Monday, June 20, 2016

RR:Quickies Sliders

It's time to finally check on one of my all-time favorite shows!

What if yo
u could travel to parallel worlds?

The same year, the same Earth, only different dimensions. A world where the Russians rule America... or where your dreams of being superstar came true... or where San Francisco was a maximum-security prison.

My friends and I found the gateway. Now the problem is... finding a way back home!

Name: Sliders
Created by Tracy Tormé & Robert K. Weiss
Original run: 1995-2000
Genre Science-fiction

Haaa... Sliders. Good times.

Sliders is a cult classic series from the late 1990s about a group of people that found themselves jumping from one parallel universe to the next.

I really dig the show's original premise "What if you could find brand new worlds right here on Earth, where anything is possible: same planet, different dimension?"

It's also the perfect example how such a great concept can always be ruined by meddling executive producers.

The show was created by the very imaginative Robert K. Weiss and Tracy Tormé. It originally began airing on Fox in 1995.

The series was launched to great reception following a fantastic pilot that honestly had nothing to shy away from actual film productions at the time. The show had such an excellent premise! What followed were a pretty fun if short first season, followed by a great second season confirmed the concept.

Then season 3 came by with a lot of meddling by the executive producers.

Soon the show ditched its original premise "What if this or that happened changing the current state of the Earth" to that of a more standard cliché science-fiction series. With no much surprise, the show was canceled. And then moved to the Sci Fi Channel where it pursued two more additional seasons mostly revolving around these alien-like villains the Kromagg which resulted from a dystopian alternate Earth. These Kromaggs first appeared in a throwaway episode of the show's second season but quickly went from one-note villain to main antagonists of the series.

Season 4 still showed a few handful of good ideas, thanks to a cast and crew still invested in the show. Giving a long-lost brother to our hero and some great character moments. Writer and producer David Peckinpah was brought on the show in season 3 and his the main responsible for the show "jumping the shark" from that point onwards, getting rid of fan-beloved character and the bad new storylines the characters would find themselves in.

Finally the writers tried to save things during the 5th and last season, but it was already too late. Too much had been done to the show, the writers tried to make the most of the last few remaining episodes to go back to the original concept of alternate Earths, but it was too little too late.

Since the show went through so many changes in different hands during its entire run, I'm actually going to review each season by itself. So much changed each season, not just the cast but the entire over tone of the series. New dynamics, new additions, etc.

Name: Sliders: Season 1
Originally aired: From March 1995 to May 1995
Episodes: 10
Format: Combo Season 1 & 2 DVD Box-set

It all began when this young physics grad student Quinn Mallory (Jerry O'Connell)was working on some antigravity device from his own basement! But what he ended up finding was much more impressive! He was able to open up a portal between dimensions, a vortex, a gateway to other parallel Earths! Places similar to our world, but not exactly.

He made a quick trip back and forth before showing this "sliding technology" his professor and mentor Maximillian Arturo (John Rhys-Davies) and his friend Wade Wells (Sabrina Lloyd). But to be able to sustain a portal for 3 people he had to crank up the power of his device to open a wormwhole supporting the extra energy shift. But that trip was not without any incident and it accidentally sucked an additional slider forced to join the rest, has been-pop singer Rembrandt "Cryin' Man" Brown (Cleavant Derricks).

All four find themselves in a world covered with ice but no one else! To survive this second Ice Age, Quinn decides to use his timer to open another portal before they can safely open their way back home, while an ice tornado's heading towards them. But activating the timer early to open up a vortex messes up the original coordinates... and they can't slide back to their original world anymore!

From that points onwards the team is forced to slide to all sorts of parallel worlds, hoping the next slide will, one day, take them back home. Thing is, there's an infinite amount of parallel worlds out there!

Each episode is basically another self-contained adventure in a different world.

Most of season 1 consisted of different Earths resulting from alternate history. Such as "what if the British had won the Revolutionary War?" "What if antibiotics had never been discovered?" And so forth.

