The Slap’ takes itself a little too seriously

The Slap premieres February 12.

two and a half stars

The Slap Thursday, 8 p.m., NBC.

With its big-name cast (Peter Sarsgaard, Uma Thurman, Thandie Newton, Brian Cox, Zachary Quinto), mature subject matter and ambitious structure, eight-episode miniseries The Slap feels more like a premium cable series than something that would air on NBC. That’s both a good and bad thing—it’s heartening to see NBC putting its resources behind a project this serious, but the seriousness can be a bit self-important, and broadcast standards mean the more explicit moments have to be toned down.

Based on a novel by Christos Tsiolkas that was made into a 2011 Australian miniseries, The Slap uses its eponymous event as a jumping-off point for the unraveling of secrets among an affluent group of friends and relatives. The seemingly small action of one adult slapping someone else’s misbehaving child at a backyard barbecue spirals into a crisis for everyone in attendance.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for any of them, though, including the bratty kid who gets smacked, and after two episodes, the prospect of spending six more with these unpleasant people as they treat each other unpleasantly is not particularly welcome. Unhappy people making each other unhappy has been a cable-drama staple for years now, and The Slap would be a second-tier offering on HBO or Netflix (where the original Australian series is available).

The show is generally well-acted by the talented cast, and it adds arch narration from Victor Garber to make it seem even more literary, but just because it’s based on a novel and delivered with gravitas doesn’t make it meaningful.

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