Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

"My father... my mother... everything in my life is a lie."
"Did you love them? Did they love you?"
"Yes."
"Then it was not a lie." — Colin's introduction to the reality before him.

Review by Matt Hutaff


B
Really Good

Since prior episodes with cast changes involved brain sucking, murder, and gang rape, I hope I’m not going out on a limb declaring “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” the best — and certainly least horrifying — introduction of a new cast member Sliders has had thus far. The Sliders finally come across Quinn’s brother Colin Mallory, played by Jerry O’Connell’s real life brother Charlie. He’s a jack of all trades living on an agrarian world which eschews technology, so plunging into the reality of sliding provides cultural, technological, and familial shock all at once.

With four writers credited for the story and teleplay for this episode, viewers might dread a muddled mess of plot and tone, but Bill Dial and Marc Scott Zicree provide a script that combines laughs, some clever fish-out-of-water elements, and dramatic moments without getting hokey or maudlin. We certainly get a better idea of who Colin than we did upon Maggie’s introduction in The Exodus, part I.

“Colin basically comes from a world that’s technologically circa 1840,” notes Dial, “although he is scientifically adept in that world. He’s experimenting with primitive electrical instruments, making a hang glider, so he’s clearly a Mallory in terms of his scientific pursuits.” And having followed his quantum tire tracks to the world the Mallorys placed him on, the Sliders find Colin flying overhead in a rural meadow. Conflict erupts immediately when the local farmers — who consider Colin a menace to their flocks and crops — threaten to kill him. Quinn drops the family bomb on him moments later; with only two hours on this world, he needs to convince his brother of his story fast regardless of how unbelievable it seems.

Colin’s world is well-represented. His parents dead, his belongings scattered, Colin lives on the fringe trying to persuade his neighbors of the benefits of his research. The adult response is fear and the occasional bucket of urine thrown at his boots, but the kids seem to love him and his good nature (check out the one mocking the hang glider). We’re also introduced to a romantic interest, Susannah Morehouse (Susan Haskell) and her shrew of a mother Rebecca (genre icon Adrienne Barbeau). Susannah is clearly infatuated with Colin, but being a pariah doesn’t get the ladies — she’s promised to another guy.

Up until this point, the story and Colin have accepted the situation with a light-hearted air of indifference, but Quinn’s discovery of the microdot his parents left her brings some needed gravity to the situation. Initially skeptical of Quinn’s claims, he comes around, questioning everything from his reality to the love his parents felt for him. “There’s a greater truth,” Quinn notes, “and you just saw it.” And so, despite having known the Sliders for only a few hours, he takes his brother in hand and leaps into the vortex.

From here the plot detours back toward comedy; thankfully, the misfit angle isn’t overplayed to the point of nausea. This new world is very much like ours, only with bone graft security and DNA debit systems for monetary transactions. “Cashers” are looked at with mild unease, but on the whole things are as close to Earth Prime as we’ve seen in a while. In other words, it’s the perfect base to bring Colin up to speed on technology, because everything that’s old hat to us is fascinating to him.

Traffic lights. Automobiles. Scotch tape. Televisions. Soda. We take them all for granted, but Colin’s never seen them — or toilet paper — before. Rembrandt and Maggie head out on a shopping spree (his ATM thefts since Prophets and Loss are on the uptick), leaving Quinn and Colin alone. This opens Quinn up to the new reality before him as well; he’s got a brother now, and he doesn’t know what to say or do. The discomfort that results from their conversation is very real and well acted by both O’Connells, and it strikes me as the kind of conversation separated siblings might have. The strain to connect, the need for a common bond.

Quinn’s solution is to avoid the problem, get some grub, and hit on some nondescript extra. Meanwhile, Colin spies a double of Susannah across the Chandler lobby and strikes up a conversation thinking she’s the same woman he’s come to love, even though she’s dressed in a sheer red dress that leaves very little to the imagination. The result is a pretty funny — “Are you some kind of lab experiment that blew up?” “People always ask me that.” — segue into grave robbing (if there can be one). Oh yes, Susannah Morehouse likes to steal corpses for their DNA debit information. Classy!

This sets the Sliders scrambling to find the guy they’ve spent five episodes tracking down. Helping them is the biggest anomaly I’ve seen in Sliders in a good long while — a friendly, helpful cop (Ben Jones). He tips off the gang to Colin’s heist without acting like a storm trooper and even helps the Sliders avoid the legal aftermath.

But what is the aftermath? Turns out Colin isn’t the burglar everyone thinks he is, because he’s stacked the coffin with Butterball turkeys instead of bodies. Susannah and her mother (I guess they travel in packs from world to world) are arrested, Colin is revealed as the innocent genius he is, and Rembrandt gets a new playmate to dress and teach pop culture.

“Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” is well-paced and engaging, with plenty of laughs and enough parallel world references to satiate the alt-history junkies watching the show (the cryo-morgue is named after Clarence Birdseye, inventor of flash-frozen food). David Peckinpah does a fine job directing the action (it’s easy when you conceive the story) and Danny Lux even pumps out some above average music this time around; glad to know he can do both drama and comedy when the needs arises.

It’s not quite perfect — the jibes at Canada go from being silly to overbearing and it’s hard to believe the entire world has monitoring devices grafted to their skeleton — but it’s definitely fun. I hope any future cast changes are treated with this level of fun and competence, because what came before was — dare I say it? — a little soul-crushing.

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