“The Guardian” — A Critique

For years, series co-creator Tracy Tormé has gone on record against everything about Sliders that took place after he was unseated from leadership by the network. I’m not one to argue about the overall lack of focus and crappy scripts that were the predominant force of much of the third season, but I am tired of hearing about how his final contribution to his creation, The Guardian, is the be-all, end-all of storytelling and how it represents a radical shift from anything else you’d see once he left.

Let’s face it; for all its sparkle and sass, “The Guardian” isn’t the perfection Tormé makes it out to be. Granted, it’s a pretty emotional hour for Quinn, but in my review of the episode, I noted a number of problems that detracted from its overall excellence. It certainly doesn’t match up to the humor or satire of Dead Man Sliding or the action of Double Cross, and it minimizes Wade and Rembrandt to background noise.

So I was interested to pick up the Production Draft of the script and see what scenes or dialog had changed. Usually there’s a missing scene or two, perhaps a conversation has moved from one character to another, but the original draft of “The Guardian” is extremely different. It was pure Tormé, unfettered by the FOX-mandated production team brought in to overhaul the show. Pure Tormé — free to unleash the story the way he wanted it.

It’s… disappointing.

That said, I am a fan of the finished product. I think “The Guardian” is a fine episode of Sliders, worthy of consideration. What I’m arguing is that total autonomy – in this case Tormé’s – doesn’t necessarily pump out a better finished product, and this script is proof positive. If it isn’t, the Shane parodies in The Good, The Bad and The Wealthy will make you a believer.

Should I have been surprised with the pacing and general direction of the script? Maybe, maybe not. Previous installments penned by Tormé favor humor blended with oftentimes-irrelevant character exposition, and this was no exception. An opera scene feels seems like it was poached from a bad sitcom (complete with snoring cast member), Professor Arturo running around like a maniac, Quinn moving in with his other self – the way this story was “intended” smacks of so many poor choices in both action and comedic timing it’s gratifying to see the end result — an episode tempered by committee.

Poor pacing

Problems start in the teaser. Rather than opening with the examination and getting it out of the way, the script opens up with a New Year’s Party… in September. Normally I’m not one to quibble about the bizarre lengths the writers will go to set something up regardless of the lack of explanation, but what purpose does this serve? I guess it serves for Wade to tell yet another Diggs that they’re from a parallel world and let her, Rembrandt and Quinn kiss people in a consequence-free environment. Arturo’s revelation that he’s staying punctuates the end of the teaser, which is startling, but since it’s done in the opening moments you know he won’t. The impact is lost.

The New Year’s Party scene is just that — a scene. It isn’t a teaser and a good section of the first act. Having Quinn find out about Arturo’s illness fully one-sixth of the way into the episode is awkward. Not showing Arturo’s actual examination is bad writing. Passing off the whole thing as an engagement gone awry? Do I need to say it?

The script moves so slowly that it takes until the end of Act One for Quinn to realize he’s reliving the time of his father’s funeral (although the first act is barely longer than the teaser). It glosses over Heather Hanley, the teacher, compressing her entire role into a half an act. She is underutilized, and considering the role she plays in Young Quinn’s life the shooting script was wise to expand her role.

There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be there at the expense of extraneous stuff in need of clipping; Rembrandt whines about his Cadillac for the umpteenth time while Arturo graces the viewer with a reference to Cannibal World reference. There’s just a general lack of caring about what is supposed to take place in a scene. And if I sound like Tormé himself tearing The Exodus apart, maybe that’s because I blanched when Rembrandt referred to his precious Red Sled as an extension of the male… er, psyche.

Bad characterization

The above reference is in Act One and is just one of many nuggets of bad characterization in the script. Don’t think Rembrandt is singled out; every Slider acts more atypical than usual… even with no Navy references from our favorite Spinning Topp.

Let’s start with Arturo. In the span of one episode he shifts between the sentimental friend, the deceptive invalid, the fatalist, the man with the zest for life, and the sage paternal influence. He does a complete 180 between insisting the others get involved and make a difference in the worlds they encounter and urging Quinn to leave his younger self alone. He doesn’t want the pity of Wade and Rembrandt (who think he’s just been jilted), so what does he do? He hangs out with them and soaks in their misguided sympathy. Then he decides to do truly crazy things like eat a Slurpee, race in a go-kart and hang out in a bar. I’m blown away by the sheer zaniness.

