just a no no and not cool. I am just trying to figure out how in the world they could base an entire show on one incident. In my family this sort of thing would have been resolved in about 30 minutes, one hour tops. When my oldest brother was nine my dad's brother had one too many and slapped my brother. My brother came home and told my dad just as he was arriving home from work. My dad walked over to my uncles house and basically beat the crap out of him, all before my mom even-knew anything about it. Case closed!! LOL
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Feb 12, 2015
Wow. All the reviews of this show have indicated that it's kind of a mess.

What's hilarious is that when I first heard about this series, I full on expected it to be a humorous look at some minor incident blown way out of proportion. What it seems we have here is a show that treats this minor incident as if it were some huge event that impacts the lives of everyone around it. Seems overly dramatic and like it's taking itself wayyyyyyy too seriously. Pretty disappointed with this one. Thought that we'd get something a little more intriguing than just some passe argument about corporal punishment.
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Feb 12, 2015
Dude, calling yourself a critic is like calling your kids pasta art in kindergarten a Matisse...
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Feb 12, 2015
Thumbs down!
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Feb 12, 2015
Have not seen but based on a preview and this review I would say SLAP the parents of the brat.
I sure hope that in the real world that there is more 'parenting' than is shown in this series.
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Feb 12, 2015
This show HITS close to home. I have an Aunt Who slapped a child the same way. It happened during a family cookout.

The 6 yr child was swinging a Baseball bat at an Infant and the childs parents thought it was cute. The 6 yr old was being very aggressive with the bat and nearly swung the bat and hit the infant in the face. The parents didn't get up and try to stop the child.

My aunt went to take the bat away from the child, and the child said NO and swung the bat and it hit her in the face. She then lost control and slapped the nephew in the face. Everyone got upset with my Aunt for trying to stop the boy from hurting the infant. And told her it wasn't her place to stop the child. She told them well you didn't do anything about your boy.

They haven't talked to each other in years because of the incident.
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Feb 12, 2015
Hard to believe that this happens in the real world.
The Aunt is better without those loser parents and their future criminal child.
what did the parents of the baby think? I would have stepped in if it was my baby.
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Feb 12, 2015
The parents weren't even outside when this was happening. They were inside doing something else. But they were shocked that my Aunt hit the child. They didn't even thank her for stopping the kids from trying to hit the baby
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Feb 13, 2015
Thanks for the response. Mind boggling.
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Feb 12, 2015
The original Australian show was great. The characters are probably very similar and I imagine they're introduced in the same fashion (the barbecue), so I don't know what's really wrong with the american version. Anyway, no reason to make a new one. The end.
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Feb 12, 2015
Again, an American remake that doesn´t stand up to it´s originas show. Why not show the original to Americans audience? It is in Australian English. I will believe Americans do understand it. Or not?
I myself will try to find and watch the original Australian TV show. It gets good reviews in IMDB
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1823011
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Feb 12, 2015
I agree (mostly). If the language is the same, then it's (usually) not worth doing a remake.

The exception to my rule though, is if the show has a lot of cultural references that some other region wouldn't get. One fine example is "Life on Mars;" the UK version was great but for us "yanks" the 70's in the UK aren't exactly nostalgia-filled. So much of that show was dipped in nostalgia and references to events and such that the US audience just thinks "whatever, move on." While the US version took place in 70's New York and was re-tweaked to better satisfy OUR sense of nostalgia.
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Feb 13, 2015
In Europe, Austrailia, ect. they get alot of our cultural references because they watch most of our shows. Ima have a Captain Obvious moment...uh, for a moment and say, for us Americans, it's a fucked up thing:
Shows are remade because we don't get the cultural references, but we never learn those references because we keep remaking the shows instead of airing them here in their original form & forcing our society to adapt over time.
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Feb 12, 2015
The Killing is a (one of the few) good example of a remake from the Danish TV show Forbrydelsen that was a succesfull remake. I just don´t know how the Danish felt having a Sweden playing one the main roles in the American version though.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0826760
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Feb 12, 2015
The Killing was a great show, even if the ratings did not reflect that.
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Feb 12, 2015
Interesting. I was the Australian show and it was excellent, one of the best shows I saw that year, and it looks like Melissa George played the same character in both. I might have to check this out now to see how the remaking process went. The Australian show was set around a multicultural Greek family (there's a huge Greek population in Australia), judging from the cast maybe they haven't kept that aspect? If so that would be a shame because culture clash was probably the most central theme of the show.
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Feb 12, 2015
The Greek culture is still present in the remake.
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