Overall: This is where it all started! I Highly Recommend this first season to any fans of good science-fiction and television. The pilot alone is the closest we'll ever get to a proper Sliders movie, it's that good!

This original first season had such great production values and solid scripts. It was such an original show!

In a way it has a very similar concept to the classic show Quantum Leap, both actually have a lot in common. These distant sister-series have a pretty similar science-fiction/adventure tone and be it time travel or alternate Earths, the episodes follow fairly similar structures. Each episode of Sliders stands just as much on its own. It's a very fun show.

And a very good first season! It's a bit short, though.

Sure, some of the stories are kinda ridiculous, but the show has such a fun tone!

How the timer functions is never properly explained, and this was mostly due to some cuts in the pilot episode (and a mixed episode order at the time certainly didn't help the plot). They say they can't risk opening a portal too early, but it could have saved someone's life more than enough times outside the first episode. Why not slide early if it could mean saving a life, how much more lost could they really get?

A few episodes of season 1 feel a bit rushed. In fact they seem to recycle the great plot of the original pilot a few too many times, like as early as 3 episodes later. But there are some great episodes like when they are forced to survive until they can slide again. They seems to save the world every other episode or so, but they would do that less often later on. Each season would end on great cliffhangers, and this first one's no different! The 1st season's finale is a really great episode, inspired by the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, should they wait to see what is this lottery about

I give this one a: 3 / 3 Score!

Name: Sliders: Season 2
Originally aired: From March 1996 to July 1996
Episodes: 13
Format: DVD Box-set

Season 2 picks up where we last saw our sliders.

It's much more of the same, really.

With the notable difference of a first encounter with what appears to be an humanoid alien species at first... Later revealed to be the Kromaggs, mutated humans from an alternate Earth who have also developed and mastered the same sliding technology! Only they're using it to invade other Earths and turn humans into slaves!! Which worked as a throwaway story on a darker episode, but shouldn't have been turned into the show's major focus from that point on...

Overall: Season 2 is mostly more or the same.

It introduced various great ideas, there are some classic fan-favorite beloved episodes during this season.

The first two seasons didn't have much continuity between episodes, actually. So it's easy to catch a few episodes here and there. And darker, stranger episodes didn't pose any real problems.

It was still a very fun show despite some logic problems or continuity issues. One episode they say they can't add another 5th person for a slide, but then you have other times were they drive an entire van along for the ride!

We got to know all these characters so well, despite starting off fairly 2-dimensional. The characters were much more fleshed out over time.

The way they resolved the first season's great cliffhanger was kind of clunky. All those loose ends were solved way too simply.

There's also some questionable episodes, like started the 2nd season with a parody of the Wizard of Oz makes for a poor first episode. At least it picks up later on. Season 2 also tried some darker edgier episodes, but they didn't work as well.

At the very least it was still a very fun show about a bunch of characters being left to survive as "fish out of water" every new episode, with the characters and viewers left trying to understand what's going on in these other dimensions. Great characterization. Each story pretty good on its own.

I give this one a: 2.5 / 3 Score!

Name: Sliders: Season 3
Originally aired: From September 1996 to May 1997
Episodes: 25   
Format: DVD Box-set

Season 3 continued the adventures of our sliders through more alternate Earths.

But Season also goes through a major transition within and outside the show. So there's 2 very distinct halves here. The first half of season 3 is decent and offers more of the same.

But the second half of season 3 is where things get worse and the show never recovered from.

The transitional episode is the one where the sliders found themselves on an Earth about to be dangerously irradiated on the surface before their next slide! They encounter a military operation led by Colonel Angus Rickman (Roger Daltrey) and Captain Maggie Beckett (Kari Wuhrer) trying to organize people to escape using their own sliding technology.. but they're far from having it actually work! Quinn helps them and then locates a safer Earth for them. They go explore the place but soon find out Maggie can't breath there. They go back only to find Rickman killing people for his own purposes and he kills Arturo, stealing our heroes' timer! He then escapes and Maggie joins the rest of the groups as they try to chase him down.

