Prince of Wails

"Who's James Brown?" — Prince Harold and Rebecca.

Review by Matt Hutaff


B-
Good

Didn’t I just watch this?

Here we are, two episodes into the series and we’re starting to see a pattern. This isn’t a good thing; a new show shouldn’t be revisiting material we’ve just seen in the pilot. Yet here Prince of Wails is, a spirited and occasionally scathing romp that nonetheless feels compelled to borrow from its source material the already clichéd notion of revolution.

In interviews, series co-creator Tracy Tormé has talked openly about the idea of a world where the United States lost the Revolutionary War as the genesis of the show.

“The only thing holding the army together at that time was [George] Washington,” he said in a 1995 Mercury News article (the article, incidentally, that drew me to the show). “So, if any of those eight guys is any kind of decent shot, Washington’s killed, the revolution is over, none of us are here and there is no United States.”

This is Tormé’s vision made manifest. Washington is hung as a traitor, and we find ourselves in a whole new world.

What exactly are the Colonies up to nowadays? Well, for starters, they’re the British States of America, and they extend all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Without the successful American Revolution, apparently, the major European revolutions were never brought to fruition. As a result, the world is governed in the spirit of colonialism; which is, to say, four piddly countries own territories that encompass the globe.

Now, ignore the likelihood of this. Also ignore the likelihood that Spain wouldn’t continue to crawl through the Southwest and colonize the Pacific for the King and Queen of Spain, let alone the egregious error of San Francisco being named San Francisco here (Francis Drake claimed it as Nova Albion for the British crown). This isn’t a history lesson, it’s action-adventure satire, and on those merits the show manages to entertain. But after the pilot and the over the top Summer of Love, shouldn’t we start to get into the dirt with these characters?

The writers of this episode, after realizing they don’t have enough material to make fun of England for 45 minutes, sandwiched a new American Revolution conveniently based in San Francisco (like the pilot) with a totally unlikely double in power (Arturo, again like in the pilot) as well.

Hour-long dramas, especially of the sci-fi variety, all too often rely on the plot to carry the story from beginning to end instead of the characters. Unfortunately, there just isn’t as much of a gimmick that Sliders can fall back on — the timer tells them how much time they have at the beginning and that’s pretty much it. As much as I loathe Trek Technobabble™ at least the writers can sponge some imaginary drama from it.

The Sliders, however, are just kind of along for the ride. After a slippery escape from a world where San Francisco is buried under a couple hundred feet of water (possibly the tidal wave bookend world last seen in Summer of Love; they’re wearing the same clothes), Wade is almost run down by a car in front of the Benedict Arnold Bank. As the driver gets out and scolds her, the others look around and see British style dress, phone booths and mannerisms.

Anger quickly to turns to apprehension for the car owner as he recognizes Arturo. Whatever Arturo is on this world, he’s powerful enough to warrant choice luxury accommodations, brand new suits for all, the best foods and every contemporary periodical in the country. Arturo grabs the national paper while Wade, whose flightiness was securely established in Summer of Love, begins pouring over the tabloids.

British tabloids are always amusing and this one is no exception — the prince of Greater Britain has some nasty habits, most of which revolve around his sexual appetites with extremely young and extremely old women.

Wade’s “research” is interrupted when Rembrandt turns on the television and sees Arturo’s doppelganger giving a live speech. Arturo’s double is the Sheriff of the Western Americas, quite a powerful post, and he speaks out every day as a way of propaganda. The show is a hilarious send-up of Rush Limbaugh’s, right down to the patriotic set colors and wall of books written by Arturo. The book’s title? Everything I Say is Right. Geesh. Is someone not a fan of hard-core, right-wing Conservatives? Perish the thought!

The four wisely decide to take a car and leave as quickly as possible (but not before filling the car’s trunk with cheeses and all the money in the cash register). Arturo’s diligent research pays off as he learns the historical background of this world, albeit at the expense of the others who must push him in the car when it breaks down. The Sliders find themselves lost in the woods where Oakland would be, and no sooner do they realize the hopelessness of their situation does the Army come marching up. Oakland is, after all, a restricted area (and it should be on Earth Prime, too).

Arturo’s presence mucks things up a bit. The Army asks if he’s hear to witness an inferred assassination set up by the Sheriff. Arturo, preferring not to interfere with the affairs of this world, tells them to go about their business. It’s Wade, however, who convinces her three friends that they’ve gotta do what’s right, regardless of the consequences.

They track the mark through the forest, pull him to the ground and tell him to shut up while soldiers look for him. Once they’re on the ground, Arturo tells them to halt the execution while Wade stares aghast the man lying rumpled in the ivy. It is Prince Harold (Ben Bode), the scallywag involved in all those sexual imbroglios Wade’s been reading up on. The fact that the Sheriff wants him dead is a very bad sign indeed.

The Sliders and the prince are then instantly apprehended by the local merry band of armed guerrillas living in the woods. They call themselves the Oakland Raiders, and even Rembrandt groans at that painful, painful pun. To save their asses, Quinn announces he’s captured the prince and Arturo as prisoners so that he can join their fight (or whatever they do).

Cross cut to the Sheriff, who’s livid to learn that his choice in Lieutenants (Quinn and Wade’s boss Michael Hurley, played by Gary Jones) is about as plausible as an Arturo double on this world. He wanted the prince dead, but he’ll play the hand he’s dealt since the Raiders immediately alert the press they have held him hostage.

The rest of the episode plays out pretty much as you’d expect. The prince is of course swayed to the side of the rebels after seeing how the other half lives. Quinn, despite only being around five days, becomes the leader of the rogue band (and makes out with one of the chicks) and robs a bunch of jewelry stores in Robin Hood fashion. Arturo’s resemblance to the Sheriff is used to overthrow his office and the Prince uses the Preamble of the Constitution and part of the Bill of Rights to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity in this great land of ours.

Oh, yeah, and Quinn’s captured and faces a grim countdown to extinction that naturally ends seconds before he needs to race and reconnect with the others.

The best elements of the show usually involve Prince Harold, who, as the silent voice of the Crown, gives a patient, quiet performance as the man who has to grow up all too quickly. Maybe it’s the British accent, maybe it’s the pleasant features this guy has on his face, but he’s just so damn comfortable to be with. It must be tough having the most popular monarch of the 20th century for a father.

I also really liked the way Harold sheepishly fell in love with Wade. She’s the one responsible for making sure he’s a prisoner, and here’s this leader of half the globe asking her if they might go out on a date. It’s bizarrely cute, like some kind of warped romantic comedy. Wade dashes his hopes at the end (would you take Queen over interdimensional traveler? I would, and I’m a guy), but at least he gets one of those hair-raising kisses before she leaves.

John Rhys-Davies also does a commendable job working with two different Arturos. Unlike the pilot we actually see this double, and if you thought our Arturo was a bombastic ass, you haven’t seen the Sheriff. What an ego this guy has!

It’s standard fare for everything else. Mark Mothersbaugh has some fun with the music, particularly during the burglaries and Quinn’s capture. But other than that and the over the top performances Jerry O’Connell and Rhys-Davies give, it makes you wonder: should I spend an hour and thirty minutes watching the beginning of the series, or a 45 minute rehash?

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One response to “Review: Prince of Wails”

  1. Donna says:

    Why didn’t the Sliders just stay here? They are in a nice world & must know by now that they are just spinning a roulette wheel!

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