I do not normally have high expectations for the NBC network. The promo for their event series (“event series” is a story all in itself), The Slap, did nothing to change this.
See? That looks and sounds like a steaming pile of nonsense, no? I tuned in expecting to write a “What I Watched Last Night” column using all my most blistering sarcasm. Lo and behold, dear readers, I was wrong, and in the words of our esteemed Deputy, Hillary, “The promo team should be fired.”
A decidedly all-star cast, including Thandie Newton, Uma Thurman, Melissa George, Brian Cox, Zachary Quinto, and Peter Sarsgaard, bring a lot of nuance to a story that could have easily been played as straight melodrama. In addition to the central premise of the show — Zachary Quinto’s Harry slaps the misbehaving son of Gary (Thomas Sadoski) and Rosie’s (George) son, Hugo — the plot plays heavily into cliche and well-worn tropes. Sarsgaard’s Hector is having a mid-life crisis and American Beauty-esque crush on the underage babysitter. Harry is a rich republican who clashes with liberal stereotypes Gary and Rosie well before the slap happens. Uma Thurman’s Anuok is boho. We know this because she wears drapey clothes, keeps a silver cigarette case full of joints, and she’s fucking Dan from Gossip Girl, who is doing some sort of odd Flashdance/Daria cosplay here. So angst. Much art. So suffer.
I mean, it is NBC, we shouldn’t go into this expecting Edward Albee. At the same time, I get the sense that these intentionally broad, initially extremely unflattering impressions we’re getting are about to be challenged.
Each of the eight episodes will focus on a single character POV, a stylistic choice not quite yet run into the ground. Thursday night’s episode focused on Hector. Hector is a white dude turning 40, and this story progresses mostly as you’d expect. He’s passed over for a promotion which is given to a woman, he doesn’t feel forty, he wants to bone the aforementioned babysitter, his family annoys him, we’ve heard this story a thousand times. There’s a key difference here, though. Every other time we’ve heard this 40-yr-old-white-guy crisis story, it’s been sympathetic to said guy and his sad, sad, boner. There’s no sympathy for Hector here. Not in the way he’s shot, not in Sarsgaard’s performance; we’re, as best I can tell, not supposed to feel sorry for this sap at all. And that’s fucking refreshing. Even better, in the tense, awkward moments after The Slap, we see Hector begin to process everything he’s been contemplating with the babysitter, and comes to the right and shoulda-been-obvious-but-it-is-white-dude-cinema-angst conclusion that he should avoid putting his penis in the babysitter.
At this point, my sympathies lie with Connie, the babysitter; her photographer friend who has a crush on Hector and photographic evidence of a lot of shit that went down; Aisha, who has terrible in-laws, kind children, a kick-ass job, the ability to juggle fourteen things at once, and a capitally shitty husband; Anouk, who can do better than Dan from Gossip Girl; and, of course, Hugo.
With all this out of the way, let’s jump right into the discussion we’re supposed to be having, what happens if an adult slaps someone else’s child?
It’s the internet, so I’ll go ahead and type out here that slapping a child is always wrong, no matter what, even if you were slapped and you turned out okay. Slapping someone else’s child is also most certainly not something one does, ever.
Buuuut, let’s swing around to poor Hugo (wee slappee) for a moment. All we know about Hugo is that his parents don’t seem to pay much attention to him. So he does what (I’m guessing) 3- to 4-year-old kids do, he’s turning up the volume to get some damn attention. The other kids at the party ignore him after Hugo disrupts their play a few times, and even when he’s wildly swinging a wooden bat around in a circle, trying to hit the other kids, his dad, Gary, only yells over his shoulder for Hugo to knock it off. Both Gary and Rosie are inebriated to the point of stumbling at this point, and we’ve seen Rosie haplessly try to control Hugo when he’s found ripping out Hector and Aisha’s roses, when she isn’t breastfeeding him on the patio. Liberal stereotypes make shitty parents.
We might also learn that Hugo has needs we don’t know about, he was most certainly over-stimulated. Again, it’s up to his parents to recognize when the little guy needs a break from the action and find him a quiet place to regroup.
I also recognize this is incredibly easy for me to say, as a person without children. (I’ve clocked a lot of hours keeping kids alive and enriched, but not my own kids, which I fully recognize is 100% different.) My high horse is really comfortable, so I fully expect moms and dads to weigh in on the comments here to correct me for my judgy presumptiveness. ;)
What say you, readers? Could The Slap have been prevented if Rosie and Gary paid more attention to Hugo? Is Hector the worst, or is he redeemable? Will Aisha and Anouk say fuck this noise and drive off in a convertible to solve crimes and kick ass?