Taking on The Slap

Apparently, I was one of the few who actually saw NBC’s premiere of The Slap. It’s not exactly hitting any kind of numbers that would warrant a trending position on Twitter and if you Google it, everyone’s talking about its low ratings. That’s surprising, but then again, some of the best shows on TV these days don’t take off with much of a bang. ABC’s Nashville didn’t inspire any Twitter hashtags and FX’s Sons of Anarchy was close to being axed after its first season. We all know how criminal it would have been to pull that from the FX lineup.

Here’s the thing, though. With The Slap, if it does pick up viewers, that means it will soon be quite controversial for its content and the morals of child discipline and too, let’s face it, the region of the country we live in will likely play a role in that as well. That, to me, is the most fascinating aspect of it.

Another problem could be that it’s being presented as a mini-series. Today’s audiences are all about longevity. That’s part of the reason network television isn’t faring well. We’re forced to wait months for three or four episodes, only to realize we’re nearing a “seasonal” finale, in which we’re forced to wait another several months. It’s growing old, Network Decision Makers….it’s growing old! To make matters worse, viewers get invested, only to learn – with no warning – that it’s been pulled. Two examples: Longmire and Dallas.

anigifAnd by the way, why didn’t NBC take advantage of its two mega stars? I had no idea Uma Thurman and Thandie Newton would be gracing our television screens until it premiered last night. I don’t know that it would have made much of a difference, though. Everything about the way The Slap premiere was marketed is just…strange.

It’s worth noting this is an award-winning series in Australia that premiered in 2011. It’s also based on Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap: A Novel. Like most things, the read is far more interesting than the vision we’re presented via network television.

Here’s how it’s been marketed:

A once happy family suddenly begins to fall apart following a seemingly minor incident in which a man slaps another couple’s misbehaving child.

Little in that description makes sense once you see the pilot. Very little.

Hector (Peter Saarsgard)

There are no happy families in this show. The show opens with bad news with the lead (Hector) learning he didn’t get a promotion, but a “Latino woman” did (this is bound to come full circle later), it transitions to his drive home where he’s thinking about a young girl in a less than moral manner and by the time he reaches his home, makes his entrance, complete with fighting kids and a wife who’s ill after going twelve rounds with her mother in law, the best he can do is wish for drugs. Fortunately, his wife’s a doctor (played by Newton) and she actually sends him to her clinic and tells him where to find her stash. It’s then we learn that the young girl he’s fantasizing about actually works at the clinic with his wife.

This family (which is really several families) is falling apart long before the bratty kid enters the picture.

Let’s look at the “seemingly” minor incident. I will say this – clocking the kid across the face with that much rage? Dead wrong. The kid is a major pain in the ass and frankly, he has his pansy parents to thank for the very difficult life he’s about to live, both as a kid and as an adult.

Hugo (Dylan Schombing)

Hugo is the kid who’s a terror (versus the whole “misbehaving child” description NBC planted). Schombing is 7, and the character is probably 6 or 7. (By the way, this cutie pie has acting in his genes – his father is Jason Schombing of Watchmen, Timecop and Fantastic Four.) His mother is still nursing him and is proud for anyone to see it. And no, it doesn’t bother me that mothers nurse their babies, but let’s face it, “babies” is the operative word here. A 6 or 7 year old kid? There’s all kinds of psychological trauma going on by then and it’s rooted in the mother, Rosie (Melissa George). Hugo’s father is as big a pansy as any who have graced the small screen. He believes a bit of sweet talk in a non-aggressive manner is the way to go. Whatever.

After being “asked” by his father to stop swinging the bat at a couple of his cousins in the back yard, his uncle took matters into his own hands when he realized Hugo was getting closer to his cousin with each swing.

Harry (Zack Quinto)

As the adults are sitting around the table on the deck, Harry realizes the soft requests from Hugo’s father aren’t working. He immediately jumps the deck railing and takes the bat away from him and scolds him, only to have Hugo kick him. Enter the slap.

Let’s be clear – the actors are nailing their characters, and the sets are beautiful. The promo photographs reveal a lot about the characters and their sensibilities – not sure why people overlook these important elements. With Newton and Saarsgard, the chrome floor lamp against the classic leather chair shows tradition and contemporary mindsets are at odds. Quinto’s promos show durable and masculine wood elements, complete with a wooden ashtray at his feet, representing the classic “man’s man”; and the patriarch of the family, played by Brian Cox shows him sitting at a kitchen table, complete with flowers, a Crucifix and a small Jesus statue. Vintage furniture fills the space and it’s all indicative of an overwhelming matriarch’s aggressive approach to her family. It’s really fascinating from a psychological perspective.

But really, there are so many things wrong in this family. We learn that Hector is an atheist who’s pining away for the underage assistant in his wife’s office (she actually asks for permission to have a beer, in which she’s told “you’re not old enough”). We have a mother who makes Marie Barone look like a docile wall flower and with the scandal (that never should have been a scandal) brewing, who knows what we’ll discover next? That is, provided decision makers don’t pull the plug.

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