Review: Paradise Lost

"I hear you. I'm just not listening." — Quinn Mallory, or Fox Executive?

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When future fans look back on Sliders — assuming they manage to keep any — they will look back on this moment and declare that this was the week everyone gave up.

Talent, production, writers’ room — everybody quit. There are no positive aspects to point toward, nothing to build on for future episodes. This is a bottoming out of a great series and the chasse is so scraped that I’m not sure the car will ever run again.

Trouble begins at conception, as this episode should have never been conceived, let alone greenlit. It might help if “Paradise Lost” wasn’t an episode of Sliders; it closer resembles its former line-up partner, The X-Files. This isn’t an America where people never age; this is one isolated community that has somehow managed to keep its secret for fifty years. The only parallel history we can derive from this stunning revelation is that the US Government, particularly its postal and Internal Revenue Service, are run by the same people who approved of this storyline; i.e. idiots.

How do Paradise’s inhabitants keep their good health? Simple. They eat radioactive worm turd.

They eat radioactive worm turd.

I could type that sentence four hundred times and it still would not lose its impact. I don’t have enough adjectives to describe how asinine this idea is. All I have is what I saw: a giant, mutated worm that feeds on humans and secretes the elixir of life. It may be somewhat instructive, and amusing, to speculate on how Paradise’s residents discovered its great medicinal value.

“What do you think it is, Bud?”
“Looks like puddin’, I reckon.”
“Maybe it tastes like puddin’!”

Okay, that explains why they started eating it, and the hillbilly actors cast do make this leap of faith believable. But the next leap is even too far for me.

Where do the Sliders fit in? Not very well! They’re so non-essential that they’re not even in the teaser. When they do arrive, Quinn volunteers himself to pair up with the attractive Laurie (Lara Steinick) to find her missing co-worker (Todd Babcock). The others are left in town to discover the town’s horrible secret, which you’d think would be the worm. However, the worm is not kept secret from the viewer. For us, the twist is that the town never ages, which might have worked had it not been so transparent — or if they did anything to make us care. This town is loathsome, as are all of its inhabitants. We don’t know Laurie or her partner. The Sliders do not get an incentive to get involved until after Arturo disappears.

Until then, we’re forced to either track the worm with Quinn, search for clues with Arturo, or hang out in a greasy spoon with Wade and that other guy, oh yeah, Rembrandt (almost forgot his name what with all the screen time he gets). Wade, growing increasingly erratic, becomes infatuated with Parker (Will Schaub), the apish man who runs the restaurant. This disgusting love triangle plays itself out when we discover the woman we believe to be his mother is his wife! Talk about family fun for all.

You know what else is fun? Killing main characters. Quinn bit it last week, now it’s Arturo’s turn. Sadly, he’s deprived any dignity as he is forced to run around on a badly lit beach, pretending to be chased by a giant worm, devoured while our resident hicks look on and laugh.

Now, by all rights, he should be dead. He was eaten by a giant worm! We’ve already seen what happens to people who run afoul of this creature; they’re mangled, mutilated, and most importantly, dead. Not Arturo. Nor Laurie or even Michael. In these special cases, the worm decided to save them for later by placing them in suspended animation.

Who needs a Frigidaire, eh?

Don’t ask me how the worm does this, or how it does so without damaging its prey in any way. I can’t tell you. Neither can anyone else because it’s not explained. Nor does it really matter. Arturo and Laurie are safe, sound, and wrapped in Saran Wrap to preserve the freshness. I wish I was making a joke, but they are literally wrapped in Saran Wrap. To free them? Open the pouch. This brings new definition to high production values, because you’d have to be tripping to think this was a good idea.

Of course, tripping may be the hidden theme. Far too often, you can’t evaluate what’s going on due to numerous occasions where contradictory lines of dialogue are spoken. Were they written this way? Or did the actors blow the lines? In any event, no one bothered to fix them. The gem of the group is Parker’s offer to Wade to partake of the worm goo or else: “If you become one of us Wade, you’ll be sacrificed like the others.” Wow, sign me up!

No one fixed the lines because no one bothered to fix anything. Everything appears to be first take. Set lights showing up on camera on a dark beach with no source of natural light? Eh, leave them in. CGI effects that look like they were built on an Etch-a-Sketch? Quick, someone sign a product placement deal with the Ohio Art Company! Line up the CGI worm with the real life actors? It’s not going to help. We all saw how terrible the scarab came out last week, we probably can’t do any better. (Take a memo: if it’s outside your technical capacity, stop doing it.)

Not bad enough? Check out this doozy. While hunting the worm, Quinn and Laura note the sound of drumbeats. Up until now, I had assumed the drumbeat was the incidental music trying to build up tension as the worm drew closer and closer. Nope! The worm apparently travels with its own percussion unit.

There’s no refuge in the performances of the actors; they stink too. The most talented of the crew, John Rhys-Davies, is dispatched halfway through in the interests of providing an act break. The supporting cast is atrocious to the man. Surrounded by such mediocrity, the rest sink to its level. In their defense, there’s not much they can do with the material they have. How is Sabrina Lloyd supposed to sell Wade’s uncharacteristic attraction to Parker? Where will Jerry O’Connell find the right tone for lines like “I really suggest you stay there”? And how much depth of feeling should Rhys-Davies put into “Erg! Ack! Confound you!”?

Even in this train wreck, there were still chances to correct course and provide some reason for its existence. Quinn didn’t have to destroy the worm’s lair. There would have been a certain justice if the corrupted community was devoured by what had sustained it. It would also be the first moment in the episode where a moral choice had to be confronted. That kind of change would have cost them the opportunity to blow something up though, and we can’t have that.

It didn’t have to be this way. A society that manages to stay eternally youthful isn’t necessarily a bad idea. It raises great ethical questions in regards to population growth and our social security system. Parallels can be drawn to our own world and contradictions darkly illuminated. In other words, this story could have made us think. Instead, the only thinking we end up doing is deep pondering on how garbage like this makes it to the air. There is only one reasonable explanation.

Nobody cared.

  • Steven Applebaum

    Is this episode perhaps an homage/rip-off of Frank Herbert’s Dune?

  • pete5125

    No, Universals Pictures Camp Classic “Tremors”, and sadly B-Movie Tremors had higher production value

  • bob

    Doesn’t matter how bad this episode is it’s still better than the horrible miserable depressing episode known as Invasion. I hate it so much. I hate that stupid kromagg episode.