NBC's 'The Slap' raises more than a hand, it raises issues

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Posted: Feb 10, 2015 11:36 AM
NBC's 'The Slap' raises more than a hand, it raises issues

NEW YORK (AP) — As full disclosure in discussing NBC's new miniseries "The Slap," I must say that, as a youngster, I got the occasional whack for misbehaving. From my wonderful parents. From a loving uncle or grandmother. From grade-school teachers. From who-knows-who-else I may have since forgotten.

Whether this has left scars on my psyche remains an open question. (Could it explain why I became a TV critic?)

My point is, no one who was ever a child, and certainly no one who became a parent (as I am, in this more progressive age), is likely to watch "The Slap" without drawing on one's own personal past as a vivid point of reference. This will surely color the viewing experience and make "The Slap" all the more engrossing.

No TV show could embed a spoiler more blatantly in its title, but there it is: Late in the first episode of this eight-hour miniseries (premiering Thursday at 8 p.m. EST), a big, strong man slaps another couple's unruly child.

In that flash eruption of a grown-up hand making harsh contact with a little boy's cheek, a group of friends and family is torn asunder. Sides are instantly chosen by these horrified witnesses.

You, too, are invited — no, obliged — to choose a side. If you can.

Let's face it: This 5-year-old kid is the wretched spawn of over-permissive parents who, along with the kid, need some sense slapped into them. He's a brat who seems the poster child for "Spare the rod and spoil the child."

On the other hand, the perpetrator is notorious for his violent temper, and he, in this case, is unrepentant for having taken matters into his own taboo hands.

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 saga begins with the 40th birthday party for Hector Apostolou (played by Peter Sarsgaard) thrown by wife Aisha (Thandie Newton) in the backyard of their lovely Brooklyn townhouse on a fine fall afternoon.

How could anything despoil the picture-perfect lifestyle they embody? With two beautiful children and seemingly thriving careers (he's a city official who cares, she's a do-gooder physician), Hector and Aisha tune to NPR while they prepare designer meals in their open-plan kitchen, pontificate on pre-schools and wind down with a Valium and vintage Miles Davis.

They could be neighbors, it seems, of Noah and Helen Solloway from Showtime's drama "The Affair," with whom they share some key pathologies. Certainly Hector isn't pleased to be hitting the big 4-0; like Brooklyn novelist Noah, his premium-cable counterpart, a bit of middle-age crazy is knocking at Hector's door.

"I'm losing control of the elements," he laments. If so, he isn't alone.

Then, with shocking suddenness, the party's over.

"The Slap," which week by week will dwell on individual characters in this social circle as increasingly it lays each member bare, is an all-star affair whose cast also includes Zachary Quinto, Thomas Sadoski, Brian Cox, Uma Thurman and Melissa George (repeating her role in the 2011 Australian original as the doting, aggrieved mother). Executive producers include Lisa Cholodenko, who directed the pilot, and who wrote and directed the acclaimed 2010 feature "The Kids Are All Right."

Ultimately, "The Slap" would appear to concentrate not on the punishment inflicted by one adult on one child, but the punishment these adults inflict on one another and themselves in the wake of an act that, in another time or place, would have been a non-event.

By the end of the first episode, the child's pain is already subsiding. The grownups' pain is just starting in fascinating ways that could make "The Slap" a hit.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore@ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore

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Online:

http://www.nbc.com