We gave it a B
A New York family seething with tensions private and painfully known explodes and splinters after one father strikes an unruly child who isn’t his own. From this big bang, a pocket universe of story unfolds in The Slap, an eightepisode event series that continues American television’s important experiment with new story forms. It’s the most intriguing and irritating new drama I’ve seen in a while.
Adapted by Jon Robin Baitz (Brothers & Sisters) from an Australian novel and directed by Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right), this very American retelling isn’t some ethics-class rumination on corporal punishment but a wry satire of domestic archetypes and social representation. Call it The Parents Aren’t All Right. Each episode focuses on one character, starting with the saga’s pivot, Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), a family man suffering from midlife ennui that’s tempting him toward emotional retreat and other stupidities. Sarsgaard plays this cliché well, but he’s a cliché nonetheless, and inspires indifference.
But the slapper doesn’t. Zachary Quinto rivets as Harry, a manly materialist with a severe code and furious intensity, which he struggles to wield constructively. Quinto makes everything ugly about his alpha male—his fears, his hypocrisies, the slap itself—sensible and compelling. But must Hector and Harry both have wandering eyes? The slight overdose of hideousness and the faintly mocking narration by Victor Garber combine to sabotage our investment. Yet Quinto is strong, and most of the characters pique curiosity, even as they grate. You’ll watch The Slap. You might want to slap it yourself, but you’ll watch. B