‘The Slap’: What to Know About NBC’s Provocative New Show

NBC’s The Slap is premiering on Thursday, and critics are already crediting the show for pushing new boundaries on broadcast TV. Though the upcoming eight-part miniseries tackles issues of parenting, it’s a far cry from the network’s other more conventionally feel-good family dramas, like Parenthood. Here’s what you should know about the controversial new show.

The Slap is an adaptation of the 2011 Australian series of the same name that was inspired by Christos Tsiolkas’s novel. As the name implies, the series showcases how several ordinary lives are thrown into chaos by one rash and unplanned act of violence.

It all starts at a Brooklyn barbecue when Harry (Zachary Quinto), an adult bully with a short temper, comes face-to-face with Hugo (Dylan Schombing), a 5-year-old spoiled child of over-permissive parents. When Hugo begins throwing a full-blown tantrum by swinging a baseball bat around, Hugo can’t control his own temper and ends up smacking the child in the face, giving the series its name. Lawsuits ensue, as do heated debates over the actions of both Harry and Hugo’s parents.

While the provocative premise alone is enough to get people talking, the show also boasts a talented ensemble cast. In addition to Quinto and Schombing, the series co-stars Peter Sarsgaard, Thandi Newton, Thomas Sadoski, Uma Thurman, and Brian Cox. It also features Melissa George, an original cast member from the Australian version. The directorial choice is equally notable, with Lisa Choldenko — the woman who helmed The Kids Are All Right and HBO’s recent critically acclaimed Olive Kitteridge – at the wheel.

Each episode of The Slap is shown from the perspective of a different character, fleshing out the background stories of each of the adults and mapping the road to the pivotal moment at the party. It’s a new kind of edgy fare for NBC, much more in the vein of shows typically seen on premium networks like HBO and Showtime.

So what do the critics have to say? Per The New York Times, what keeps the series compelling is that it doesn’t belittle or celebrate violence, nor does it portray either side of the dispute as right or wrong. As the publication describes, “Both sides turn out to be equally wrongheaded. On this series, everybody has a point, but no one has an ironclad claim to the truth.” This indefinite stance makes the series both engaging and more realistic.

Still, some reviewers have accused the show of being just as unsubtle as its name. “The Slap feels like a broadcast network took an HBO-style project … then killed it with a pile of ‘Make the subtext more explicit!’ ” Time writes, pointing out that its overly transparent dialogue clashes with the show’s morally ambiguous premise.

The Australian version of the show was overwhelmingly well received. Whether NBC’s remake will live up to the same potential remains to be seen, but given that it’s so far out of the network’s usual wheelhouse, it may be worth judging for yourself.

The Slap will kick off on Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern.

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