"This is the second weirdest hotel I've ever stayed in." — Rembrandt.
Review by Matt Hutaff
Like In Dino Veritas, “The Alternateville Horror” was devised as a “bottle show” — a budget-conscious way of using standing or minimal sets as a way to save money. Both episodes were designed on the cheap, yet both also outgrew their budgetary considerations to become much more. In the case of Veritas, it meant more dinosaur CGI, a broader story, and greater network appeal, airing during sweeps to impressive ratings. The end result was nonetheless a tight character piece in which the characterization trumps special effects.
The same can be said for “The Alternateville Horror.” It boasts great special effects, took two extra days to shoot because of its complexity, and taxed the crew to its limits, but in the end, the comic and dramatic moments make this another landmark episode. It goes to show filming on location doesn’t make the story, the story does.
So what is the story? Ghosts! Well, to be more specific, people masquerading as ghosts. Trapped between realities, they arrived a few years ago and have been terrorizing the staff of the Chandler Hotel ever since. It’s scared away employees and customers alike, leaving only concierge Holly (Elyse Mirto) and her son Matthew (Colton James), until even he disappears into thin air.
The Sliders have no choice but to take up lodging in this creepshow when an overnight slide and some powerful acid rain force them into the lobby. Despite the previous occupants running out in terror, Holly’s all smiles, pointing out bathrobes with the “distinctive Chandler logo” and talking up the many facilities only a luxury resort can provide. After putting them up in their regular suite, Rembrandt remarks she should “seriously consider decaf.”
The rest of the slide plays out like a vignette between episodes. Rembrandt goes for a shave while Maggie fills the ice bucket, a little television is watched (to Colin’s amusement), and the Sliders share drinks at the bar. Sure, the beer may be a deep blue and topped off with oysters, but it’s a slice-of-life moment we never get to see. Downtime by its nature isn’t action-packed.
It gives Quinn time to think about their mission. Did he do the right thing bringing Colin along on this madcap journey? Do Rembrandt and Maggie want to settle down on a nice, peaceful world? They’ve come across a bunch in their travels, and he’d understand if they’re tired of the lifestyle.
Colin’s got issues of his own. “I’ve spent my whole life trying to adjust to my own world,” he says. “Now I’ve got a million more to deal with.” Upon seeing his first ghost, the remaining Sliders laugh it off, causing Colin to react; he’s already seen as the simpleton of the group because of how and where he was raised, but he’s “a man of science. Just like you, brother.” He wants to be taken seriously, too.
It’s hard not to when, shortly thereafter, ghosts start popping out of the woodwork. A severed head in the ice box, ghostly writing on the mirror, and floating beer mugs and chairs overwhelm Quinn’s skepticism and they investigate.
Another guest is there for the same reason. John Smith (apparently not a very common name on this world) has trucked in loads of equipment in his search for the truth behind the spectral apparitions everyone’s seeing. He annoys everyone by skulking about the hotel, Dustbustering soil and particulate samples from everyone’s footprints and just generally being an ass. Smith follows Colin until he disappears behind one of the hotel room doors, which, Holly eventually reveals, is the source of the disturbance.
It’s a wormhole, and the people trapped midstream between dimensions are doubles of our Sliders. Alt-Rembrandt is, oddly enough, a Professor-esque scientist whose search for anti-gravity “went a bit awry,” while Alt-Quinn is the obnoxious comic relief singer our Rembrandt was famous for in the first season. As for Maggie? Well, she’s a stripper. “Not a stripper, love,” she corrects. “Exotic dancer.”
Crisis comes when Colin enters the vortex, becoming unstuck between dimensions himself. His added mass is destabilizing an already precarious balance. (Remember when the writers would caution us about too much stuff in the wormhole? Looks like they had cause to be worried.) The wormhole is growing out of control and the Sliders need to find a way to neutralize the danger before the entire planet is consumed in its event horizon.
The solution is a novel and fun, requiring a Frankenstein-esque means of harnessing power. Quinn bravely leaps into the void himself, sending their counterparts home, closing the wormhole, and reuniting mother and son for the first time in two years. He even gets a free night’s stay out of it — what a bargain!
There are plenty of great little moments to recommend, such as Quinn and Holly’s discussion about lifestyle sliding affords, Maggie’s aversion to rats, and Colin’s aside about losing the timer (yes, it’s stolen in this episode as well). And much of the comedy comes from the Sliders’ incredulous attitudes toward Smith (Lance Wilson-White), particularly when he gets into techobabble arguments with Quinn. The science is smart; there’s even a curious little bit of dialog suggesting Colin might not be Quinn’s brother after all.
The one weak link is Colton James, who underperforms in comparison to the adults around him. I can’t fault that, though; he’s light years beyond the kid in The Good, the Bad, and the Wealthy.
The production crew admits to the budget reduction the show had in its move to the Sci-Fi Channel, but when episodes like “The Alternateville Horror” can showcase strong storytelling, good-natured humor, and excellent special effects for less money, I’m not concerned about the occasional bottle show.
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