Review: Greatfellas

"Who cares? We got Mel." — Greenfeld.

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Indeed we do! Convoluted plot, disconnected teaser? Who cares? We got Mel!

The first time I saw the Velvet Fog appear on my Sliders screen I was actually put out. I think I yelled “Nepotism!” at the TV. I had always suspected Tracy Tormé must have been related to him somehow, and now my suspicions were confirmed. But Mel Tormé steals the show as a hard drinkin’, country singin’, government informant. I’ve never been a big fan of guest stars on television shows, but Mel’s presence elevates an otherwise OK episode to a thoroughly enjoyable one.

In this outing, the four slide right into a Mafia wedding. Rembrandt is immediately recognized. Thinking he’s a singing superstar on this world, he plays to the crowd and gives Mel a hug. Unaware of the score, Rembrandt then takes a payoff from the mob assuming it’s for making a special guest appearance at the wedding. Little do they know that here Rembrandt Brown is the equivalent of Elliot Ness and leads a group of crime fighters known as the “Incorruptibles.” In order to preserve his double’s good name, Rembrandt needs to give the money back.

Arturo makes a good argument that it’s best for them all to just lay low until the end of the slide. Though the mob’s reach is far, it can’t possibly extend into other dimensions. He had nearly won the debate until the Mafia bride-to-be comes to them for witness protection. While Rembrandt looks after her, Wade and Arturo go to the FBI to bring vital information to Rembrandt’s double.

The plot then gets pretty messy. As in Obsession and Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome before it, “Greatfellas” tries to keep you guessing about the real outcome as long as possible. But it just doesn’t pull it off nearly as well. Quinn gets involved in a subplot where he is conned out of the money and then tries to recover it at the blackjack table. But since ultimately the money is meaningless, Quinn does a lot of work for nothing. Meanwhile the other three are in way over their heads trying to bring down a plot that would have California and Nevada seceding from the United States.

Rembrandt’s double refuses to help citing lack of funds and recommends they go to District Attorney Joseph Biacchi, who is competing against former President Ronald Reagan for governor of California. Seeing a political opportunity, the DA does help them and agrees to give them protection. Yet in another twist, it turns out he’s on the take too. All four Sliders are rounded up and brought before the Greenfelds, who presumably are the ones orchestrating the secession. Except now the Rembrandts have pulled a switch. It was FBI Director Rembrandt’s plan along to take down Biacchi, and so it all comes out. Of course, just why FBI Rembrandt didn’t fill in Wade and Arturo on his plan is beyond me. And I also don’t understand just how California and Nevada expected to secede in the first place, but it’s all moot. The Mafia henchmen are killed, the plot exposed, Mel Tormé returns, platitudes are exchanged, Reagan soars to victory, and the four slide out. Like I said, it’s not the greatest plot the series has ever seen, but the episode does have some redeeming qualities.

Though he didn’t write it, this episode had Tracy Tormé’s fingerprints all over it. Part of that is because the teaser for “Greatfellas” was originally filmed for another episode. Check it out closely. Everyone is wearing the clothes they had on at the start of Into the Mystic. Also interesting is Wade writing in her diary. Remember way back when Wade said she was going to start a journal in Luck of the Draw? This scene was intended to bring that back into focus for the start of the second season. Aside from Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome, this is the only other episode that mentions it. Was Tormé planting seeds? I wouldn’t rule it out.

Tormé’s teaser features an alt-world where lawsuits are so out of hand that you can’t even buy a burger and fries without proof of salmonella insurance and a note from your doctor declaring your cholesterol below 200. This is the kind of social satire we expect from Sliders. Though the teaser only lasts a couple of minutes, the remainder of “Greatfellas” takes its cue from it. Very few episodes this season really utilized the alt-worlds for humorous purposes but this one does a great job with it. There are subtle things like the inverting of the mob’s ethnic ties – here the Italians are Jewish and the Jews are Italian – and there are more overt things such as Ronald Reagan’s run for Governor. “You loved him as President, you trust him as Governor.”

As this is a gambling world, casinos permeate the dimension. The San Francisco skyline has been turned into a gaudy Vegas. I’m surprised we didn’t get a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge done up in glitzy flashing lights. You can’t go anywhere without running into a slot machine. Not only are they in the casinos but in the hotel lobby; by the ice machine; in payphones; even in abandoned mob warehouses. But the over-the-top lunacy revolves around Mel Tormé.

Sliders can be exceedingly funny when it is allowed to do straight take-offs of real people. Judge Wapner, Doug Llewellyn, Charlie McGlade and Mike Levy all brought a surreal brand of comedy with their appearances. Tormé is no different. To hear him shooby-dooby-dooing through a blatantly stereotypical country western song is an absolute riot. Even funnier is Quinn calling out his name in anguish after he believes he’s been killed in an explosion. “Mel? NOOOOOO!” I never get tired of watching that scene. It’s just so absurd you have to laugh.

There may be other inside jokes in this episode that I was unable to discern. For those who don’t know, John Rhys-Davies used to star in the television version of The Untouchables. It would be a crying shame if they didn’t manage to slip some reference in. However, I’ve never seen The Untouchables and can’t say one way of the other.

Is “Greatfellas” truly deserving of a three star ranking based on its own merits? Probably not. There are some big implausibilities in this script, such as how no one at the wedding happened to notice the big hole in the sky that opened over the pool. But the episode struck a chord with me and I’ll stand by the ranking. Quinn using his great knowledge of math and physics to win at blackjack was pretty cool and it was also nice to see Cleavant Derricks’ twin brother Clinton again. Plus, any episode with the mob involved is usually OK by me. And if any of youse mooks got a problem with dat, I gots just five words for ya: Who cares? We got Mel.

  • Donna

    Mel Torme!