What if Sliders had been as successful as The X-Files? Judge Gordon Sullivan would like to slide over to that universe to see some of their episodes.
"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?"
I remember the first season of Sliders fondly. It was a show unafraid to have a "geek" as the focus, and the ideas behind the individual episodes always provided food for thought. However, as the original four sliders began to break apart (beginning with the departure of Jonathan Rhys-Davies' Professor Arturo), and as their story became more complicated, I lost interest. Until I sat down to review this set, I hadn't realized that after the third season, the show had moved to the Sci-Fi Channel. While this move signaled an increase in quality over the third season, the fourth season never reaches the heady heights (and clever ideas) of the first season.
Facts of the Case
The basic premise of Sliders is that Quinn Mallory (Jerry O'Connell, Kangaroo Jack) has discovered a technology that allows him to "slide" between parallel versions of Earth. These Earths are similar to the one we know, but with interesting "what if?" differences, like "what if the dinosaurs hadn't died out?" or "what if Hitler had won World War II?" However, Quinn's technology has a fatal flaw: he can't control when he'll slide or which Earth he'll encounter when he does. The first three seasons followed Quinn and his companions as they attempted to find their way back to their original Earth. In this season, Quinn must slide between Earths in an attempt to stop the growing influence of the evil Kromaggs.
This DVD set contains all 22 episodes from Season Four on five discs:
The following paragraph contains spoilers for the first episode.
The first episode gives a succinct overview of the entire fourth season. At the start, Quinn and Maggie slide to Earth Prime hoping to find Rembrandt and Wade, who slid there in Season Three. Upon arrival, they quickly discover that it's not the Earth Prime they remember: Kromaggs have invaded. After following the trail of Rembrandt and Wade, they discover a cell of resistance fighters who befriended the two sliders. These fighters reveal that Wade and Rembrandt have been captured and sent to a Kromagg detention facility. Of course they mount a rescue mission, but discover that Wade has been sent to a different Earth. In the detention facility, Quinn encounters his mother and learns he is adopted. He's from the same earth that the Kromaggs originated on, and he has a brother he was unaware of. To stop the Kromagg invasion, Quinn must find his brother and discover the weapon that his parents were working on to destroy the Kromaggs. The rest of the season will follow the crew's adventures as they struggle to find Quinn's brother and fight the growing Kromagg forces.
There are a lot of things going for this season of Sliders. A number of the episodes (like "Just Say Yes" and "California Reich") start from an interesting premise and use the characters to good effect. Yes, there are some familiar tricks in this season, like continual separation of the group and lots of mistaken identity, but that's part of the charm. Although there's a season-long story arc, most of the episodes do a good job balancing their individual story with the overall reach of the season.
The acting talents of Jerry O'Connell and Cleavant Derricks are another plus this season. No, neither of them is likely to be invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company, but they do an effective job with their characters. Despite the occasionally boneheaded dialogue he's given, O'Connell manages to exude an air of confident intelligence; he's a geek, but one's who's comfortable with himself. When I first saw the pilot, I expected Cleavant Derricks' Rembrandt to be a one-note character who would get annoying after two or three episodes. Instead, he grew into a multidimensional foil, bringing an "everyman" atmosphere to the otherwise technologically obsessed cast.
Although many of the individual episodes are strong this season, I'm not a fan of the season arc. I think the idea behind the show (sliding through multiple Earths in search of home) is strong enough to not need a Big Bad Guy for each season. There's enough drama for at least half a dozen seasons in the "trying to get home" idea. Furthermore, the Kromaggs just aren't compelling villains. As the bad guys in a single episode they work, but I wouldn't want to see every enemy get their own season-long arc. It doesn't help that their makeup is pretty hokey, giving them the look of the geek who is such a loser he can't even get his Klingon makeup right.
The search for Quinn's brother had some potential as well, but I'm just not a fan of Charlie O'Connell's acting. It's cool that they got real-life brothers to play the two roles, but I would have sacrificed verisimilitude for a better actor. I'm also not a fan of Kari Wuhrer. I know part of the problem is the dialogue she's given, which is admittedly not that great, but she doesn't seem to bring anything to the material either.
Even if the show is a mixed bag, its audiovisual presentation isn't. While no one will mistake the video for high-def, these episodes look clean and fairly sharp. So clean, in fact, that you can see how rough around the edges some of the effects are. The audio isn't going to blow you out of your seat, but it does a fine job with the dialogue and effects.
The DVD makers must have left their extras on another Earth, 'cause they sure aren't here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The show may be fun, but man, is it cheesy. It's obviously produced on a budget, which means sacrifices in writing, acting, and effects. Those looking for top-tier sci-fi, with strong writing, effective acting, and interesting effects will want to look elsewhere. Those looking for a fun show to spend a few hours with could do worse than Sliders.
This season has some redeeming aspects, but it's not as strong as it could be. Those who suffered through the end of Season Three will likely enjoy what this season has to offer. If you've never seen Sliders at all, I highly recommend you start back at Season One and enjoy its charms from the beginning.
Sliders is found not guilty on this Earth.
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