NBC's The Slap is an event series in the most literal sense of the term. The eight-episode adaptation of an Australian novel-turned-miniseries hinges on a single occurrence - one man slapping another man's child - the ripple effects of which are more far-reaching and devastating than any of the central characters initially foresee.
The titular action occurs at a 40th birthday party being thrown for Hector Apostolou (Peter Sarsgaard). The slapper is Hector's conservative member-of-the-one-percent cousin, Harry (Zachary Quinto), and the slap recipient is Hugo, the ill-behaved, still-breastfeeding 5-year-old son of Hector's hippie-ish artist friends, Gary (Thomas Sadoski) and Rosie (Melissa George, playing the same part she did in the Australian original).
"Is it about disciplining your children? Yeah. It's also mainly about forgiveness, peacemaking, and coming to terms with your own flaws," Sarsgaard told TVGuide.com at the show's New York City premiere. "It's really about understanding that everyone has a dark side, all of these people. ... They are all up to something that's not quite morally right by what we collectively agree on."
Adds Quinto: "I don't think [Harry's] going to win any fans, so to speak. But I think he's struggling. He's struggling and he's lost, and it's sad for me. He's a sad person. I don't think that he is equipped to process emotion and to know how to relate to people in the world as well as he could. ... He's going to be a hard one for people to root for."
Written by playwright and Brothers and Sisters creator Jon Robin Baitz, and directed by Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right, Olive Kitteridge), The Slap is somewhat a gamble on NBC's part - a throw of the dice designed to bring a highbrow (read: cable-esque) close-ended series to the network's struggling Thursday night lineup. Each episode focuses on a different character, and all feature polarizing, at times heavy-handed, narration from an unseen Victor Garber. There's also a jazz soundtrack that gives Homeland a run for its money.
Other peripheral characters in and around the large Greek clan include Hector's wife, Aisha (Thandie Newton); their babysitter (and lust object for Hector), Connie (Makenzie Leigh); Hector's overbearing parents, Manolis and Koula (Brian Cox and Maria Tucci); Harry's wife, Sandi (Marin Ireland); and family friend Anouk (Uma Thurman). As Gary and Rosie pursue legal action against Harry, the family members' loyalties are tested and long-held secrets come to light.
"It really is about American émigrés," Cox says. "It's about people who've come and started their life here, what that means to them, and the sort of social mores that creates - and how different they are from the [next] generation, and even how different that generation is from their children. It poses a lot of questions and also looks at family hypocrisy as well."
In the first episode, Hector gets passed over for a big job opportunity on the eve of his 40th birthday. He opts not to tell his wife about the snub, and instead relies on valium and flirting with the babysitter to keep himself calm before and during the party Aisha has planned for him. "Hector is, out of any other character in it, the most honest about who he is," Sarsgaard says. "He's not under any delusions of grandeur, that's for sure. ... He's too aware of his own problems, I think, sometimes to the point of beating himself up too much. That's probably my character's biggest flaw, is focusing on his own shortcomings too much."
While Hector's episode serves to establish the central premise, it's Episode 2 (about Harry's character) that slides into deeper examinations of masculinity, socioeconomics and privilege. "Harry and Hector and Gary all represent different perspectives and points of view that really exist," Quinto says. "Audiences will definitely be able to relate to these characters, and I think they will identify with one or more of them at different points throughout the eight episodes. ... In the end, nobody's going to be like, 'Oh, I really love Harry.' They might love to hate him, but I think that what will happen as time goes on is they'll actually potentially hate other characters more. And that's the design of it."
In fact, The Slap is almost reality show-esque in how it forces viewers to pick sides, more or less. At the opposite end of the parenting spectrum from Harry is the insufferable Rosie, whose passive approach to parenting will likely make viewers wish Hugo isn't the only one who gets slapped as the series progresses. George - who became a mother herself in between filming the Australian series and signing on for the American version - admits that she relates to her character "probably a little more than I should." (However, for viewers who may dismiss Rosie out of hand, a "devastating" plot twist down the road involving her character may change their minds, she cautions.)
"The thing about Rosie is, her journey's very clear," the actress says. "Everyone will try and push her off. But, you hit my kid, and it's not your kid? ... You violated my child. It's very clear to me."
Her on-screen husband Sadoski, however, came to the material with a more opaque perspective. "With Gary ... here's this crunchy artist guy who lives in Brooklyn and has a very specific idea about how he's going to be somewhat hands-off with his kid," theNewsroom alum says. "It may not necessarily be the way I was raised, or even the way I would raise my child if I had one, but there's something about it that I can get into. ... He goes on a journey in this story that starts with his child being hit and his immediate desire for revenge. The journey then starts to take shape. He's starting to ask questions: How much responsibility does he as a father actually have in this situation for the misbehavior of his child? ... There are a number of people on this crew who have children, and a number of people in the cast who have children. I'm not one of them. And so, my theories on parenting are worth exactly what you paid for them. But those discussions are ongoing and that's part of the joy. Hopefully that will translate to the audience too."
The Slap premieres Thursday at 8/7c on NBC. Will you watch?