Judge Mac McEntire just returned from an alternate dimension made entirely out of shrimp.
"What if you found a portal to a parallel universe? What if you could slide into a thousand different worlds, where it's the same year, and you're the same person, but everything else is different? And what if you can't find your way home?"
After a rocky first two seasons, the series Sliders had proven itself enough of a hit to reach a third in 1996-97. While our intrepid inter-dimensional adventurers faced danger around every corner from dinosaurs, pulsars, android dogs, and guys who eat brains, behind the scenes there were even more conflicts, evidenced by a change in cast and a questionably-handled story arc in the latter half of the season.
But time has passed, and the vortex just spewed out all 25 episodes of Season Three on DVD. How does one of science fiction's quirkiest series hold up today? Set the timer and let's find out together.
Facts of the Case
Super-genius Quinn Mallory (Jerry O'Connell, Scream 2) has invented a miraculous new technology that allows him and his friends to "slide" from one alternate reality to the other. Each new world is a "what if" scenario from our own. Along for the ride are his best friend Wade (Sabrina Lloyd, Sports Night), his pompous physics teacher Professor Arturo (John Rhys-Davies, Lord of the Rings), and washed-up Motown singer Rembrandt "Crying Man" Brown (Cleavant Derricks, Drexell's Class). Upon arrival on each world, Quinn's timer begins counting down the hours until their next slide, usually giving the four of them a day or two to explore, get in trouble, and save the day.
This year, though, the professor says his goodbyes to his fellow adventurers, opening the door for a new slider, tough military gal Maggie Beckett (Kari Wuhrer, Anaconda). The latter half of the season details the characters' pursuit of the sinister brain-eating villain Rickman, who might have the means to get our heroes back home.
At a time when sci-fi television was dominated by dark shows such as The X-Files and its many rip-offs, Sliders dared to be different by being lighthearted. During the first two seasons, creators treated even the most perilous situations with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. In this third season, though, Sliders got serious. Our heroes visit worlds marked with violent war games, harsh living conditions, and again with the brain-eating guy.
Although Quinn and company travel the whole of time and space, Sliders is nonetheless a product of its time. This season could be considered a nice time capsule for late 1996 and early 1997. As we'll see below, a lot of what was hot in pop culture at the time gets a Sliders episode based on it. But as easy as it is to label Sliders as a rip-off series, there are still a few intriguing concepts here for the writers to play with.
Instead of sliding from world to world, let's slide from episode to episode.
• "Rules of the Game"
The idea here is to push the characters to their limits, seeing how they
might react knowing they could be killed at any second. This makes for some grim
viewing. The action scenes do not help much. The costuming and effects for the
androids are laughably low budget. It's a fun concept that isn't given a real
• "Double Cross"
The writers and actors on this series always had fun with the characters
running into alternate versions of themselves. This one deals with what happens
when the double is not a nice person, making it more thoughtful than some other
outings. The conflict between Quinn and Logan makes this one a highlight as
well. Although Logan promises to find our heroes and stir up more trouble for
them, we never see her again.
• "Electric Twister Acid Test"
This season's riffing on hit movies of the time starts here, putting its own
spin on the previous summer's Twister. There's a lot of crazy
pseudo-science in this one, but it's hard to take talk about reversing
polarities seriously when the villain's laboratory looks like something from a
'50s B-movie, complete with wall-sized computers and lots of blinking pink
• "The Guardian"
It's rare to see an episode of Sliders that focuses almost entirely
on character development instead of the usual campy weirdness. There's also a
cute twist to the ending, but one wonders why Quinn never tells his friends this
piece of information.
• "The Dream Masters"
Originally intended to run alongside the premiere of the Fox Network's
creep-fest Millennium, this episode promises a lot of ghoulish thrills.
But what could have been freaky and nightmarish instead ends up with
'80s-music-video lighting and pink CGI snakes.
• "Desert Storm"
The driving-around-the-desert-while-fighting action is nothing we haven't
seen before. What makes this one interesting is how the scientific-minded
sliders are challenged by people with spiritual beliefs. This theme will carry
over into the next episode as well.
Now it's time to cash in on 1996's Dragonheart. The actual dragon
animation is far too silly even for this series. What saves the episode from
total ridiculousness is when the sliders are confronted with spiritual answers
to their scientific questions. With no other choice, our heroes turn to magic to
save the day. This is dramatic because they must swallow their pride in order to
• "The Fire Within"
The "living fire" concept is one of the more creative ones the
Sliders writers came up with, and makes this episode a standout from the
others. If you've never been to Universal Studios in LA, you'd think the
creators spent a fortune on the big, explosive finale. If you haven't been
there, I'm going to spill the beans—the actors are actually walking around
inside the pre-existing Backdraft
ride. Penny-pinching aside, this is still a clever, well-crafted episode.