They're finally able to catch up to Rickman a few episodes later and recover the timer with now the coordinates to their original Earth! Quinn offers to send Rembrandt and Wade back to "Earth Prime" and stay behind with Maggie.. only to find out it's actually yet another alternate Earth!!

Overall: Season 3 is a very strange mixed bag.

Where the show was once a very creative and inventive series that could go on any directions with an infinite potential of types of stories, season 3 is the much weaker link. It's in fact pretty mediocre, aside from a few good episodes.

On one hand the first half of the season is great, if it feels like the budget's a bit more tight. They introduce some great new ideas that were being planned for a much longer run (such as a fake evil Arturo!).

But season 3 also saw the Fox network trying to get more control of the show. They moved production location from Vancouver to LA., which they tried their best to explain the changes within the show. Fox also wanted a much more action-oriented series, which would result in Sliders usually trying to spoof or take ideas from current popular films at the time such as the inevitable dinosaur episode inspired by Jurassic Park or another Twister-inspired tornado episode.Twister. Then they brought executive producer David Peckinpah on board to better follow their orders. Rhys-Davies tried to express his discontentment with the direction of the show, so they gave Arturo a terminal disease to get rid of him. Original series creator Tracy Tormé would finally quit after this season and the meddlings from Fox, he didn't like what was going on with his series calling this episode "The Exodus" where they introduced Maggie as the lowest point in the entire series. And yet to no surprise, this is when Fox would finally cancel Sliders. Once they got rid of Tormé things only got worse, the second half of Season 3 is really, really bad. And if that's not enough, this new addition would result in them getting rid of my favorite character, Wade (the lovely Sabrina Lloyd).

Killing off Arturo was a huge drawback, he was such a great and strong character who always had great interactions with all of the other characters, he always fit so well in the group. Without him the show was left missing a huge part of the fun. And to replace him, they tried pushing this Maggie character way too hard. She started just a former military who doesn't get along with anyone. She moans and complains all the time.

The other major issue is the now-dull stories and lackluster plot. They had some good ideas early on which were never followed on. Such as the idea of evil doubles of Quinn and Arturo trying to infiltrate them, but never continued. Later having to track a killer they helped develop a similar sliding technology for added some tension back to the show.

But now they acted a lot more carefree how they interacted with other worlds, each time easily convincing everyone they came from parallel worlds.

There are a few interesting episodes but otherwise it was bad. If you're not a die hard-fan of the show, I'd suggest to just Avoid Season 3!

Awful, really some of the worst of the entire show.

I give for the first half of Season 3 a: 2 / 3 Score!
And for the second half of Season 3 a: 0.5 / 3 Score!

Name: Sliders: Season 4
Originally aired: From June 1998 to April 1999
Episodes: 22     
Format: DVD Box-set

This is when the show was resurrected and picked up by the SciFi Channel.

It all begins with Quinn and Maggie going back to their friends on Earth Prime after looking around numerous alternate Earths. Only to find the world now overrun by Kromaggs!

Rembrandt and Wade were taken by the invades! And, I kid you not, Wade was apparently taken to a Kromagg breeding camp on some other parallel Earth (to finally remove her character from good from the series).

Quinn finds his mother who reveals that she's actually his foster mom, Quinn was given to them as a baby by his real parents, scientist from some other parallel world that discovered a similar sliding technology while they were looking for a way to defeat the Kromaggs on their own world. They simply could never gave him back when the real parents came back. In fact Quinn had his entire life a microship with a secret message from his real birth parents and partial coordinates to their dimension. But before that he has to find the brother he never knew he had!

