First aired: 22nd March 1995
Jerry O’Connell – Quinn Mallory
Sabrina Lloyd – Wade Welles
Cleavant Derricks – Rembrandt ‘Crying Man’ Brown
John Rhys-Davies – Professor Maxmillan Arturo
Linda Henning – Mrs Mallory
John Novak – Ross. J. Kelly
Alex Bruhanski – Pavel Kurlienko
Roger Cross – Wilkins
Tom Butler – Michael Mallory
Synopsis: In San Francisco, Quinn Mallory a young scientist running an experimental machine in the basement of his mother’s house. His experiments are one way of his coping with the recent death of his father. One experiment has created some sort of spacial distortion that his video diary (how very 90’s is that?) states may be a tunnel or gateway.
On the day we begin, Quinn leaves for classes as the local university, where he once more earns the ire of his teacher Professor Arturo before he goes to work at a computer store where he seems blissfully unaware of the fact that the girl he works with there Wade is very much smitten with him. Back at home, he videos a statement that he intends to go through the gateway, once he has finished the timer he has devised to work with the machinery that he has developed.
The next morning he generates the portal, testing the timer by sending an item through and having it return on time. He then steps through himself. He ends up exactly where he started. He drives to class, but the radio keeps making bizarre statements that don’t match up with facts as he knows them. Also for some reason red lights mean go and green is now stop. According to the radio and a billboard, JFK and Elvis are still alive. Quinn goes home, realising that is Earth, but just not his Earth. Back at the basement he left, the timer return him home. He drives to college, only to learn that he has been there already and publicly embarrassed his professor. He gets to work only to learn he was fired after berating his boss and has planted a passionate kiss onto Wade.
When a confused Quinn gets home, he finds that he’s been there too, he’s still there. Another Quinn is waiting for him. This more confident (and a bigger tool) version of Quinn has done the same as this one, but has been ‘sliding’ to several worlds already. The tunnels are Einstein-Rosen bridges, connecting this world with several parallel ones. Time and location are the same, but history and circumstance are different. The alternate Quinn’s timer goes off and he leaves, mouthing something about not doing something to the timer, but Quinn can’t hear him.
Some time later, Wade and Arturo arrive at Quinn’s home and he shows them his machinery and scientific equations explaining it. Arturo is equal parts amazed and frustrated at this amateur’s knowledge, Wade is just amazed. Across town, Rembrandt ‘Crying Man’ Brown is getting ready for his comeback, admittedly it’s a gig singing the national anthem at a local baseball game, but he’s confident it will lead to bigger and better things.
Quinn opens the portal and increases the power, the portal now moves, Quinn, Wade and Arturo fall into to it and as it moves across the road, so does Rembrandt and his cadillac. All four and the car end up on another Earth, one suffering a new ice age. In this world’s version of Quinn’s home, there is no sign of life, old photos show a sister that Quinn doesn’t have. Also of note is that out of the kitchen window, you can see that the Pacific Ocean, or at least the San Francisco Bay is completely frozen. Hiding in Rembrandt’s car, this stranded foursome talk about adjusting the timer since they may freeze before the portal returns in four hours, Quinn isn’t keen, but a massive blizzard approaching takes the decision out of their hands and Quinn adjusts the timer and summons the portal. Wade, Arturo and Rembrandt make it through, but Quinn is delayed, but he too arrives and they are all in a non-frozen park. Rembrandt walks away, but soon after Arturo notes that a nearby statue is not of Abraham Lincoln, but of Lenin. They aren’t home, they are on an Earth where the US fell to the USSR and is under communist control. Rembrandt gets into a cab, but is quickly arrested for using US currency as post-soviet US uses different currency.
In an open warehouse, Rembrandt is interrogated for his ties to the ‘American Underground’ since he is using a false name, this world’s Crying Man had died 14 years earlier in an attempted uprising. He recognises his interrogator as a lawyer who advertises on TV and is then sent to the People’s Court.
Meanwhile the other three are found by strangers sympathetic to the American Underground and they recognise Wade. They are taken to a base and learn that Wade is high up in the rebellion and her second, Cross is grateful to have his CO and lover back. Quinn and Arturo discuss how this Earth’s history diverged using the historic domino effect theory to explain how the cold war went so differently here. Then they see on TV that the People’s Court TV show has just shown Rembrandt being convicted of treason and sentenced to a gulag, the same one were Alternate-Wade is and where Alternate-Arturo is the commandant.
