Monday, February 16, 2015

Pilot Review: The Slap

The Slap (NBC)
Premiered February 12 at 8pm

Here we have a real concept show, an entire series that revolves around one formative moment: one adult disciplining someone else’s child in a physically forceful way. It’s an interesting premise, to be sure, and it worked well in the 2008 novel and 2011 Australian TV series. This first episode was all about building the tension to the point that we knew something bad was coming, and the circumstances under which the slap happened couldn’t really have been any worse. Focusing this first episode on Hector was a bit of a distraction tactic, since the only real tie he had to the slap itself was that it happened at his party. This is one dysfunctional family with more than a few troublesome dynamics, and this violent incident only makes things worse. The cast assembled is a strangely diverse one, pulling together talents with vastly different backgrounds, most of whom I wouldn’t have expected to see on a show like this. Melissa George, who also starred in the Australian original, makes sense given her TV past on “Alias” and “Hunted,” and Zachary Quinto got his start on NBC, in “Heroes,” and this is the most ferocious character he’s played since supervillain Sylar. Thomas Sadoski picked a pretty good role to follow up “The Newsroom,” just as opinionated as Don but in considerably different circumstances. It’s strange to see movie stars Peter Sarsgaard and Uma Thurman at the head of the cast, and jarring to hear Thandie Newton using her native accent. Unfortunately, the eclectic nature of the cast and the appealing promise of the concept isn’t matched by the writing and the style of this show, which felt like a version of Carrie Mathison’s jazz fever dream for a while and then jumped from comedy to drama without any warning. I’m not too enthralled and don’t have much interest in seeing where the aftermath of this slap leads.

How will it work as a series? This is being billed as a mini-series, with eight episodes planned, each focusing on a different character. It’s possible that each will recap what we’ve already seen from someone else’s perspective, which could prove repetitive, but I think that even if it just goes forward, this will prove to be yet another overly ambitious event series that doesn’t pay off.
How long will it last? Entertainment Weekly titled its ratings report “Ouch: NBC’s ‘The Slap’ Ratings,” opening with the line, “These numbers are gonna hurt.” The least impressive part of a disappointing Thursday night drama block is sure not to last long, but I think NBC will be willing to air these eight episodes, though even that’s not a guarantee.

Pilot grade: C

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