Universal // 1996 // 990 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Elizabeth Skipper (Retired) // March 30th, 2005
"I'm starting to think our Earth only exists in our minds."
I was in high school when these first two seasons of Sliders aired, and I'll admit it, I was geeky enough that I watched every single episode. I'll also admit that, despite its obvious flaws -- the ones I recognized then and the ones I didn't see until now -- I genuinely enjoy this show.
This set offers all nine episodes of Season One and all 12 episodes of Season Two:
While attempting to create an antigravity device, physics grad student Quinn Mallory (Jerry O'Connell, Crossing Jordan) opens a wormhole that, after some experimentation, he determines is a portal to a parallel universe -- the same time and the same place, but on a different version of Earth. He decides to enter the wormhole and, conveniently for the story, takes along a few traveling companions: his physics professor, Maximillian Arturo (John Rhys-Davies, The Lord of the Rings); his friend and potential love interest, Wade (Sabrina Lloyd, Sports Night); and, oops, an innocent bystander, has-been singer Rembrandt Brown (Cleavant Derricks). Quinn soon discovers that the timer intended to bring them back home after a few hours is faulty and what is supposed to be their return trip takes them to yet another reality instead. Now they are slaves to the timer, forced to stay on an Earth for the random amount of time it displays when they arrive, with no way to find their way back to their own world.
In the second half of this two-hour episode, the sliders encounter an America that has been conquered by the Soviet Union and join the rebellion. (Judge Wapner cameos.)
The portal takes the gang to a world where penicillin has not been discovered and a plague is running rampant.
* "Last Days"
The sliders land on an Earth about to be destroyed by an asteroid. Arturo helps the local scientists develop a nuclear weapon -- which, on this world, was deemed an impossibility by Oppenheimer, Fermi, and Einstein -- to destroy the threat.
* "The Prince of Wails"
On this world, the Revolutionary War never happened and America is still a British colony.
* "Summer of Love"
In a flash to Earth Prime (as Sliders fans have taken to calling it), we learn that the FBI has begun to investigate the disappearance of Quinn and the others. Meanwhile, the sliders enter a world where the '60s never ended.
In this version of society, intelligence is given the same status as athleticism is on our world and smart people are treated like celebrities.
* "The Weaker Sex"
Gender roles on this Earth are reversed: Women are in charge, and men live as second-class citizens.
* "The King is Back"
The Rembrandt on this world (played by Cleavant Derricks's twin brother) is a superstar on a par with Elvis, but he's supposedly been dead for eight years.
* "Luck of the Draw"
The sliders enter a world that seems like Shangri-la, until they realize that a lottery system keeps the population under control.
* "Into the Mystic"
This Earth is filled with shamans, magic, and mysticism. The sliders meet Quinn's double, who thinks he can direct the next slide to send them home. With only 53 seconds on the timer, they read the paper to learn that O.J. Simpson is being tried for a double murder and the Indians are in the World Series, so they decide they can't be on the right Earth and make the next jump.
* "Love Gods"
On a world where a virus has wiped out almost all the males, Quinn, Rembrandt, and Arturo are captured to help with repopulation efforts.
* "Gillian of the Spirits"
As the sliders enter the wormhole, Quinn is hit by lightning, damaging the timer and rendering him invisible to everyone but a teenager with psychic powers. As luck would have it, the world they've entered is one on which technological advances have been banned, so they have difficulty repairing the timer.
* "The Good, the Bad, and the Wealthy"
The sliders are brought to an America where everything west of the Mississippi belongs to the Republic of Texas and the rules of the Old West apply.
* "El Sid"
The San Francisco of this world is a maximum security prison, and Quinn, Arturo, Wade, and Rembrandt are its newest inmates.
* "Time Again and World"
In this America, the Constitution has been abridged and society is ruled by martial law. (Rebecca Gayheart (Dead Like Me) guest stars.)
* "In Dino Veritas"
The sliders enter a world where dinosaurs still roam, though they are kept in a protected sanctuary.
* "Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome"
The gang thinks they've made it home, and soon they are famous and Arturo is taking credit for Quinn's discovery.