Quinn and Maggie rescue Rembrandt. And they're forced to leave Earth Prime ruled by the Kromaggs behind. They set out to find Quinn's brother who might posses missing informations about their real birth parents as well as the weapon they used to defeat Kromaggs on their world to help save Earth Prime. They're finally able to locate Colin (Jerry O'Connell's actual brother in real life, Charlie O'Connell), a self-taught scientist living in a more primitive rural Earth. With both microships they finally have the coordinates to their home Earth, but they instead end up in a "slide cage", a precaution devised by their parents to prevent Kromaggs to enter their world!

Most of the subsequent episodes focus on a way to get past that slide cage into their proper home world.

Overall: It doesn't get any more "SyFy" than this!

This was "the Kromagg Season".

They're still some good moments, such as some great character scenes and the controversial addition the brother adds to the new dynamic. Maggie finally start coming into her own, once her character doesn't suffer from no more rivalry with Wade, at the cost of the Wade character. Maggie finally is allowed to become an actual character (even if she's clearly here for the T&A moments).

But Season 4 is usually mostly remembered for its worse moments. There's just too much Kromaggs, it does slow down a bit in later episodes but it's always annoying whenever they get back to that plot thread.

Making Quinn's parents sliders themselves was such a bad decision, it goes against everything the show started as. Quinn's not anymore just a kid who came up with a wormhole into alternate dimensions, instead the invention is just the by-product he inherited from his parents. The only way to save this season is to just consider this cast and season different sliders from this point forward, we're not following the originals but just dupes from now on.

Season 4 is the the season nobody expected! The show had been canceled after all, surviving the killing off a major character and losing another one in-between seasons. It was so far off the original premise of the show...  They're not just simply exploring other Earth resulting from slight deviations from ours but now are simply going from one scifi Earth to another. A burnt out Earth, a virtual Earth, a Earth going backwards in time, etc.  Full-on Z-grade movie parodies.

Maggie doesn't fill in the role missing from the loss of the Professor, she's more of a pinup girl than a military or serious authority figure.

Using the Kromagg has this big threat was such a stupid idea. Not counting the stupid ideas surrounding them, how Kromagg women are infertile so they have these breeding camps. Charlie O'Connell adds some fun back into show, but he's not the best actor the show has seen. The premise changes from trying to ever get back home to fighting Kromaggs across multiple Earths. The Kromaggs themselves seem like something out of a Star Trek series, wearing big Nazi uniforms and used to either play with some anti-military or anti-religion imagery, also poking fun at science as well. The show becomes more gimmick, what with the whole "We're from Canada!" ruse they use every time. There's a lot of questionable internet/computer-based worlds, they get mixed with a world-wide television show, and borrows too many time from much better material out there.

I give this one a: 1/ 3 Score!

Name: Sliders: Season 5
Originally aired: From June 1999 to February 2000
Episodes: 18     
Format: DVD Box-set

The final season!

SciFi only agreed to greenlight this season for a limited time and reduced budget.

They couldn't get Jerry O'Connell back for a full season, so they didn't even bother with his brother's character either. They explained this within the show during a slide where both Quinn and Colin Mallory merged into another Quinn from the Earth they were landing on.

It turned out this was all part of an experiment by this Dr. Oberon Geiger character who became the recurring antagonist for this last season. The team was then joined by another new character, Dr. Diana Davis (Tembi Locke), who used to be Dr. Geiger's assistant. Oh, and by this new merged character they called simply "Mallory" (Robert Floyd), who retained some past memories from his previous personalities but slowly evolved into his own new and different character.

Which gave Season 5 a particularly different cast composed of the only remaining character left from the original team left, Rembrandt, now with Maggie, Mallory and this Diana looking for a way to defeat the Kromaggs once and for good as well as a way to split up and recover Quinn and Colin.

There's also the notable minor appearance of Wade again (well, Sabrina Lloyd only really performed her voice over while some other actress stood in as a body double), who is found still trapped with Kromaggs and forced to stay behind while communicating via telepathy...