Tormé talks frequently about how he wanted the Professor to have a dark side, but he certainly doesn’t show it here. As I commented in my review, if the Professor doesn’t want to be around his friends but does want to make a difference in the worlds he encounters, why not spend that time more productively, like teaching his younger self about sliding? Or better yet, why not just be consistent? Arturo is a man with multiple personality disorder in the Production Draft — Tormé can’t figure out how to approach him and let him move through the situation like the character should.

Quinn gets the worst of it, but most of the problems in the script are present in the final version, too. Why does Quinn turn so obsessive and secretive? One of the biggest faults is that when one of his friends asks what’s about to happen, to maintain the suspense he refuses to tell them that he hit a kid in the knee with a bat. Too much tension derived from an artificially created situation. However, in the script, Quinn actually moves into his old house! I don’t know how Mrs. Mallory, in the wake of her husband’s death, would allow someone who met her husband once two years prior (Quinn’s cover story) to live in her house free of charge. The scenario strains credulity.

Wade and Rembrandt are little more than scenery, but the latter’s aforementioned cracks at his car, his crotch, and a stupid jibe at a scientist’s name do nothing more than regress Rembrandt to the Amos n’ Andy stereotype he started out as. The lines aren’t funny; they’re obvious and glaring and really stick out in the scenes they’re in. Wade stays consistently obnoxious throughout (thanks to Tormé’s desire to keep the big revelation at the cost of the character’s legitimacy) except for the scene where she brings Quinn breakfast in bed (at his double’s house — where do I even begin?). For that one scene, sandwiched between all her braying about Quinn’s choices is her one chance to act like a normal human being. However, all it does is highlight that every other scene she’s in is completely out of character (or painfully in character, considering the 2nd season approach to Wade).

Pretty much everyone else is the same as in the filmed version except Heather. Heather is a cipher, someone who pops in, gives Quinn a chance to talk about himself, make out, and then disappear. Why is she attracted to this complete stranger in the first place? Imagine walking to your car after work and a totally unknown person cruises up next to your car door and starts talking about your co-workers (or a twelve-year-old). Would you be a little creeped out? In the filmed version, giving her more scenes gave her a little more motivation to consider the date with Quinn. As it’s written, it’s totally inexplicable and undeveloped.

Bad writing

All these things aside, is the script itself good? Not particularly. One of the things that makes a script a script are the words that are chosen to convey the action.

What do we get? We get both Quinn thinking dark and private thoughts simultaneously… when those around him aren’t awestruck by his presence. How do we know? Because it says in the script.

Apparently Quinn also has a photographic memory, not that it’s ever been mentioned in the dialogue or shown to exist in prior episodes. I know this only because the script says so.

Action isn’t the only thing that’s butchered here. I’ve mentioned some of the dialogue above, but there are other examples of head-scratching conversation. Foremost on my mind are the conversation Arturo has about their odds of returning home. One completely fictional scientist in an episode, please. We just had Herbert Van Meer hoisted on us, now Vladimir Skrevadenska? And anyway, what is the point of the conversation? As Wade notes in the dialogue, it’s totally discouraging to point out they’ll never get home, and Quinn’s rebuttal that the Professor’s calculations must be flawed is half-hearted at best.

Bad Ending

But the most cringe-worthy portion of the script occurs at the very end. Instead of the creepy-yet-cool sendoff Heather gets when Quinn leaps into the void, we get Quinn telling her he’s from a parallel world (for no reason) and that she and Little Quinn should hook up in 10 years. Stunningly bad.

That said, I do like Arturo’s groin pull comment and the radio announcement about Arturo jumping is pretty funny. I also find the graveyard to be a more appropriate setting for the conversation Quinn has with his younger self. But for the most part, the changes that were reflected in the aired version helped the story’s pacing, theme, and quality immensely. It shows that collaboration in television can be a good thing. It also emphasizes that Tracy Tormé is a writer with flaws just like anyone else. He just happens to be more high profile in the Sliders universe.

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