Published on May 2nd, 2013 | by Clint Davis
The Slap 
Summary: This Australian miniseries is as well-written and acted as anything you'll see on television. The directors create tension among family and friends, while keeping the reigns on realism tight.
NR | 526 min. (8 51-minute episodes)
Director: Tony Ayres, Robert Connolly, Jessica Hobbs, Matthew Saville
Writers: Emily Ballou, Alice Bell, Brendon Cowell, Kris Mrksa, and Cate Shortland (based on Christos Tsiolkas’s novel)
Starring: Jonathan LaPaglia, Melissa George, Sophie Lowe
Network: ABC1 (Australia), Audience Network (USA) | Original Air Date: October 6 – November 24, 2011
The television miniseries has often been a perfect format for writers and directors to tell stories that are too big for even a 3-hour film, while not having quite enough material for a weekly series. It has also proven to be a win-win method of adapting popular books to the screen, without pissing off an author by leaving out pages of nuance in favor of a shorter running time. Alex Haley’s seminal Roots made the miniseries legit in the late-1970s and its still proving to be an option to tell meaningful stories.
The Slap was an Australian miniseries adapted from a celebrated Australian novel by Christos Tsiolkas. The project’s title is two-fold, as its narrative is driven by a controversial slap that leads to lifelong friendships breaking apart at the seams, and also the show’s style is so personal and aggressive that it feels like a shot to the system. This show can be downright upsetting at times but the series’ four directors — handling two episodes, each — do yeoman’s work by maintaining realism and cohesion in what could have easily spun into an eight-hour soap opera.
Eight main characters exist in the world of The Slap, with each episode following one of them as we gain their perspective on the plot’s central event. We begin with Hector (Jonathan LaPaglia), a married father of two who seems to have it all worked out in life. But then we meet his 17-year-old mistress/babysitter Connie (Sophie Lowe), and realize that like everyone in this series, he’s got his share of baggage.
Hector’s wife is Aisha (Sophie Okonedo), a strong black woman who runs a veterinary clinic and is beginning to have doubts about her marriage. Manolis (Lex Marinos) and Harry (Alex Dimitriades) are Hector’s father and brother, respectively, each with an old-school view on family and the male’s role in them. Anouk (Essie Davis) is a TV soap writer who dates much younger men in order to fight her mortality, while Rosie (Melissa George) is a free-spirited hippie mom who seems stuck in naive adolescence. Both women are Aisha’s close friends. Finally, Connie’s pal Richie (Blake Davis) has the fewest connections among the characters, but turns into perhaps the story’s greatest source of drama.
The Slap refers to an incident in the show’s first episode, when Harry loses his temper and slaps Rosie’s adolescent son Hugo across the face after he misbehaves at a barbecue where all eight characters are in attendance. Since Harry has no relation to the child, tempers flare and sides are soon taken either damning the man or understanding his reaction. At first, we get the perspective of each character during their respective episode, but about five chapters in, the story changes and a new, more troubling incident is at its center.
Tension and drama are cranked up to 11 in this series, as it deals with sensitive issues like how to properly raise a child and disciplining someone else’s kid. The series also acts as a coming-of-age tale, looking at teen sexuality and confusion regarding orientation in the episodes following Connie & Richie, while also taking a painful look at marriage in the episodes about Hector, Aisha and Harry. And finally, a take on the loss of innocence and eventually death in the chapters following Manolis, Anouk, and Rosie.
As you can see, The Slap examines just about every universal facet of the human experience in just eight installments, which makes this a more ambitious undertaking than many television projects.
The medium-sized Australian cast will largely be unknown to American viewers, except possibly Melissa George who stars in Cinemax’s Hunted. The actors are each asked to tap into some painful emotion during the series, but I was most impressed with 20-year-old Blake Davis. This young actor covers the most emotional ground and is so real as Richie that the show feels more like a documentary on teen life than a scripted drama in his episode, which is also the finale.
The anonymity of the performers works in The Slap‘s favor as it breaks down any barriers keeping you from buying these characters. If this is all you know them from, then you don’t have to spend thirty minutes convincing yourself of their motivations.
At the end of the day, I would classify The Slap as a cautionary tale about the danger of gossip and rumors. You see blatant lies spin out of control until long friendships — and even lives — are nearly crushed. This series also explores the theme of lost innocence, as Rosie proves she will do anything to preserve her son’s infancy by still breastfeeding him at well over three years old. Meanwhile, Connie is trying desperately to lose hers, which causes Richie nothing but anguish.
Finally, roots and loyalty among family are big touchstones in The Slap, from Manolis and his wife romanticizing over their native Greece to Aisha being slurred by characters who are seemingly “enlightened”.
I found myself at times thrilled and at others moved by this series. I applaud the Australian television studio who produced it for airing something with so much weight and depth rather than just another reality dance competition. The Slap is as fine a family drama as you’ll find on TV in the post-Sopranos age. It also possesses a rare attribute among even the greatest miniseries: Replay value.