The Slap meanders on as it follows our yuppie antiheroes. No one in this ensemble is particularly likable, and the vast majority are so grating that you’ll grind your teeth whenever they loudly proclaim their political stance, or when Hector’s Greek father (Brian Cox) instructs his son to control his wife. Despite Sarsgaard’s best efforts (he’s as great here as he always is), Hector falls flat on the screen. He’s upset about the things that most 40-year-old white men on TV and in the movies are upset about: He’s getting older; he is not allowed to have sex with a teenage girl; his beautiful and successful wife Aisha (Thandie Newton) doesn’t have sex with him because she’s too busy planning his birthday party. Life is rough for Hector and Aisha, who wallow in their own misery after receiving a free trip to Greece. Imagine, for a moment, having the sort of life where a free trip to a foreign country is the worst of your problems. That is what we’re in for.
The pilot episode centers on Hector’s 40th birthday and takes its sweet time inching towards the slap. Harry (Zachary Quinto), the series’ villain (though all the characters are villains in their own way, of course) and king of the assholes, slaps an obnoxious and exasperating child, setting up a chain of events that runs throughout the series. Each episode places the focus on a single character, and while the second, which centers on Harry, is somewhat more interesting than the pilot, it’s also harder to watch because Harry is such a terrible person and such a desperately written bad guy. As for the others — the child’s parents, including the mother who breastfeeds him though he’s obviously too old; and TV producer Anouk (Uma Thurman), who shows up with her much younger boyfriend (Penn Badgley, welcome back to TV) — they range from aggressively boring to positively infuriating.
In fact, that goes for the entire show. From scene to scene, it’s either boring or infuriating, but rarely anywhere in between. If this is NBC’s attempt at competing with the best cable has to offer, they have a lot of work to do.