The Slap (Thursday, Feb. 12, NBC), series debut: If America learns nothing else from NBC’s adaptation of Australian hit The Slap, beyond the fact that a successful, pleasant backyard barbecue doesn’t include children, I’ll consider this “dialogue-starter” a success. The title and overcooked promos make The Slap seem like a joke—or a stretched-out Lifetime movie—but the big-deal cast (which includes Melissa George, who also appeared in the Aussie version, as well as Zachary Quinto, Peter Sarsgaard, Thandie Newton and Uma Thurman, who replaced Mary-Louise Parker at the last minute) and better-than-TV-average writing make this eight-episode oddity worth a look. It all begins at a 40th birthday party for Hector (Sarsgaard), where his unblinkingly intense cousin Harry (unblinkingly intense Quinto) slaps the obnoxious, undisciplined kid of “progressive” parents (George and The Newsroom’s Thomas Sadoski). Naturally, outrage and threats of legal charges break out among the yuppie Brooklynites, but The Slap spins off into a series of juicier character studies from there—and not even the utterly unnecessary voiceover narration (via Victor Garber) can completely derail it. The Slap isn’t perfect, but at least it’s short. Now that Parenthood is gone, it’s the closest thing to a family drama anywhere on network TV. If there’s a Season 2, Quinto could go on the lam town-to-town as vigilante kiddie-disiplinist The Slapper. Everybody wins.
Sexy Beasts (Saturday, Feb. 14, A&E), series debut: Men and women go on blind dates with three suitors of the opposite sex. The twist: All are wearing prosthetic monster makeup, so matches are made based on “personality,” “chemistry” and other nonsense that has no place on TV—until the masks come off, revealing ridiculously attractive people (because this is TV—confused yet?). At the very least, the makeup artistry of Sexy Beasts is almost as impressive as whatever A&E’s Donnie Loves Jenny does to make Jenny McCarthy less scary.
Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special (Sunday, Feb. 15, NBC), special: After a notable 31-year absence from anything Saturday Night Live-related, Eddie Murphy will (allegedly) show up for the series’ 40th anniversary special, along with most of the still-known stars of past and present. (Where for art thou, Joe Piscopo?) What likely won’t even be mentioned is the infamously disastrous 1980-81 season that simultaneously introduced future SNL MVP and legit superstar Murphy and nearly killed the franchise. (1985-86 was similarly eff’dup—and that season introduced Robert Downey Jr.) Unfortunately, probably neither will legendarily toxic SNL weirdo-geniuses like writer/performer Michael O’Donoghue, because time has to be allotted for useless guests like Sarah Palin and Kanye West. The kind of slick affair SNL40 is shaping up to be has nothing to do with the show’s counter-cultural beginnings, but at least give me an appearance from Will Forte’s “The Falconer” (pleeeaaase, Lorne Michaels?).
Mulaney (Sunday, Feb. 15, Fox), series finale: The (official) cancellations of the 2014-2015 network TV season thus far—see if you can detect the pattern: Manhattan Love Story, Selfie, The McCarthys, The Millers, A to Z, Bad Judge and Mulaney. All are comedies and, with the qualified exception of Selfie, lousy ones at that. Mulaney rightfully suffered the worst reviews; between the brazen Seinfeld wannabe-ism, obnoxious laugh track (OK, fine, live studio audience) and star John Mulaney’s inability to portray human comedian “John Mulaney,” it was like a half-hour meta parody sketch about bad television … wait, could that have been the point? Whoa.