When you think of Australian programmes most Brits would think of soaps, like Home and Away, or Neighbours; or maybe even films like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, or Muriel’s Wedding. “The Slap,” based on the novel of the same name by Christos Tsiolkas, isn’t a happy, surfing, all dancing experience. It is, however, a look at how a middle class family deals with their messy lives or not, as the case may be. It questions society’s morality and what binds families and friends and how a single occurrence can change those peoples’ lives and opinions.
Episode one focuses on Hector, about to turn 40 with a celebratory family barbecue arranged by his wife Aisha (Sophie Okonedo). Hector (Jonathan LaPaglia) is generally a man displeased with the life he has, and in search of greener grass. He feels he’s controlled by his wife, stressed with his kids; packing up smoking and considering an affair with his kids’ babysitter. Feeling any sympathy yet?
To the audience he’s not the most likeable character. He seems smarmy and selfish. He appears to have little regard for his wife’s feelings or the fact she’s been up since six preparing for his party while he’s slept in dreaming of having an affair with Connie the youthful babysitter. He spends most of the party either sitting in the bathroom drinking and snorting cocaine, or leering at Connie and stealing kisses while the rest of his family argue around him. Whereas Aisha, although not the happiest soul, you do feel some sympathy for when she’s pushed into situation by Hector’s overbearing parents. who take over the food and then announce they have arranged a family holiday to Greece when they already knew Hector and Aisha had booked to go away for their anniversary a mere four days apart.
We only get short introductions to the surrounding characters but enough to keep us interested to see how it plays out in the coming weeks, as it focuses on each character and the repercussions of the single event that has started this chain, and in some cases, like for Hector, given them the metaphorical slap to make them see a clearer picture of their life.
The actual title event I expected to be sooner. Forty minutes passed before we saw Hector’s cousin Harry lose control at the young child Hugo. There’s no doubt that Hugo is annoying; in a short space of time, he’s lifted out the plants in the garden, broken a game controller, bitten another child, whined about wanting to be breast fed (surely he’s too old for that) and just generally being a pain in the arse. After a tantrum with a cricket bat, Harry picks up Rosie’s child and shakes him to stop, to which Hugo responds with a kick to Harry’s leg, and to which Harry’s reacts by slapping Hugo (who is not his child) across the face. Chaos ensues as fights and arguments break out, sides are taken and Rosie leaves with her child citing child abuse with the intent of pressing charges.
Hector’s realisation (metaphorical slap) of what he does have with his wife and kids, that they are more important than a mid life crisis affair (which he tells a disgusted Connie he no longer wants to pursue), doesn’t make him anymore likable, but does make you wonder what other repercussions will be experienced by the other characters. I look forward to watching how the theme plays out; that will no doubt split many people, depending on your moral compass.