Whatever side of the fence you think you fall on regarding child discipline, ‘The Slap’ asks one thing of you: think again. Based on the 2008 novel by Christos Tsiolkas, this compelling Australian drama series recentlyshown on BBC4 here in the UK has proven to be every bit as controversial as the source material that made it possible. With themes such as infidelity, loneliness, domestic violence, sexual confusion, racial superiority and of course, child abuse (although not always in the way you might think) at its core, ‘The Slap’ certainly packs a lot into its eight episode set-up.
Each episode focuses on the action from the point of view of a different character. This does, however, ensure we are given ample opportunity to soak up numerous conflicting opinions and emotions – so many you probably won’t know what to do with them. It all begins at a seemingly congenial middle-class suburban barbecue for birthday boy Hector, whose Anglo-Indian wife – Aisha – and Greek parents clearly don’t see eye to eye. Meanwhile, friends and relatives mingle, flirtations and stolen glances take place, and then in the middle of a harmless game of cricket we hear the impending crack; whatever your expectations about the scene, it’s fair to say the child isn’t let off lightly.
The perpetrator is Harry, Hector’s somewhat violent cousin prone to angry outbursts; the victim is Hugo, son of Rosie, who is one of Aisha’s lifelong best friends. You can already see where tensions will inevitably emerge. What follows is a fascinating, and often harrowing, insight into not only society’s attitude toward child discipline and/or abuse (depending on where certain lines are drawn), but also a morally ambiguous swamp of life in general. The audience is immersed into characters’ passions or jealousies that define certain relationships, into darker secrets that they are struggling to keep quiet, or have repressed so well nobody else has the faintest clue about what the other feels.
The greatest thing about the programme is how audience sympathies and loyalties are constantly shifting from one episode to the next, so you can never really be sure about how you feel; each character is painted gray to a point that’s maddening. Exceptions do slowly manifest, however, and by the series climax you’re likely to fall more on one side than the other, even if from sheer exhaustion. But don’t be turned off if you think this all sounds too difficult to follow. ‘The Slap’ might be an ensemble piece that bears down heavy on its morals, but it pulls off the drama with something akin to the suspense and complexity of Shakespearian theatre. You’re unlikely to find a more gripping, thought-provoking TV series all year.