• "The Prince of Slides"
Next episode, please.
• "State of the A.R.T."
This is an action-heavy episode, notable for a nice guest star turn by
Robert "Freddy Kruger" Englund. Like many other episodes, though, the
android effects are sometimes a little too low-budget for the high aspirations
the creators set for themselves.
• "Dead Man Sliding"
Some of the best science fiction is not necessarily about robots and giant
monsters—although I love those too. Instead, some great sci-fi is
metaphorical or satirical. This episode sets aside the CGI explosions in favor
of spoofing tabloid media. The "trial as top rated TV show" concept
gets a little exhausting after a while, but the satirical elements put this one
a cut above others this season.
• "Seasons Greetings"
The "mall world" idea is just rife with satire potential, but the
writers never really go in that direction, giving this one a feeling of a missed
opportunity. On the plus side, Chase Masterson (Star Trek: Deep Space
Nine) guest stars, which is always nice to see. She may not be the greatest
actress in the world, but she always seems to enjoy her roles. For another plus,
the professor makes a speech about faith and miracles, which appears to wrap up
the "spirituality vs. science" theme that's run through some previous
• "Murder Most Foul"
It might not be Data and Geordi in the Holodeck, but it's close. The series'
trademark quirky humor makes a welcome return, Rhys-Davies clearly relishes his
role as a certain great detective, and the attention to detail in the sets and
costumes make this one another winner.
• "Slide Like an Egyptian"
It's an episode packed with various twists and turns, that plays around with
the idea of what the sliders would do if they couldn't move on. On the negative
side, though, the scarab monster, like the dragon before it, is a little too
silly-looking, and an extended escape scene is quite obviously filmed on two
separate sets. Again, the production's limited resources don't quite live up to
all the crazy ideas in the script.
• "Paradise Lost"
The obvious choice would be to compare this episode with Tremors, but it's really more of a
take-off on the many X-Files episodes that use the "small town with
a secret" plot. It's also here that the series almost fell into a regular
monster-of-the-week routine. But, as we'll see, big changes were about to
• "Exodus" Parts I and II
Roger Daltrey of The Who chews the scenery appropriately as the first actor
to play Rickman. In later episodes, Rickman morphs into other forms. A lot of
bizarre things happen in this two-parter, especially the tribal mating ritual
and the gigantic fanged bunny rabbit. Maggie gets a decent introduction, and the
Professor's exit is tastefully done, if a little drawn out. Introducing Rickman
and then pursuing him through the multiverse is what really changed everything,
though. Because of this story arc, the season's quality took an instant nosedive
that almost doomed the entire series.
• "Sole Survivors"
• "Last of Eden"
• "The Other Slide of Darkness"
• "This Slide of Paradise"
Picture quality here is good, sometimes so good that the value-priced CGI stands out a little too much from its surroundings. The audio is decent, with no apparent flaws, but it is hardly a rich aural experience. The only extras here are a slightly amusing gag reel and one episode each of Earth 2 and Cleopatra 2525. Given all the behind-the-scenes rumors out there about the making of this season, especially about Rhys-Davies' exit, it would be nice to have more bonus features. Perhaps they exist in another dimension.
The packaging here is a cool see-through orange box, but it's made out of fold-out plastic that instantly snaps back into place when you're not holding it open. This means it takes three hands or more to get the discs in and out of the box. Because the four discs are double-sided, they are in danger of being scratched if the box decides to snap shut on one while you're trying to remove it. Also, you know the Universal logo with the bright, glowing Earth and the stately music? I can see why they would have that play when you first put the disc in the machine—but why also at the start of every single episode? Talk about overkill.
This was a tough year for Sliders. First there was a change in tone, then a change in casting, and then a wholly unnecessary story arc about the characters hunting a killer. Rumors persist to this day about behind-the-scenes strife and personality conflicts. There are times during this season where we can see the qualities that made this quirky series tick, but at other times all we get is lazy storytelling created only to cash in on fads. The acting is sometimes great, and sometimes hammy. The production values and special effects are sometimes clever and sometimes sloppy. It's hard for me to say these things because I am in fact a fan of the series, but I cannot deny that this season contains some of its lowest points.
I'm afraid I can only recommend this season for hardcore science fiction fans—the ones who tend to be more forgiving of a program's flaws as long as it offers plenty of otherworldly fun. Casual viewers, however, might have a tough time making it through all of these episodes without wondering, "What else is on?"
Quinn Mallory and his friends are found guilty, but they are sentenced to time served and are thus free to go. They've been through enough already.
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