Greg Dixon 's Opinion

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

TV review: New drama series could do with a good slapping

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Mum Rosie (Melissa George) protects her son Hugo (Julian Mineo) during an episode of 'The Slap'. Photo / Supplied
Mum Rosie (Melissa George) protects her son Hugo (Julian Mineo) during an episode of 'The Slap'. Photo / Supplied

Welcome to the most awful party in the world. Your host - it's his 40th birthday bash - is Hector, an immature but married Greek-Australian who, as middle life arrives, cannot shake off the vices of youth or stop thinking with his penis.

His wife, Aisha, an Australian vet of perhaps African or Caribbean background, is a dedicated mother but demanding spouse.

There are Hector's parents, Greek immigrants by origin but also cliche; and his sister, a socialist. There is Hector's prosperous cousin Harry, a self-satisfied fellow who sends his children to private schools. There is the Muslim couple, there is the TV soap writer and her boyfriend the soap star, there is the girl who works at Aisha's surgery; she is babysitter for Aisha and Hector, and his sexual fantasy.

There are others too, but the worst guests of all are the slack parents: Rosie and Gary, and their 4-year-old (perhaps 3) son, Hugo. Rosie still breastfeeds Hugo but lets him run riot.

Gary likes a drink. Then another drink.

At the most awful party in the world, all of these people drink too much, bicker, flirt and, in the party stopper of all party stoppers, during a game of backyard cricket with the other sprogs at the party, the naughty, brutish, awful Hugo waves the bat about in a dangerous fashion before kicking Hector's cousin Harry as he tries to remove the bat from the boy. Then it happens: Harry hits Hugo, in the face, with an open palm.

The Slap (Wednesdays, 8.30pm, TV3) is based on an award-winning novel by Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas and though I have nothing against the book - I haven't read it - I have quite a lot against its small-screen adaptation.

This is what some people like to call "quality" television: an adult drama with complex themes about people in the real world. Yet I could not bear the first episode of this eight-part series.

The drama's structure - telling the story of the slap and its aftermath from multiple points of view - is an annoying, pretentious conceit; its characters, their backgrounds and hang-ups seem to have been arrived at by some right-on committee, possibly from the United Nations; its social dilemma - whether an adult should be convicted of abuse for physically disciplining a naughty, impossible child that is not his/her own - is completely hollow because no one (not even me) can - or is allowed to by law - countenance such a thing in 2012.

Then there are the regular bouts of naff dialogue ("You look like a bum," says Aisha, "but a very handsome bum," says Hector). Worse, though, is the ponderous, ludicrous voiceover that sounds like something from a car ad but is in fact the script's clumsily attempt to put us in a character's head: "Hector fantasised about walking out and flying to South America without leaving a note. Then he reconsidered. A note would be good, outlining what a controlling bitch she was ..." Etc, etc.

And The Slap is, despite this drama's no doubt intended subtlety, so crushingly unsubtle. The image in The Slap's opening credits shows a breaking glass plate; the symbolism intended - the shattering of domestic perfection - has the same sort of subtlety as killing a sparrow with a hammer. But there is, amid the utter, clanging cliche of characters and dialogue, the pulse of an idea here.

Inevitably this is a piece - given the dramatic structure of multiple viewpoints - that asks the viewer to reflect on the nature of truth and the truth of our perception. It is informing us that relationships with our family, our friends and ourselves are a combat zone, a place of old wounds, seething tensions and unresolved arguments, a place of bitterness and happiness, satisfaction and discontent.

But not even this could keep me interested or engaged in The Slap's first episode because I've seen it or read it all before and better: this is the stuff of the "serious" novel running back at least 150 years and the serious TV drama running back 50 years. In the end, The Slap looks to have nothing new to say about any of it.

Wednesday night's episode was simply an hour spent at the most awful party in the world. The hangover will last another seven episodes.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

It has been said the only qualities essential for real success in journalism are a rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability. Despite having none of these things, Canvas deputy editor Greg Dixon has spent more than 20 years working as a journalist for the New Zealand Herald and North & South and Metro magazines. Although it has been rumoured that he embarked on his journalism career as the result of a lost bet, the truth is that although he was obsessed by the boy reporter Tintin as a child, he originally intended to be an accountant. Instead, after a long but at times spectacularly bad stint at university involving two different institutions, a year as a studio radio programme director and a still uncompleted degree, he fell into journalism, a decision his mother has only recently come to terms with. A graduate of the Auckland Institute of Technology (now AUT) journalism school, he was hired by the Herald on graduation in 1992 and spent the next eight years demonstrating little talent for daily news, some for television reviewing and a passable aptitude for long-form feature writing. Before returning to the Herald in 2008 to take up his present role, he spent three years as a freelance, three as a senior feature writer at Metro and one as a staff writer at North & South. As deputy editor of Canvas, his main responsibility is applauding the decisions of the editor, Michele Crawshaw. However he prefers to spend his time interviewing interesting people -- a career highlight was a confusing 15-minute phone interview with a stoned Anna Nicole Smith -- and pretending to understand what they're going on about. He has won awards for his writing and editing, but would have preferred a pay rise.

Read more by Greg Dixon

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