Credit DirecTV and what it has dubbed The Audience Network with continuing to make shrewd acquisitions to bolster its original-programming profile, the latest being a provocative Australian drama, "The Slap."
Adapted from a novel by Christos Tsiolkas, the series focuses on a singular event -- an adult slapping a child, who isn't his, at a party -- and traces its impact on an extended group of family and friends. Yet while the perspective changes in each episode -- centering on a different character, almost anthology style -- their stories keep overlapping.
Among the more recognizable members of the cast are Jonathan LaPaglia and Sophie Okonedo (featured in the premiere) as a married couple and Melissa George (pictured) as the mother of the kid. Once you get past some of the cultural idioms -- didn't know the pharmacy is "the chemist" Down Under -- the situations are highly relatable, and the storytelling is realistic, tough and spare.
Having watched two episodes, I found the second less compelling than the first, which focuses on the LaPaglia character and his flirtation with a teenage girl. Even so, it's an extraordinarily ambitious concept that has found a ready audience elsewhere and should connect with a discriminating one here as well.
In addition to "The Slap," which premieres Feb. 15, Audience will launch a British conspiracy thriller, "The Shadow Line," starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, on Feb. 19. These programs build on the satcaster's earlier deals for "Friday Night Lights" and "Damages," which have helped put it on the programming map. (For the record, I'm a DirecTV subscriber.)
With close to 20 million subscribers, Audience approximates the reach of pretty much every pay network except HBO, and has approached its acquisitions accordingly, seeking to fortify its bond with customers.
By that measure, "The Slap" is unlikely to be a huge hit, but for those who get drawn in, I suspec the show just might leave a mark.