TV Review - The Slap (2015)

Brian Cox (left), Zachary Quinto and
Peter Sarsgaard (right) in 'The Slap' on NBC
NBC announced it was doing an adaptation of the 2008 novel The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, an Australian author of Greek heritage who is openly gay. There was already a television adaptation done in Australia in 2011 that's currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu. Recently, there have been several American programs that have been remakes of series from other countries. Gracepoint on FOX was a remake of a British series called Broadchurch. Both shows feature the same actor in the same role. This series does the same but instead of solving a murder, it's following a case of possible child abuse.

Maybe I would have a different opinion if I hadn't seen the Australian series, I would think more highly of this American remake, but so far this American remake is extremely worse. Everything that made the Australian series great is so completely lost here. Writer Jon Robin Baitz (Brothers & Sisters) and the various directors starting with Lisa Cholodenko have completely lost what made the series special.

I can't speak to the ethnicity of all the actors, but the original, Australian actors felt more authentic in the casting. The story centers on a Greek family and its interpersonal relationships. The Australian series employed actual Greek actors. This American remake didn't do that. The cast is a good one, but there is an immediate lack of authenticity.

Another problem is the format. Each episode of the Australian series is about 52 minutes. Each episode of this American remake is only 43 minutes. NBC packs the hour with more commercials. The loss of nearly ten minutes of storytelling supremely hurts. Each episode of the Australian series focuses on one particular character, never leaves that character's point-of-view and fully fleshes that person out. This American remake doesn't have that focus, that level of p.o.v. and doesn't fully flesh things out. It can't because it's working at a ten-minute deficit.

Peter Sarsgaard stars as Hector, a government employee aspiring to be the deputy commissioner and who is celebrating his 40th birthday. He's a Greek-American living in Brooklyn and is married to a beautiful black woman named Aisha, played by Thandie Newton who still has her British accent. Hector subsequently has two biracial children, a son and daughter. He loves to listen to Jazz music and fantasizes about having an affair with his children's babysitter Connie, played by Makenzie Leigh. Connie is his wife's helper at her medical office.

Aisha organizes a barbecue for Hector's 40th. She invites his family and friends to their Brooklyn backyard. Things come to a head when Hector's cousin, Harry, played by Zachary Quinto (Heroes and American Horror Story: Asylum), hits or hard-slaps the son of Aisha's friend Rosie, played by Melissa George who played the same role in the Australian series as well but who awkwardly hides her accent.

The series follows the aftermath and repercussions of this incident, which gets charged as a child abuse case. It divides the family and friends. It unravels all of them and reveals their deepest and darkest selves. Yet, going back to the trouble that begins in the first episode, Baitz doesn't unravel or reveal much of anything. Sarsgaard gives good one-liners, but this show doesn't give him enough time to get us to connect to his character.

In the original, Australian series, the possible affair between Hector and Connie, as well as the relationship between Hector and his son are huge things to helping to unravel and reveal that character. Yet, Hector's son and Connie are practically non-existent here.

Another problem is that this show has no sense of subtlety. It hits us over the head with everything. The centerpiece is the actual slap. In the Australian series, there was nuance and ambiguity, as well as enough subtlety to generate an actual debate. In the American remake, the staging is so awkward and in-your-face. Harry's slap is like a hammer to the temple.

Quinto is a great actor, but his Hector character doesn't feel real. He feels like a cartoon. Alex Dimitriades was the Australian actor who originally played Hector, and even though he was a bold and somewhat larger-than-life character, Dimitriades always felt real. He never felt like a cartoon. Maybe it's because Baitz has slightly exaggerated Hector, making him the owner of a high-end, rare automobile dealership. The Australian series had Hector running a garage where the mechanic's ass-crack is in full view. Hector in that case didn't feel so rich and distant.

What was great about Dimitriades' version of Hector that trumps Quinto's version is that Dimitriades played the character as a man who thinks he's a king even though he's not. Quinto plays the character as a man who is just a corrupt king.

The third episode entitled "Anouk," which focused on the character of Anouk, played by Uma Thurman, was remarkable in that the dramatic focus is shifted from what it was in the Australian series. The shift, however, works, and it provides great material for Thurman and Blythe Danner who plays her mother. The following episode entitled "Manolis" does the opposite.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-LSV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Thursdays at 8PM on NBC.


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