Miniseries Explores The Ugly Fallout Of A Disciplinary 'Slap'

Feb 12, 2015
Originally published on February 12, 2015 9:09 am

For a lot of parents, spanking your kids isn't an option. But not too long ago, many a child's bottom met the occasional switch. And while attitudes about corporal punishment have changed, it's still a provocative issue — one NBC is taking on in The Slap, a new miniseries that premiers Thursday.

The show's big event takes place in the first episode at a barbecue in Brooklyn. Family and friends are milling about, and one of the little boys, 5-year-old Hugo, is a terror. He throws someone else's iPad on the floor and digs up the host's garden, and his parents — hippies who like to drink — pretty much do nothing to stop him.

At one point, Hugo swings a baseball bat dangerously close to the other kids. His dad doesn't seem too concerned, but when the bat nearly hits another boy, that boy's father storms toward Hugo and takes him by the shoulders. Hugo kicks him in the shin and the man slaps him, setting off a firestorm of reactions. Hugo's mother is distraught, the slapper's wife is mortified and the slapper's 73-year-old aunt is old school: "The brat deserved it," she says.

The show has a dream cast that includes Peter Sarsgaard, Thandie Newton and Uma Thurman. The two main characters — Hugo's mom and the slapper — are played by Melissa George and Zachary Quinto, and each brought their personal feelings about corporal punishment to their performances. Quinto says when he was a kid, his parents were not against physical pain.

"We called it the stick," he says. "And the stick was brought out in extreme cases of infraction. I didn't grow up in a household that was in any way damaging to me. I hated it and it terrified me, but it also instilled me with a sense of what happens when you break the rules."

But George says, "To me, no one has the right to punish someone else's child."

Harry, the slapper, definitely has anger issues. He's a self-made man who's rigid and has high expectations for his son. On the other extreme, Rosie, Hugo's mom, is a free spirit. She hates violence, wants to shelter her son from the Harrys of the world and doesn't believe in giving her son too many boundaries.

"Like her house that they live in — he can draw on the windows because she thinks it's [an] expression of his artistic abilities," George says. "You know, they say that he was swinging the bat, and what she says is ... 'Every child misbehaves.' "

Quinto and George say they brought their own experiences of either parenting or being parented into the roles. And because those experiences vary, The Slap brings up stuff that a lot of people are afraid to talk about, like the stress of balancing a job and a marriage, and being a parent.

"It is important to show this today because it puts in our faces what's happening in many households on a daily basis," says psychologist Lesley Sanders.

The series also looks at how older generations disciplined their kids 15 to 20 years ago, when things were different. "There was a sense of community, a sense of, you know, 'it takes a village to raise a child,' " Sanders says. "So ... it was OK to discipline a child that was not your own."

The Slap was originally a novel that was first adapted into a miniseries for Australian television. The American version was written by playwright Jon Robin Baitz. He says one reason he was drawn to the story was that it begins at a barbecue, a fairly routine setting.

"There's an idea in playwriting that, you know, the drama begins once ritual is broken," he says. And the drama isn't just the slap itself; it's also the ugly repercussions.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

A lot of parents nowadays wouldn't think of spanking their kids, but not long ago, many a child's bottom met the occasional switch. And while attitudes about corporal punishment have changed, it is still a provocative issue. Tonight, NBC takes it on in a new mini-series called "The Slap" as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: The actual slap takes place in the first episode at a barbecue in Brooklyn. Family and friends, grandparents and kids are milling about. One of the little boys, 5-year-old Hugo, is a terror.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SLAP")

DYLAN SCHOMBING: (As Hugo) I hate it here.

THOMAS SADOSKI: (As Gary) Hey, hey, hey, hey.

BLAIR: He throws someone else's iPad on the floor and digs up the host's garden.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SLAP")

SADOSKI: (As Gary) Hey, hey, hey. Don't do that, don't do that.

BLAIR: Hugo's parents pretty much do nothing to stop him. They're hippies who like to drink. At one point, Hugo swings a baseball bat dangerously close to the other kids. His dad doesn't seem too concerned, but when the bat nearly hits another boy, that boy's father storms towards Hugo.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SLAP")

ZACH QUINTO: (As Harry) Put down the bat right now.

BLAIR: The other boy's father takes Hugo by the shoulders.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SLAP")

QUINTO: (As Harry) When adults talk to you, you listen to what they're saying. Yeah, why you swinging the bat at Rocco like that?

BLAIR: After Hugo kicks him in the shin, the man slaps him.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SLAP")

SCHOMBING: (As Hugo) (Kicking).

QUINTO: (As Harry) (Slapping).

BLAIR: That act sets off a firestorm of different reactions. Hugo's mother is distraught.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SLAP")

MELISSA GEORGE: (As Rosie) You don't hit my child.

QUINTO: (As Harry) Your son was out of control.

BLAIR: The slapper's wife is mortified.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SLAP")

MARIN IRELAND: (As Sandi) I'm so sorry.

BLAIR: The slapper's 73-year-old aunt is old-school.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SLAP")

MARIA TUCCI: (As Koula) The brat deserved it.

BLAIR: The slap has a dream cast that includes Peter Sarsgaard, Thandie Newton and Uma Thurman. The two main characters are played by Melissa George and Zachary Quinto, and they definitely brought their own personal feelings about corporal punishment to their performances. Zachary Quinto plays the slapper. He says when he was kid, his parents were not against physical pain.

QUINTO: We called it the stick, and the stick was brought out in extreme cases of infraction. I didn't grow up in a household that was in any way damaging to me. I hated it and it terrified me, but it also instilled me with a sense of what happens if you break the rules.

GEORGE: To me, no one has the right to punish someone else's child.

BLAIR: That's Melissa George who plays Rosie, the mother of the boy who gets slapped. Harry, the slapper, definitely has anger issues. He's a self-made man, who's rigid and has high expectations for his son. On the other extreme, Hugo's mom, Rosie, is a free spirit, she hates violence and wants to shelter her son from the Harry's of the world. Melissa George says Rosie doesn't believe in giving her son too many boundaries either.

GEORGE: Like, her house that they live in, he can draw on the windows. She thinks it's expression of his artistic abilities. You know, they say that he was swinging the bat, and what she says is my child - every child misbehaves.

QUINTO: Well, she's nuts - Rosie. She's a little bit - you know, she's crazy.

BLAIR: Zachary Quinto and Melissa George say they brought their own experiences to these roles.

GEORGE: How we were parented, how we choose to be a parent.

BLAIR: And because those experiences vary, "The Slap" brings up the stuff that a lot of people are afraid to talk about, says psychologist Lesley Sanders.

LESLEY SANDERS: It is important to show this today because it puts in our faces what's happening in many households on a daily basis.

BLAIR: Like the stress of balancing a job, a marriage and being a parent. The series also looks at how older generations disciplined their kids. Things were different 15 to 20 years ago, says Sanders.

SANDERS: There was a sense of community, a sense of, you know, it takes a village to raise a child. So then, therefore, when there was a neighbor or a friend, it was OK to discipline a child that was not of your own.

BLAIR: "The Slap" was originally a novel that was first adapted into a miniseries on Australian television. The American version was written by playwright Jon Robin Baitz. He says one reason he was drawn to the story was that it begins at a barbecue, a fairly routine setting.

JON ROBIN BAITZ: There's an idea in playwriting that, you know, the drama begins once ritual is broken. That applies so much in the case of "The Slap" itself. This getting together, suddenly it's made dangerous and ugly.

BLAIR: The drama is not only "The Slap" itself, but the ugly repercussions. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.