Three years ago, the Australian miniseries The Slap — about the ripples of repercussion following a man’s slap of an acquaintance’s misbehaving child — aired on DirecTV, and it was a compelling look at contemporary families under pressure.
Based on the novel by Greek-Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas, it was also a snapshot of a changing, multicultural Australia as the family and friends at the center of the incident sprawled across the cultural spectrum from Greek immigrant to black British to Muslim Aboriginal.
Now, The Slap has been retooled by American playwright Jon Robin Baitz and made into a less involving but still intriguing version for NBC.
While the details differ — Brooklyn takes the place of Melbourne — the story’s contours remain the same: eight chapters with each one from the point of view of a different main character. Chapter one is about Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), a man on the verge of his 40th birthday, with a successful physician wife, Aisha (Thandie Newton), and a potential mistress, Connie (Makenzie Leigh), who is half his age and works in his wife’s office as well as babysits their kids.
Aisha is throwing Hector a birthday party and invites all the family and close friends: his conservative Greek parents (Brian Cox, Maria Tucci); wealthy, up-by-his-bootstraps cousin, Harry (Zachary Quinto) and his wife, Sandi (Marin Ireland); hippie Rosie (Melissa George) and her artist husband, Gary (Thomas Sadoski); TV producer Anouk and her new boytoy actor boyfriend, Jamie (Penn Badgley); and Connie and her shy photographer pal, Richie (Lucas Hedges).
Also along are various children, including Hugo (Dylan Schombing), Rosie and Gary’s troubled 5-year-old son, whose cries for attention sometimes manifest themselves in destructive ways. When Harry feels his son, Rocco (Owen Tanzer), is physically threatened by Hugo, he lashes out at the boy. This sets wheels in motion that shake the two families to the core.
Judging from the two episodes sent for review, this Slap falls short of the original in part because the narration is more intrusive and heavy handed while the familial tension at the heart of the story is less taut. It doesn’t help that, compared to their counterparts from the Australian production (Jonathan LaPaglia, Sophie Okonedo), Sarsgaard and Newton have less presence.
Yet, The Slap still has much to recommend it. Quinto, whose character is the focus of the second episode, inhabits explosive Harry with a brash intensity while Leigh plays Connie with a wonderfully low-key sensuality.
Unlike the trailer — which makes it feel much more sensationalized and hysterical than it is — The Slap is relatively quiet, a series of eight mini-character studies, sketched to a soundtrack of late-night jazz and Radiohead.
The Slap may not be nearly as bracing as its inspiration, but it possesses a sting nonetheless.
▪ 7 p.m. Thursday
▪ KXAS/Channel 5