They finally locate the weapon used by Quinn's birth parents, only that would destroy the entire ecosystem if used on any Earth.

It is also found out the merged Quinns can't be separated anymore without killing one of them since they've been merged for so long.

Rembrandt finally decides to injects himself with a virus that will only kill Kromaggs and slides back to Earth Prime...

The show ends with an unresolved cliffhanger.

Overall: That's it! That's the final season of Sliders!

You can clearly see the writers tried to save as much of the show as they could on Season 5, but this was coming way too late. Too much damaged had been done already. Some new elements try to take the show back to basics, only now we're missing over half of the original cast and we only have a fraction of the original budget back then.

When Jerry O'Connell was denied an executive producer credit on the series, he decided to leave television behind for the big screen. 

On one hand, coming after all the above storylines this season starts with some serious handicaps, which was certainly not a gift for the cast and crew. Yet they tried making it all work, returning Sliders to the lighter more fun tone of the earlier seasons. And we even got a couple of original alternate realities-Earths.

But it's too little, too late. The show was never as great as the beginning. There's still a fair amount of fun episodes. Lot of compromises. Not the best ideas, sure. A lot of clunky episodes going back too many times to the same few ideas. There are some great fun ideas such as a world where Rembrandt is seen as a god or a world where Sliders is a popular television show, but then you also get one with them joining a pirate crew...

The Kromaggs do pop up here and there, but thankfully not as often (and the season does revolve around Rembrandt finding a way to get rid of them). The last few episodes are decent, the final episode is great, meta, and unlike anything you'll see on modern shows nowadays.

The worst part? It looked like Sliders could have gotten back on track with one more season, it was getting good again, but ends instead on a really annoying cliffhanger. And Cleavant Derricks/Rembrandt Brown ends up being the only cast member to stay with the series throughout its entire run!

I give this one a: 1.5 / 3 Score!

Sliders ends on such a downer. The show had so much promise!

It started as this fantastic science-fiction series, and got significantly worse as time went by, mostly due to the meddling executives...

Sometimes I wonder if we'll ever see any similar type of science-fiction show ever. this one of those rare times where I wouldn't mind a modern remake, I could image an updated version of the show!

The first two seasons are some of the best classic TV out there. Season 2 might not be as good but it does feature some great episodes with interesting ideas. When the Kromagg invasion starts to unfold is when things jump the shark, with less focus on alternate history-based episodes and just the characters jumping around various fiction and fantasy stories. Jumping networks certainly didn't help the series...

Yet I can't help but still love the show, even after all the bad episodes from the later years.

You're best left only watching the first two seasons of Sliders. You can easily quit while you're ahead, you will be better off it. Making Quinn a Superman-like figure sent away by his birth parents from a doomed planet was a really bad idea.

In a way the show should have stopped right there.. or at least go on for a few more seasons when it was  canceled in 2000. Even the creator went on saying if they just had 44 more episodes - 2 seasons worth of material - they could have fixed all these threads left hanging. With such a great premise they could have done so many more things! 

In many ways Sliders also works as a sister series/spiritual successor to another favorite scifi classic show of mine, Quantum Leap. In fact Sliders contains several references to it thanks to a few shared creative people behind the scenes. Not only the two have very similar tone, but Quantum Leap even seems connected to Sliders via the introduction of the character of Maggie Beckett, supposedly via her father General Thomas Beckett, who was imagined behind the scenes as Quantum Leap's Sam Beckett's brother he saved while travelling through time. Which is a nice "Easter egg" little homage if you ask me.

The show would inspire a few spinoff materials such as novelizations, trading cards, as well as comic books published by Acclaim Comics. The comics used a few notes Tracy Tormé did from unproduced episodes, and even Jerry O'Connell himself wrote one of these. We'll probably look into some of those some other time....

And fun fact, Marvel Comics writer Judd Winick admitted Sliders was a major inspiration behind his comic book series Exiles!

That's all for this time's Quickies!

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