Who says prestige series with top-drawer casts are solely the stuff of cable TV? NBC is chasing HBO-level glory with tonight’s premiere of “The Slap,” an eight-episode telenovela directed by Lisa Cholodenko.
Cholodenko hasn’t directed a feature since 2010’s edgy lesbian couple comedy “The Kids Are All Right.” Why? Like “Transparent” Golden Globe winner Jill Soloway, she is yet another example of a female indie director who has found better opportunities on the small screen. Last weekend, Cholodenko won a DGA Award for her devastatingly good four-part HBO miniseries “Olive Kitteridge”–which premiered at the Venice Film Festival– starring Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins.
Her latest TV outing “The Slap” stars Peter Sarsgaard, Uma Thurman, Thandie Newton, Zachary Quinto and Brian Cox. It is based on the 2008 Australian novel by Christos Tsiolkas, and the Australian series it inspired in 2011, about the aftermath when one man (Quinto) slaps another kid’s child at a suburban barbecue. Cholodenko executive-produces with Jon Robin Baitz, who wrote the pilot, along with Tony Ayres, Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald and Ted Gold.
Though “The Slap” doesn’t look like must-watch “Olive Kitteridge” level stuff– nor has it earned that HBO series’ high marks– reviews range from enthusiastic to baffled, with critics calling it “irritating,” “fascinating,” as subtle and effective as “a bulldozer.” Praise, and disparagements, rounded up below. The series premieres February 12 (i.e. tonight) on NBC.
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“What results is not an elegant, adult, psychologically astute miniseries. Instead, ‘The Slap’ is a bulldozer: bluntly, gracelessly effective.”
“Based on two episodes, it’s premature to give the show an unqualified endorsement. But it does represent the kind of drama that should appeal to a sophisticated palate if the ongoing quality justifies first impressions.”
“If ever a show was made for hate-viewing, it’s ‘The Slap’…. Where ‘The Slap’ will be going in subsequent episodes is unclear and, mostly, irrelevant. Any and all misfortune, however, will be warmly welcomed.”
“Everything about ‘The Slap’ feels manipulated — you can smell the smoke off the puppet strings as the characters are jerked into being jerks. And that’s just the pilot. The anvil drops more often and with more velocity in the second episode.”
“A sophisticated, suspenseful comedy of ill manners that seems much more like a Showtime or Netflix drama than a broadcast network offering.”
“It’s as if every line in the script was written in capital letters–with the exception of the even more ludicrous narration, which was no doubt printed in florid italics.”