With this advantage, a plan is made to go and get these and other prisoners freed. A raid is planned and it all seems to go well, right up until it all goes pear-shaped. There’s a shootout and an escape, but Alternate-Wade doesn’t make it. With seconds to spare, the sliders made the jump and return to a free San Francisco.
This ragtag foursome toast their success, glad to be home, at least they are until Quinn’s father Michael walks into to join their celebratory drinks.
Notes: There are so many under appreciated gems of 1990s sci-fi television. To be honest, Sliders is not one of them. The concept is an interesting one, we have a variation on the Time Tunnel/Quantum Leap idea with a scientist trying to get home, being bounced from time to time, place to place. The difference here is the idea of parallel realities. From the classic Star Trek’s Mirror Mirror, to Fringe, to the DC Comics’ Earths 2, 3, 4, S & X and Marvel’s What If? The idea of alternative worlds is not really a new one, if you consider that all but one of the examples I gave predated this one. The difference here is that this becomes a trek through this alternative reality/alternate history playground. What if Russia won the Cold War? What if we suffered a new ice age? Some worlds are different due to history changing in one way, another is because of a number of things, making a recognisable, but very different world. The idea of a scientist, his teacher, his best friend and also a random stranger is also a good combination. On paper, this should have been perfect for me, this should have been good, in theory. But as once said by Homer Simpson “In theory, communism works.”
So what went wrong? Well usually this kind of thing takes a ‘what if Nazi’s won World War II?’ approach, this show dodges that cliche. But the whole Russia won the Cold War approach gives us the same predictable story. Whilst there are so many differences in the basic communism ideology to nazism, both resort to fascism as their main approach to running things. Stalin and Hitler were different kinds of evil mass-murdering monsters, but both were still evil mass-murdering monsters, so we end up with a watered down variation of the Nazi’s winning WWII story. Here America is the underdog fighting for freedom etc etc. Not that there is anything wrong with idea that idea, nor using it to tell a story, It’s been done before and well, but this isn’t it. It ends on an action set piece that feels so far short of what the story wanted and should have delivered. The only good part of the basic plot of the Soviet US story is that the heroes don’t win, but live to fight another day after giving a lot of people a bit of hope. It would have been easy to show the tide being turned and they side-stepped it.
It’s a problem that avoiding one cliche is one of the good points. There are others, Cleavant Derricks plays a panicking former pop star ‘Cryin’ Man’ Brown. Whose comeback is derailed by the rest of the cast and is pulled kicking and screaming into new adventures and gives the show it’s everyman. Sabrina Lloyd is also competent enough in the role of girl best friend who is madly in love with the lead, but he doesn’t know it, but she gets a bit of short shrift in this episode, despite how the 3rd act seems to hinge on her. John Rhys Davies is once again there as a poundland Brian Blessed with extra pomposity, but again he’s pushed to the side. He isn’t the problem either. The show’s star is Jerry O’Connell, one of the kids from Stand By Me and while it’s been so long since I have watched that film, I don’t remember him being so bad. His scenes are hard to watch. He’s trying to play the all American lead, together with scientific genius and action hero and I am not confident he can do any of them, let alone all of them at once. He’s not exceptionally likeable and that only works when he plays the alternate-Quinn who is a bit cocky and takes the time to almost completely dismantle Quinn’s life for fun. The main cast are trying to paper over the cracks on this wooliest of concepts and they can’t.
This is the show’s downfall. Christopher Reeve made you believe a man could fly, as well as pull off the double life, Patrick Stewart made you believe that in the 24th Century a Frenchman would speak with a Royal Shakespeare level english accent and Scott Bakula made you believe that he could be dozens of other people. Their performance reinforced your suspension of disbelief, allowing you to buy into the reality you were watching. This show is trying to convince you that a remote control could control a wormhole that was created when someone who cracked unified field theory (mentioned in a scene here) was trying to create anti-gravity and somehow created an Einstein-Rosen bridge and they are asking you to do that based on nothing at all.
There is a good idea here, there is a solid concept to work on and is rife for a re-examination or reboot, but this show fails on almost every level. If you haven’t watched this in years, but have fond memories, leave it there. If you haven’t watched this show, my suggestion would be to leave it that way. There are better shows out there, so many of them.
Does it work? Yes, the core concept and ongoing status quo are established quite well.
Does much need fixing? On one hand no, we are good to go from here but…
Does it stand up? No, based on writing, acting, special effects or tone it does not.
Did I want to watch the next one? No, absolutely not in any way, shape or form.
Did I enjoy it? No, not really.
Overall 2 out of 5: The upside of the parallel world theory is that somewhere out in the multiverse, there’s a version of this show that is good. That’s not this version though.