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February 17, 2015

NBC’s adaptation of The Slap is, at best, just OK

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I'm on the side of the book. Which is much better.

I’m on the side of the book. Which is much better.

With the exception of a bizarrely effusive review from Alessandra Stanley at The New York Times, the general response to NBC’s new miniseries The Slap is “not great.”

The Slap is an adaptation of a hugely popular Australian television show, which was itself an adaptation of the bestselling, award-winning novel by Christos Tsiolkas. But it’s lost some of its magic in transit from Melbourne to Brooklyn, where the new American version takes place.

Entertainment Weekly cites disappointing ratings; Flavorwire’s Pilot Viruet calls The Slap alternately “boring” and “infuriating,” “a messy, condescending, and misguided drama that will do little to help NBC compete with prestige cable offerings”; and the review from NJ.com’s Vicki Hyman is straight-up vitriol: “The Slap is a heavy-handed, button-pushing, endlessly irritating drama about a family that slowly unravels after a man slaps another’s obnoxious child at a family party. If The Slap were a child, I’d slap it too.” (I, uh, think you’re missing a key point, Vicki.)

It’s a provocative set-up (just this fall we saw the heated controversy surrounding Adrian Peterson’s “abusive discipline” of his 4-year-old son) and NBC has pulled out all the stops in a mounting effort to compete with HBO and Netflix: the show’s writer is The West Wing and Brothers and Sisters alum Jon Robin Baitz; Peter Sarsgaard, Uma Thurman, and Thandie Newton are among the impressive cast. (ed. note: As is Zachary Quinto, who is the guy who does the slap. My review of The Slap is that it is a very silly show that I will keep watching.) And the novel itself is pretty great, too—a panorama of power, racism, sexism, and the tension between the laws we articulate and the ones we don’t.

So what’s gone wrong for NBC? Lots of reviewers noted the characters’ unlikeability (a pretty lame complaint) and the “truly awful innovation” of a “too-prominent” voice-over narrator. I’ve honestly only watched the trailer (which I have to say doesn’t get my chimes jingling), so who knows! But I can speak for the book: The book is good. Just read the book.

 

Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.

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