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Thursday night marks the beginning of NBC’s The Slap, the eight-episode event that centers on the fallout after a man slaps another couple’s misbehaving child at a family barbeque. The action sparks a massive family dispute that exposes secrets, prompts a lawsuit and tears the family apart.
Though it’s based on a 2011 Australian series of the same name, writer-producer Jon Robin Baitz stressed that the U.S. adaptation is “far more psychological” than the original.
Starring Zachary Quinto, Peter Sarsgaard, Melissa George, Thandie Newton, Uma Thurman, Brian Cox, Makenzie Leigh, Lucas Hedges, Thomas Sadoski and Dylan Schombing, each of the eight episodes features a shifted perspective. The first episode is directed by executive producer Lisa Cholodenko.
See what top critics are saying about The Slap:
The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman writes, “The Slap makes you want to slap it and every character that’s a part of it. That can’t be the strategy, can it? … There are egregious problems at the core of the first two episodes that NBC sent to critics. 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.”
He continues, “There’s certainly a short-cut mentality that plagues The Slap, which is that characters seem fully formed to push particular buttons. But this heavy-handedness doesn’t just cement a character’s traits, it hardens the audience against them. … Everything about The Slap feels manipulated — you can smell the smoke off the puppet strings as the characters are jerked into being jerks. And that’s just the pilot. The anvil drops more often and with more velocity in the second episode. … Whatever The Slap may have been in previous iterations, it’s flat-out annoying in this one. And if you’ve got eight hours to waste on it, you’re a Zen master.”
The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley calls it “a remarkable feat — a sophisticated, suspenseful comedy of ill manners that seems much more like a Showtime or Netflix drama than a broadcast network offering. … [It] is unsentimental, even cynical. … Viewers know from the outset what happens at the party, but the journey to that moment and the road that follows are mapped out with wit and also compassion. People behave monstrously, but they aren’t monsters, just complicated and inconsistent. The Slap connects, but it’s not a harsh blow. It’s more of a bracing surprise.” Of the cast, “George is particularly beguiling. As Rosie she is absurd, infuriating, sad and very funny.”
The Wall Street Journal’s John Anderson warns, “If ever a show was made for hate-viewing, it’s The Slap.” Its creators pretend that the slap of a 5-year-old “is something complex. It’s not. There’s no possible excuse for a male adult angrily striking a small child in the face. But such is the evil genius of the show: Every attempt to explain away the assault raises the level of viewer loathing. As a bonus, the victims are nearly as unspeakable as the perpetrators. It’s an equal opportunity hate fest. Any viewer with a surfeit of affection in his or her heart will have no place to turn. … Where The Slap will be going in subsequent episodes is unclear and, mostly, irrelevant. Any and all misfortune, however, will be warmly welcomed.”
Time’s James Poniewozik explains that show chatter won’t “be talking much about how good the show is. … [It] feels like a broadcast network took an HBO-style project–provocative premise, specific cultural milieu — and then killed it with a pile of ‘Make the subtext more explicit!’ notes. … It’s a shame, because The Slap has the ideas and the assembled talent to make a better, subtler character exploration, but it’s brought down by ham-handed characterization and an assemblage of bourgeois-Brooklyn types that it’s impossible (even for another bourgeois-Brooklyn type) to care about. The one thing I can say for The Slap is to defend it against anyone who would condemn it for its subject matter. The series certainly doesn’t trivialize violence or revel in it. I have seen two episodes, and there is thus far only one actual slap. You will wish there were far more.”
RogerEbert.com’s Brian Tallerico notes, “Despite some broad characterizations and a few narrative twists that feel overly highlighted for maximum thematic The Slap is surprisingly effective overall thanks to the remarkably talented ensemble and the willingness of a network to try to play along with the new competition in their field. … A few of the character beats feel exaggerated in screenwriting terms to drive differences home, … [but] it helps to have good to great performances all around.” However, “I have a tough time believing audiences will be patient enough for The Slap to unfold.”
The Slap airs on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.
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