Ten percent of the population on this Earth has psychic abilities, America's most powerful official is the Prime Oracle, and all major disasters have been avoided since Lincoln's assassination was thwarted and he created the position. (Isaac Hayes (South Park) guest stars.)
The sliders encounter an America where Prohibition was never repealed and all of society is controlled by competing mob organizations. (Mel Tormé guest stars.)
* "The Young and the Restless"
This world's retirement age is thirty, and the young rule society.
We get our first look at what will become a recurring enemy for the sliders: the Kromaggs, who are from an Earth where Cro-Magnons, not Homo sapiens, evolved into the primary race. The sliders discover that the Kromaggs have mastered sliding and are bent on destroying Homo sapiens on every version of Earth.
* "As Time Goes By"
In the first half of this two-hour finale episode, the sliders enter a decidedly politically incorrect world where America is known as Nueva España and illegal immigrants from Canada work as day laborers and servants.
The second half is a tribute to Stephen Hawking's theory that time is an arrow that can point in any direction. The time of this world is moving backwards in relation to the time of the sliders. Unfortunately, at the end (or is it the beginning?), Quinn, never able to mind his own business, changes the future (or is it the past?) and rips a hole in the fabric of time.
As I said, I really like Sliders. I was captivated by it when I first saw it (it filled the void left in my oh-so-cool life by the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation), and I still find it charming now. Despite my bias, though, I see its flaws, the most important of which is that Sliders is an innovative idea that never reached its full potential. Sending characters to parallel Earths that are similar to ours but changed in some fundamental way is a perfect concept for a sci-fi series -- the possibilities for new and intriguing episodes are endless -- but somehow the writers never quite moved past the seedling stage into a fully-fleshed-out show with arcs, character development, and continuity. (Or at least they didn't in these first two seasons. I can't remember the successive seasons well enough to comment definitively.) Other than the obvious attempts to connect the episodes with cliffhangers and teasers, each show stands basically alone. We know the goal -- to return to Earth Prime -- but the characters never find a way to make lasting progress towards that end, so the overarching story never progresses either.
As well, the episodes themselves fall into the same trap. Each is a neat idea, but they rarely go further than that. In fact, other than the cute "inside jokes" (e.g., the sliders turn on the TV to find Skipper's Island instead of Gilligan's Island), they don't offer any reason to keep watching past the reveal of the twist of the week. Once you know what the hook is, you can probably figure out the rest for yourself. In my opinion, though, just the concept is enough. Of course I'd be happier with idea and follow-through, but the various ideas -- women as the dominant gender, wars that never happened, discoveries that were never made -- were original enough that I can live without the follow-through. (Although I know that many of the episode ideas have been seen before in various TV shows, movies, and books, I feel justified in calling them original, because I think Sliders's approaches to the ideas are almost always unique.)
The second major flaw of Sliders is Rembrandt. He is a throwaway character. He has no initial connection to the rest of the group and was very obviously thrown in there for a little color (double entendre intended). Cleavant Derricks, despite the praise bestowed upon him by cast and crew alike in the DVD's featurette, is not a good actor. Perhaps he intends to play Rembrandt as a caricature and his over-emoting can be explained thusly, but I don't find him funny in the least so all he succeeds in doing is grating on my every nerve. And don't even get me started on his tacky wardrobe. There is no excuse for dressing like that past the late '80s.
While I'm focusing on the negative aspects of the show, let me ask this: Why didn't the sliders ever learn their lesson and stop getting involved? Their time on each Earth would have been much simpler if they had stayed in their hotel room, only emerging when absolutely necessary, until the next slide. Then again, I guess everyone's lives would be easier if they stayed in their houses, only emerging when absolutely necessary, but that's no way to live. Furthermore, I suppose I'd have even more to complain about if they never got involved -- boy, what a boring show that'd be! -- so nevermind.
Now that I've proven I can see Sliders's flaws, let me concentrate a little on what kept me coming back. First and foremost is Jerry O'Connell as Quinn. Maybe it's just that I have a thing for Jerry (see my rave review of Kangaroo Jack if you don't believe I'm a fan), but I think he's perfect for the role. He's an amazing combination of nerd, hottie, and romantic. Mostly hottie, though.
