“No offense, but your boyfriend isn’t much of a housekeeper.” — Mallory, on the cleanliness of Harrell’s ransacked apartment.
Review by Ibrahim Ng
If “Please Press One” is an example of how low-budgeted shows shouldn’t do action, “The Java Jive” demonstrates why low-budgeted shows shouldn’t do musicals. “Jive” is a riff on gangster movies set in the 30’s during the American Prohibition, only on this particular parallel Earth, it isn’t just alcohol that’s outlawed; red meat, tobacco and caffeine are all banned under the (oddly named) Gephardt Act. The blowback should be obvious to anyone with a passing knowledge of American history – speakeasies, criminal conspiracy, and corrupt cops.
Low on funds, the Sliders find themselves working at the Hippo Club, a speakeasy doubling as a redressed Chandler Hotel. With Rembrandt on the piano, Mallory behind the bar, and Maggie and Diana as wait staff, the majority of this episode’s running length is so spent focusing on music, it’s the only thing keeping the audience awake during the lifeless action sequences.
Danny Lux’s score is predominantly jazz-based this week, but even his stabs at inventiveness don’t change the fact that the Sliders simply have nothing to do. They stand around the club or an apartment waiting for the plot – gangsters (and a Rembrandt double!) on the hunt for synthetic caffeine – to develop. It never does; these faceless and anonymous goons engage in tedious intrigue by kidnapping Angie (Jennifer Leigh Warren), the jazz club owner who employs our heroes. After a few act breaks and an underwhelming gunfight, the Sliders get her back and the bad guys get what they deserve. The End.
There’s simply nothing at stake here: the characters aren’t emotionally involved, the villains are too generic to be threatening and there is nothing at risk of being lost. What am I supposed to worry about, that the Hippo Club might go out of business? That Dropper Daddy (Dwayne Adway) corners the market on a cup of joe? If it makes no difference to the Sliders, why should it to me?
Angie is a preposterous character. She loses her boyfriend Harrell (Shane Stevens) in the opening scene but openly flirts with Rembrandt minutes later, randomly hiring him and the Sliders to take part in illegal coffee distribution without knowing she can trust them. And despite running into a Rembrandt double (the first since The Alternateville Horror), she never questions why Rembrandt has an identical twin out to kill her.
Not that the regulars are any better; Maggie and Rembrandt’s disdain for Angie’s exploits is downright bizarre. Considering they’ve looted dead worlds, broken into research labs, robbed ATMs, and left a string of unpaid hotel bills across the multiverse, what right do they have to judge Angie when they know next to nothing about her or her world?
Mallory is equally appalling. Despite Angie offering the Sliders on-the-spot employment and an apartment to stay in, Mallory is shockingly callous about Harrell’s death. Angie claims everyone loved him, he replies that someone didn’t. Angie lets them stay in Harrell’s apartment, Mallory complains about the mess. Do the creators want Mallory to be a hateful, unpleasant little creep? What happened to the sensitive, clever, and devious fellow we just saw in “A Current Affair”?
But who cares, right? I mean, this is the episode where Rembrandt engages with music again! He gets to be a performer and put on a show! This should be massively important. But it isn’t.
Aside from giving Rembrandt a chance to sit at a piano and mention his past, the musical numbers have no bearing on the overall direction of “Jive” and don’t further The Cryin’ Man’s character one inch. Couldn’t there have been some drama here? Maybe tempt Rembrandt to give up sliding and return to his roots as a musician? Oh, right, this is the fifth season of Sliders, where the producers carefully vet scripts to make sure no characterization slips through.
With a heavy focus on the Hippo Club and its machinations, you’d think we’d get some insight into the parallel culture of this world, where healthy living is the law. Instead, we get incredibly generic and uninspiring jazz numbers with the dullest of lyrics and a total absence of artistry. The dance choreography is clumsy and poor and the overall energy of the musical performances is rock bottom. It is utterly baffling; everything in this episode is focused on the music, and yet the music is so unbearable to listen to. Keith Damron’s Year 5 Journal for this episode talks about the struggle to stage a musical production on a low budget. They shouldn’t have bothered; the result was always going to be amateurish for this kind of money.
The money should have gone to a better script that would actually explore and confront the nature of this world from a cultural and moral point of view. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: talk is cheap. It’s cheap to write, it’s cheap to film, and talking would have done far more for “The Java Jive” than bargain basement jazz.
Imagine the Sliders landing on a world where healthy living is required by law: all candy, soft drinks, meats, liquors, and sugars are illegal, and Rembrandt is arrested for having a cholesterol level twelve times the legal limit. Imagine the Sliders forced to subsist on a vegetarian diet, and Maggie is approached as a fitness model while Mallory gets involved in a pork smuggling business.
What would happen if Diana remembered the formula for cola from a high school science project and considered the moral quandary of sharing it with this world? What kinds of attitudes to health and safety would people in such a world have? What would be at the cultural forefront of this kind of civilization?
Jazz numbers, tommy guns, top hats, 30’s costuming and a near-total lack of plot or character, according to “The Java Jive.” All style and no substance. What a waste of time. They had a great idea and proceeded to avoid exploring it entirely.