Viewers recoil from 'The Slap' and lack of broader family values

Parents across the country waited for the NBC mini-series 'The Slap' to start a discussion on corporal punishment. What they received instead was a host of dysfunctional family values.

Virginia Sherwood/NBC/AP
In this image released by NBC, Dylan Schombing, Melissa George, left, and Thandie Newton, right, appear in a scene from 'The Slap,' an eight-hour miniseries, which premiered Thursday at 8 p.m. EST on NBC.

Those looking to the NBC mini-series, “The Slap,” for insight into what happens when someone strikes a child that is not their own were greeted instead by an all-you-can-stomach, dysfunctional-family-style buffet.

If there is a parenting rule, or common sense solution, the writers of the first of this eight-episode series failed to ignore, it was not for lack of trying.

Rather than help open a dialogue on the issues inherent in disciplining unruly children (our own or those of others) the series ran the gambit from casual parental drug use to family infighting and infidelity.

The potential is there to explore how a multi-generational, extended family might cope through the event of one family member striking the child of another member in a misguided attempt at discipline.

Unfortunately, the namesake premise is almost lost in the miasma of family and parenting dysfunction that assaults the viewer.

We can, as a result of seeing this first episode, talk about how one of parenting’s Golden Rules is to act, not react when disciplining a child.

If you are feeling frustration, rage or an imminent loss of control, someone (child, parent or other) needs to take a time out.

In the case of someone else’s child acting out, my go-to move would be to go to the child’s parent and firmly suggest he or she take action. This is particularly true in the case of a child endangering himself, or others like in “The Slap.”

In the show, kindergartener “Hugo” (Dylan Schombing) is swinging a wooden baseball bat at other kids in a fit of rage over striking out in a friendly family game of Wiffle ball.

The boy had demanded the wooden bat in place of the usual plastic one and because no parent took charge of the situation, the kids are left policing themselves. Hugo is given his way.

Twitter users instantly reacted by pointing out the fatal parenting flaws.

For my part, thinking that the worst thing we were likely to see was the physical violence of the singular act the series is named after, I made the critical parenting error of watching it with my soon-to-be 16-year-old son because I was interested in his opinion on the corporal punishment argument.

It was not a family viewing experience, by any means.

It was more like a check list of how not to be a good role model.

Throughout the episode the main character, one of the fathers, “Hector” (Peter Sarsgaard ), is making recreational use of a prescription drug and providing alcohol to his wife “Aisha’s” (Thandie Newton’s) underage assistant “Connie” (Makenzie Leigh), with whom he is teetering on the brink of an affair.

Meanwhile one of the moms, “Rosie” (Melissa George), breast-feeds the tyrannical Hugo, not for nourishment, but for the effect of her as a dysfunctional human pacifier during his apocalyptic outbursts.

This mother needed to learn basic skills for teaching boundaries such as giving a time out. I was reminded of the worst challenges ever faced by Supernanny and how swiftly she brought a screaming, tantrum-tossing tot to heel without violence, reward, or any kind of pacification – The Naughty Step Method. 

As a mom who breast fed four sons, I watched that portrayal and felt years of progress in favor of nursing evaporate into the thick airless environs of this series.

Zachary Quinto is “Harry” (Hector's cousin) who is a seething mass of hostility waiting to explode all over the scene and deliver “The Slap” to little Hugo, which then ignites the rest of the series.

When the moment of corporal punishment is delivered it is not a swat on the butt, but a resounding smack across the child’s face performed in a moment when Quinto has snapped.

Unfortunately, I was all shocked-out by the time Quinto lost his cool and the moment was rather an anti-climax. 

There is then a collective aftermath of anger, shock, and horror among the characters, with the exception of the doting Greek grandmother, “Koula” (Maria Tucci). 

“The brat deserved it,” she says in a finite manner for all to hear. 

Maybe, in a moment of overload during the televised family circus, we may have justified that an imaginary child in a mini-series could have benefited from extreme correction. Twitter users felt that way.

However, no child deserves to be disciplined by someone who has lost control and lashed out at them.

Koula has spent the 47 minutes leading up to the act agreeing with her husband “Manolis” (Brian Cox) that Hector “needs to control his wife.” She is not at all concerned with anyone controlling his or her temper or baser urges.

At the close of the episode, the best thing that came from the entire debacle is the fact that the chaos serves to bring Hector and his wife together, momentarily averting his urge for an affair.

The voice of a narrator intones at the end, “Hector was an atheist, but he thanked God anyway because the slap saved him from making a horrible mistake.”

If parents are looking for a discussion about discipline, and the debate around disciplining their kids and others, watching more of “The Slap” may be a mistake because it has left us stinging, for all the wrong reasons.

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