A Current Affair

"I did not have homicidal relations with that woman, Maggie Beckett." — President Williams.

Review by Ibrahim Ng


B-
Good

A Current AffairThere are times when I wonder why I’m watching the fifth season of a show that’s been disowned by both its creators and 75 per cent of its original cast. Then I come across something like “A Current Affair” — which holds a mirror up to our society’s obsession with celebrity culture, gossip, and politics — and remember why fans fought so hard to see more episodes of Sliders.

In fact, it’s comforting to see a script ripped straight from the first season playbook (and “Wag the Dog,” appropriately): when Maggie has a chance encounter with President Jefferson Williams (Eric Pierpoint), his staff seizes on the opportunity to create an affair between them as misdirection from an unpopular war in Europe. When Maggie refuses to participate in the farce, she’s kidnapped and forced to take part in the cover-up, leaving the rest of the Sliders try to rescue her.

A Current AffairDespite action that’s largely confined to studio sets, there’s a strong sense of world-building in Steve Stoliar’s script: the geopolitical, economical, and cultural landscape of this world is communicated effectively with props, dialogue, and snippets of news reports. As a viewer, you feel like this is a world where sensationalistic tabloid fare rules the media and where a massive, illegal war between the United States and Switzerland is considered irrelevant. (And that’s exactly how the administration likes it.)

As a result, this Earth feels lived-in, realistic. You’d think that would be the norm on a show about people traveling to parallel earths, but recent episodes like “Please Press One,” “The Great Work,” and “The Unstuck Man” beg to differ. So it’s encouraging when the Sliders production team looks back on its roots, takes them to heart, and manages to have some fun. I’m even impressed with the added teases of a media culture eager to rewrite and exploit the public narrative for their own amusement. It’s a reality shift that doesn’t need a timer, and I commend it.

A Current AffairThe social satire and the humor throughout this episode really bolster the first season vibe. Everyone’s relaxed and enjoying themselves and that comes across on screen. The news reports are well produced (far better than the ones we saw in season three, at least) and the on-the-scene expose between the GNN reporter and Maggie’s pregnant hillbilly double is outstanding. Even the lighting, costuming, and direction work in “A Current Affair’s” favor – it shows that the Sci-Fi Channel budget doesn’t mean the staff can’t craft network-level television.

Despite these efforts, however, the episode still misses out when it comes to doing something deeper and more meaningful with the core cast. While Mallory (who is still inexplicably introducing himself to others with his last name) shows he possesses a cunning mind and is more than up to the challenge of using news media to help Maggie, Diana and Rembrandt fade into the background once their amusement of Maggie’s predicament wears off. As a result, this is a primarily Maggie-driven outing; we watch her engage with the tabloid culture of this Earth, grudgingly tolerate her captivity, and proactively escape from Secret Service lockdown while Diana argues overs pixel resolution with our guest stars.

A Current AffairAnd the downside of following the first season playbook? You’re also captive to its tropes. This time around, the Sliders stumble into Bobby Hawks (Michael Manasseri playing Matt Drudge), the one person in this universe who’s not only qualified to help but who also has the flexible moral compass that lets him balk at violating his ethics while faking crime scene photos for complete strangers. There’s a strange dichotomy at play since Hawks comes across as fully-defined – you believe his character and his motivations – but he’s still ultimately a tool of the plot. All the guest-characters, from the President’s unscrupulous Chief of Staff (John Vargas) to the manipulative First Lady (Robin Riker), feel like real individuals. They have concerns, values, and intentions beyond the immediate requirements of the drama. But they never act on them in a believable fashion.

And because the other three characters don’t engage much with this media-soaked parallel culture, the story seems more myopic and narrow than it should. It could have been much more interesting, but I got the sense the writers saw their story mirrored President Bill Clinton’s scandal, patted themselves on the back for being topical, and settled for having Rembrandt, Diana, and Mallory walk back and forth between sets until the final scene arrived.

A Current AffairBut what a final scene! Instead of a tidy wrap-up where all the villains receive their just desserts, “A Current Affair” chooses a more layered conclusion. Hawks gets his moment to expose the government corruption and war crimes ignored by the media, only to get overshadowed by the Sliders’ requisite exit strategy.

It’s just right for Sliders, as is the overall plot and situation. This is a good episode, but with more detail, stronger characterization and more satirical humor, it would have been great.

Maybe even first season great.

 

 

 

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3 responses to “Review: A Current Affair”

  1. Avilos says:

    I remember not liking this episode when it aired as much as other fans. Seeing with the DVD release I liked it more. Mostly for the reason you said. It feels like a developed world. Largely due to the focus on media. Its always been a great storytelling device in film and television and its adds a sense of scope. This was sorely missing in most of Sliders’ run. Curious given that it aired during a time when Cable News saturation had already taken over.

    The big problem than and now is still that they lifted everything to closely from the Clinton Scandal and from Wag the Dog. The humor feels to much like a bad SNL sketch. Just copying crazy real life events, so crazy it writes itself. But thats lazy. It could have been used as inspiration without being such a close reflection of what was going on it. It just to on the nose. I think mostly because that whole scandal was so recent. Maybe if done a few years later it could have felt more fresh.

  2. hypnotoad72 says:

    If anything, “I did not have homicidal relations with that woman” just reeked the anti-Clinton sentiment I was hoping this story would not have directly exploited. I don’t mind politics (from any side) to a point, but making it blatant just kills the story. Regardless if I agree with the writer’s sentiment or not.

    Especially from a historical standpoint; not seeing it until yesterday, I was impressed with the story – until they had to make the stupid “homicidal” line. It wasn’t needed, the audience didn’t need to be patronized so heavyhandedly, et cetera…

    It’s otherwise a surprisingly well-written story (esp. for season 5), with a couple of twists I was not expecting.

    It probably didn’t get touched as a concept on FOX because a lot of FOX shows are the sort of tabloid trash they want people to drool over.

  3. lovelypeace says:

    I didn’t get an Anti-Clinton vibe and loved that the show poked fun at Clinton. It reminded me a lot of how the writers in the first season poked fun at Rush Limbaugh’s show during “the prince of Wails” episode.

    (When Sheriff Arturo had his ‘talk show’ where he was always right and had his books everywhere on the shelves behind him). If you know anything about Rush, then you know that JRD’s performance in that ‘show’ was dead on and brilliant. It was great satire.

    Yes, the “homicidal relationship” line was dumb and just awkward, but I loved the hand gestures! That was classic Clinton. Hillbilly Maggie was a great touch. And I loved how someone in that audience was wearing the ‘famous’ beret. Those are the kinds of details that make good satire and “dark humor”.

    Sliders blatantly mocked an aspect of modern political culture in the past (1995) and it was nice to see them do it again (in 1999.) This was definitely more like a season one or season two episode.

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