Two episodes of the first season of “The Slap” were provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
One of the most brilliant aspects of The Slap‘s crackerjack opening hour – one, among many – is its structure. Built in a similar manner to its Australian counterpart (and, for that matter, the book all of this is based off), NBC’s The Slap presents eight hours of TV, told from separate character perspectives of a singular event: the titular slap. Of the two hours seen, the pilot excites the most. Its most lofty claim to thrill is perhaps a middle-aged man’s thoughts – only thoughts, mind you – of an affair with a younger woman. And yet, as you painstakingly wait for the inevitable shoe to drop – studying the intricate dynamics of a woefully dysfunctional New York family – it’s one of the most visceral, thrilling and nerve-racking hours of television in years.
And it’s all thanks, for the most part, to its cast. A sort of anti-Braverman clan (R.I.P.), the Greek family does more in sideways glances, passive aggressive jabs, and simple seating arrangements than most shows do in entire seasons. You know right off the bat how these people work. Hector (Peter Sarsgaard) is married to Aisha (Thandie Newton) who is childhood friends with Rosie (Melissa George, married to Thomas Sadoski’s Gary) and Anouk (Uma Thurman), and cousin to Harry (Zachary Quinto, married to Marin Ireland’s Sandi), but Hector is thinking about having an affair with Aisha’s employee Connie (Makenzie Leigh), who brings her best friend Richie (Lucas Hedges) to his much-maligned birthday party.
Aisha clashes with Hector’s overbearingly Greek mother, and is supported in her war against her by friends Rosie and Anouk. Self-made man Harry disagrees vehemently with nearly anything that comes out of “hippie” Brooklynite Gary. The fact that Gary’s wife, Rosie, coddles their son over every bit of possible minute harm that could befall the eight-ish year old – not to mention constant breastfeeding – doesn’t help. The episode most smartly, however, focuses on Hector and Aisha’s marriage. Alone, they work. They aren’t exactly loving or overly-sentimental people – after Aisha gives Hector a rain check on sex he rebuffs, “There’s so much rain” – but, despite Hector’s straying thoughts, there seems to be real care and emotion there. Until his family shows up with a free trip to Greece and deliberately un-asked-for side dishes, that is. Call it cynical and a bit maudlin – I couldn’t argue, it most definitely is – but it nevertheless feels honest and truthful to itself, the entire time.
The characters are perhaps slightly cliche – here’s the overly attached hippie mom, the aloof Upper East-Sider, the severe dad – but the shorthand works wonders in building an effectively menacing atmosphere. Perhaps where the most cause for concern could be found is in the narration. In a tightly scripted, seamless hour of television, it feels the most superfluous. While delightfully obtuse – “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” – they lead mostly to a few moments of unintentional humor more than deep character development.
Thankfully they’re relegated to the opening and closing moments of the show. They distract little, but the saddest part of their inclusion – which could have been adapted from the Australian version that I’ve never seen – is that the show, so good in speaking veritable paragraphs with the location of dishes of food on a table or subtle glances, feels like it’s finally succumbing to the one thing it frequently proves it’s too good for: obviousness.