"You bet all your money on a game that you don't understand? You're an idiot." — Wade, to Rembrandt after UCAL's victory.
Review by Matt Hutaff
I’m not a big fan of sports. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate them, but the American mentality towards professional sports is so ludicrous that I get legitimately angry at them at times. Teachers are constantly overlooked and underpaid while their 18-year-old students, some of them barely literate, cross over to endorsements and idolatry without the slightest idea of what to do with all the money and fame. And while this happens in the music and film industries, too, it’s not quite so pervasive.
Such things are in need of parody, and “Eggheads” delivers big time. It attacks the cult of celebrity with a smart edge while placing Quinn and Arturo through the wringer morally and ethically. Where do you end and your double begin? Throw in some hilarious comedy, too, and you have one of, if not the best, episodes of Sliders, period.
It begins quietly enough, with a slide onto a lawn outside a library. A cursory scan of the surroundings reveals a GAP ad featuring Einstein, a leather-clad biker with Tchaikovsky playing on his boom box and library hours extended because of the demand. What’s going on?
A buck-toothed kid hits Quinn up with an autograph request. Soon, there’s a huge mob trying to get a piece of Quinn and Arturo, and when Wade asks why to one of the madding crowd, the reply comes across forcefully and obviously — they’re Sliders. Quinn enthuses that this means their wandering is over — he can auto set the timer. They’re going home.
Ah, if only it were that easy.
The Sliders take a taxi to Quinn’s house, which is currently on the market. Not one to ask questions why, Quinn heads inside and immediately goes to the basement, only to find it devoid of technology; instead, it’s filled with trophies, magazine covers and visceral confirmation of his celebrity status as part of the UCAL Eggheads.
A question arises: do Arturo and Quinn assume the lives of their sliding counterparts to try and track down the sliding device? For Rembrandt, the issue is cut and dry: the faster they find it, the faster they get home. Arturo, who thus far in the series has preached an air of sensibility and restraint with the affairs of parallel cultures, puts the issue in Quinn’s hands. After all, being mistaken for one’s double has potentially drastic consequences (Fever).
The decision to investigate is made, but it sounds as if it doesn’t really matter; in the Physics building, Quinn is immediately shuttled off to appear at practice. Arturo roots through his office with his friends and finds a woman’s voice at his house. It also appears that the Quinn and Arturo of this world never informed anyone of the location of the sliding device.
From here on in the story focuses mainly on Quinn, who must ingratiate himself into a game he’s never played, and Arturo’s quixotic love quest to reunite his philandering double with the wife he lost on Earth Prime, Christina (Gabrielle Rose). Wade and Rembrandt are relegated to comedic and supporting dialogue, but fortunately they’re not lost in the shuffle. In fact, they’re given some of the series’ best lines. Cleavant and Sabrina really work well as a comedic duo, and Scott Smith Miller’s script accentuates Wade’s growing agitation with the constantly bickering Rembrandt.
And like in Fever, Quinn’s usurpation of his double’s life has negative implications. You see, on this world, Quinn and Arturo faked the invention of sliding (did a double give them the idea?) to hide; Quinn from his Mafioso creditors (played with aplomb by Peter Spellos and Andrew Guy) and Arturo from his wife. Quinn owes the mob a million dollars in gambling debts and his “disappearance” happened for a reason.
Arturo seeks out the double of his late wife and pleads with her to reconsider a divorce. These scenes, excellent in the sincerity, showcase a side of Arturo that until now hasn’t been seen. This isn’t the pompous, bombastic ass we just saw wreck an entire social order in last week’s episode (The Weaker Sex), this is a guy who’s willing to short-change himself for a little bit of happiness with the woman he loves. Even Wade comments on how big a softy Arturo is. John Rhys-Davies does a commendable job in softening his character’s edge.
It’s Quinn, however, that really gets thrown through the wringer. First he’s got to assume the position of team captain of Mindgame, an Othello-like strategy sport that has two teams running around a grid answering questions no normal man should know (What’s the softest mineral? Talc, apparently). Kudos to Jacob Epstein and Bob Weiss for fully fleshing out such an interesting sport.
As if that weren’t enough, he’s got Rembrandt chewing on his ear to find the sliding machine. The Mob doesn’t want him to play Mindgame. The Coach does. The fascinating thing about all of this is that this isn’t even Quinn’s life and yet he’s got to make all the tough choices his double skipped out on. Quinn looks and feels defeated, so much so that when he tells his coach (Charles Cyphers) he can’t play (so that the team can win of its own accord), he sheepishly looks at his mentor and ends the excuses. “What do you want from me? I’m a jerk.” Sometimes it isn’t pretty glancing through the looking glass.
Quinn does end up playing, though, as part of an FBI sting to catch the mobsters in the act of point shaving. The four Sliders race to the top of a rooftop and make a storybook exit. The FBI have their men, and through that Quinn is mentally unburdened of his load.
Lest I forget, let’s take a minute to talk about what I think is this show’s highlight (and it isn’t the quote at the top of the review, although that’s just as classic). Coach Almquist, finally tired of listening to Quinn’s excuses, gives a truly poignant and relevant speech about sports celebrity, and how the game isn’t played for love any more, it’s played for dollar signs and product endorsements. Almquist’s speech echoes my sentiments about baseball, basketball, football, et. al. Science fiction is always at its best when it offers ringing social commentary without sounding too preachy (something Star Trek often fails to understand).
The greatest pleasure of “Eggheads” is that in addition to all this great character study, we’re given some truly funny lines, courtesy of Rembrandt and Wade, and most interestingly from Ron Pitts and Tom Jackson as themselves. They don’t take themselves seriously at all, and lines like “It’s not over until the fat lady closes the book” are played so straight and with such conviction you can’t help but laugh.
The shining moment of satire, however, comes from the Library Rap. It’s so well produced and is just so goddamn bizarre that you’re laughing your ass off.
Quickly, a couple quick things I worry about. If Quinn can auto set the system on this earth, why didn’t he do it on the world at the end of the pilot? Also, just where were the Quinn and Arturo of this world?
Piffling problems aside, this episode hits all the notes. Stellar direction, superb special effects with the wormhole, and Mark Mothersbaugh’s music is gritty and appropriate when it needs to be (like during the Mindgame), yet he balances it perfectly with the soft stuff. This truly is the litmus test to hold other episodes against.
|Previously: Review: The Weaker Sex||Next: Review: The King is Back|