Just so we're clear that I don't always judge an actor by his pecs, let me move on to the next reason I call myself a Sliders fan: John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings) as Professor Arturo. No one can pull off righteous indignation with a dash of pretentiousness quite like Rhys-Davies. He is funny even when he doesn't mean to be, and he accomplishes with his outlandish character what Cleavant Derricks aims for and misses with Rembrandt -- a semblance of believability. Plus, there's nothing quite as amusing as seeing Gimli fly head over heels out of a wormhole again and again.
The best part of Sliders, though, what makes me keep watching past the reveal of the hook, is its humor. It's easily missed, and I don't think I ever caught much of it when I watched the show in high school, but in the off-hand comments and the references to the worlds they don't show us (or show us much of), a sarcastic, almost satiric humor lies. For example, in "Into the Mystic," Arturo and Rembrandt, perplexed by the care Quinn is getting from a witch doctor, slyly remark, "One constant about every America we visit...the healthcare system always sucks." And brief glimpses of worlds such as the one where 84% of the population has attended law school and a waiver is required for an act as simple as ordering food give us brief glimpses of the show's humor as well. The humor blends nicely with the sci-fi; with what I call "nerd jokes" (those that not everyone will understand), it appeals to the show's core audience.
The audio and video transfers for these first two seasons are exactly what I've come to expect from television on DVD. While the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix certainly never wowed me, I never found it lacking either. I would have enjoyed a little more kick for this sci-fi action show, but I don't have any real complaints. The full-frame video transfer deserves a slightly better rating. It did justice to Sliders's nifty special effects and, other than some specks of dirt here and there, is without error.
Included on this six-disc set are a handful of extras, if you have a very small hand:
* Audio Commentary: Writers and co-creators Tracy Tormé and Robert K.
Weiss have a conversation during the two-hour series premiere. I learned a few
interesting tidbits, and I'd say it's worth your time.
* "The Making of Sliders": This 14-minute featurette offers some relatively interest-holding interviews with cast members Sabrina Lloyd, Jerry O'Connell, and Cleavant Derricks and crew members Tracy Tormé and Robert K. Weiss.
Also proffered are a photo gallery, ads for various other TV shows on DVD, and a trailer for Stargate Atlantis.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention the space-age "3-D" packaging of this set. The left side of the box is graphics-covered cardboard that houses slotted foam. The right side is a clear plastic cover that displays the six discs, which slide into the foam on the left and therefore appear to be floating in mid-air. Very fun and surprisingly also very convenient. Kudos to Universal for the ingenuity. If only they had carried over that forward-thinking attitude to the creation of the discs' chapter stops. They didn't and instead included my pet peeve, the inability to skip past the opening credits to the next scene, forcing me to fast forward in order not to miss any content. What is this, videotape?
You'll notice that I made no mention of Wade. I purposely omitted her because I am utterly and completely ambivalent about her. I don't feel she brought much to the show other than a feminine voice, but I didn't mind her either. She's innocuous.
And, hey, what ever happened to the FBI investigation that was launched on Earth Prime into the sliders' disappearance? They never returned to it in the first two seasons...do they ever?
I'm tempted to recommend you purchase this set merely for how cool the packaging would look on your DVD shelf, but I suppose that's a little too enthusiastic. I do think it's a show every sci-fi fan should watch, so at least rent it if you're a newbie.
Sliders has been found guilty of tampering with the balance of the
universe via inter-dimensional travel, but because this Judge was an English
major and doesn't really understand the concept of inter-dimensional travel, all
parties are free to go.
Review content copyright © 2005 Elizabeth Skipper; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 990 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary on "Pilot" with Writer/Co-Creator/Executive Producer Tracy Tormé and Writer/Co-Creator Robert K. Weiss
* "The Making of Slider" Featurette
* Episode Descriptions
* Trailers for Knight Rider: Season One, Quantum Leap: Season One, Magnum, P.I.: Season One, and Stargate Atlantis