Everyone knows that, with a few exceptions, the ’90s were not a great decade for science-fiction. Like Heavy Metal, and monster movie/slasher hybrids, the genre had grown a bit stale. Yet I’ve always had a fondness for the speculative televsion of the decade. I’ll admit that a great portion of this appreciation is pure nostalgia. Many of the shows have a warm, soft aesthetic that I associate with my youth.
Beyond that, however, the sci-fi of the time took inspiration from guys like Ray Bradbury, or Richard Matheson, well respected authors who utilized science as a mechanism to tell stories about people. That is the kind of sci-fi that most resonates with me. It can be anything from topical, to scary, even funny. Because of this, I think it’s worth going back and taking a look at the shows from that time.
In these series of articles, I won’t talk about The X-Files, or any of the Star Trek series’, as they are still the topics of conversation in much of the general public. The former even on the verge of making a comeback with the upcoming X-Files limited series set to premiere on Fox. Instead, I’ll be watching, and writing about, shows that, like grunge, TGIF, and legetimately funny sitcoms on Nickelodeon, didn’t last much beyond the new millenium.
The first being SLIDERS.
What if you could travel to parallel worlds? The same Earth, the same year, only different dimensions. A world where the Russians ruled America? Or where your dreams of being a superstar came true? Or where San Fransisco was a maximum security prison? My friends, and I, found a gateway. Now the problem is finding a way back home.
The opening monologue says it all. This is a series about going to worlds like ours, but different. It’s a simple premise with limitless possibilities. But does it deliver? That’s what I’m out to discover.
Sliders has always fascinated me. When it was on, I’d catch it every now and then, never finding myself lost. The characters are distinctly drawn and identifiable. That’s another great thing about genre fiction from this decade – each episode stood on its own and was renewed each week. I love serialized stories, but there is something refreshing about starting all over again at the start of each new episode. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to run out of ideas very quickly.
Despite my affection for the show, I’ve only seen a handful of episodes. Making this the perfect starting point for this new project.
Here is where it all starts. We meet the four main characters, get to know them a bit, and we’re off. They travel to four separate Earths during the course of this feature length first episode. The third being the stage for most of the story.
Pilots can be tricky. Most of the time they’re the weakest episode. The creative team, and the actors, haven’t had sufficient time to fully realize the project. So it can take a while to get going. Sometimes the pilot is so strong that the rest of the series never quite matches it.
The pilot for Sliders is somewhere in the middle. It sets everything up nicely, but has a few too many ideas going on for any of them to get fair treatment.
Quinn – An unknown, unkempt, unpublished, unfortunately brilliant brat. Or so his teacher describes him. He’s the main protagonist, and his teacher’s assesment isn’t far off. His brilliance discovers the technology that allows them to travel between worlds in the first place, but it also distracts him from having a life outside his mother’s basement.
Wade – Quinn’s enthisiastic and hopelessly devoted best friend. She’s madly in love with Quinn, but he fails to see it. She serves as the audience’s avatar of sorts. She isn’t as smart as Quinn, or Professor Arturo, which makes her a bit of an every man, or person. We believe in her because of her charm and bravery.
Professor Arturo – Quinn’s begrudging mentor. A well known, well kempt(?) multi-published, pompous brat. He’s a constant source of intellectual inspiration for Quinn, as well as exposition. John Rhys-Davies brings him to life the only way he can.
Rembrandt – The delusional, washed up soul singer fixated on the good old days as The Cryin’ Man, lead singer of The Spinning Tops. He’s the comic relief, and voice of the audience. When something doesn’t make sense, he’s the first one to point it out.
Or, in this case, worlds.
The first Slide is taken by Quinn alone. He goes to an alternate San Francisco where JFK is still president, Vinyl beat out CDs, and Red means go while Green means stop. It’s an easy way of letting the audience know that something isn’t right. He quickly comes back to his own San Francisco, where an alternate version of himself, another Slider, is ruining his life.
The second slide sees Quinn, Wade, The Professor, and Rembrandt (who just happens to be driving by) dropping into a frozen San Francisco, about to be killed by a badass snow tornado. Quinn saves the day by sliding early, disrupting the functionality of their..slider remote(?) and getting them the hell out of there. Only to wind up in a Communist America ruled by the Russians.
Everything is set up for this act of the episode. Little is done with the premise. The Russians are nothing more than evil dictators, put there to provide peril to our heroes. The ramifications of an America ruled by the Reds is barely explored. A real missed opportunity.
Quinn and the gang find assistance in a group of underground freedom fighters. A common trope in sci-fi for two reasons. One being relatability. Most of us feel oppressed in our everyday lives and can identify with a group of people rising up against actual oppression. The second being budgetary. Rebels don’t have many resources. So it’s cheap and easy to construct their headquarters and supplies.
The final slide looks to be their last. Winding up in a San Francisco so much like theirs that they can’t tell the difference. That is until Quinn’s recently deceased father walks through the door while they’re having dinner.
The episode is too long, as well as being more interested with its premise than with the characters. Everything is fine until the third slide. There’s a moment when Quinn details a dream he’s had about his mother not being able to find him. He comments that first she lost her husband, now her son. This could have been an intimate character moment, but is squashed by the sudden need for plot. All of the characters are a little too accepting of their circumstances, with Rembrandt being more concerned with the cadillac he left behind than the fact that he just transported to another dimension.
Still not a bad start.