February 20, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “The Slap”


THE SLAP:  Thursday 8PM on NBC

Previously… on THE SLAP:  A group of friends and relatives gathered for the 40th birthday party of mid-level NY public official Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), and tensions ran high, between Hector (who’s in the midst of a mid-life crisis) and his wife Aisha (Thandie Newton), between Aisha and Hector’s mother Koula (Maria Tucci), between Hector and his aggressive, affluent cousin Harry (Zachary Quinto), and between Harry and Hector’s bohemian friends Gary (Thomas Sadoski) and Rosie (Melissa George), among others.  It all culminated in the titular slap being delivered by Harry to Gary and Rosie’s bratty son in front of everyone.

Episode 2:  The structure of The Slap is that each of its 8 episodes will center on one of its protagonists, and this week it was Harry’s turn. He, it developed, was an even worse human being than the opening episode had indicated, a casual adulterer so crammed with anger that he compulsively bullied his young son and his wife Sandi (Marin Ireland).  He shamed his son into attacking another member of the school basketball team, resulting in his son being expelled from the team, and his reflexive fury at his wife extended to the point of physical violence in a scene that implied this hadn’t been the first time he’d laid hands on her.

There’s a network note to writers so familiar that it’s become an industry joke, requiring that all the characters on a given show be “likable.”  That’s certainly much less true than it ever was, in this era where darkness pervades much of television, but there’s a nugget of fact to it, in the sense that even evil characters need to be in some sense relatable.  An increasing problem with The Slap is that its characters are either blah or monstrous (not in an enjoyable way), and despite the occasional smug comment by the show’s narrator, it’s not clear how we’re supposed to take these people.  Is it satire that Harry is constantly on the verge of hitting someone, or that Rosie appears to nourish her 5-year old son solely by breast-feeding?  If that’s the intent, this is certainly a straight-faced satire, and one devoid of laughs.  If, on the other hand, we’re meant to treat these people seriously, they’re proving to be insufferable company.

Tonight’s episode, like the first, was well-crafted by US series creator Jon Robin Baitz, and slickly directed by Ken Olin (who also turned in a cameo as the director of a show-within-the-show written by Uma Thurman’s character).  Quinto and Ireland were extremely good as Harry and his put-upon wife, and there was a delicious piece of scene-stealing toward the end by William Finkelstein as the judge who had to hear Harry’s arraignment when Rosie and Gary swore out a complaint against him after his disastrous, half-hearted attempt to apologize for striking their son; the judge seemed to be at least two steps ahead of everybody else on the show, and one almost wished the show could break off and follow him for a while.

The Slap is still a distinctive piece of television, especially on the broadcast network level, but considering how badly it rated in its premiere (and how badly The Blacklist scored afterward) and how off-putting tonight’s hour was, it may be lucky just to keep its Thursday berth for its remaining 6 episodes.


PILOT + 1:  Already Wearing Thin


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."