Before I go on a rambling screed that has little to do with this episode, let me just say this: “Please Press One” is an improvement upon the last two weeks. Now let me forget about that immediately.
It does feel a little like the entire purpose here is to get Mallory to jump on the truck. And sure, why not, that’s fun, I guess. Physics-wise, it makes no sense. That’s fine, too. Did you see the new Hobbit movie? I guess Middle-Earth is on the moon or something, because I’m pretty sure people can’t really bounce like Creepy Baby Legolas and Kate from LOST do. Likewise, Mallory jumps from a completely different angle than the one he lands on. That’s fine, too. It looks good for the opening credits. Also fine.
How about those credits now, huh? Safe to say Rembrandt sounds amazing, even if he’s a little bad at the whisper. I like the more team-oriented take this season has— the faces in the vortex is nice. It adds an epically cheesy (or is that cheesily epic?) feel the show barely has the right to offer. But the whole “look at us we are together” theme of the credits works with the five billion trillion times Rembrandt yells “WE ARE A TEAM” at Mallory, in this episode and most others.
Sliders’ credits have always been a little bit funny— they’ve always existed in a complete disconnect from the show itself. It’s that old “no, trust us, we’re an action show!” mentality. Season One was the most ridiculous of these— pumping beats promising EXPLOSIONS that only exist in the Pilot. But then, this is a show being made in the 90s. It’s quaint that we even have a credits sequence— they don’t really exist anymore. It’s yet another case of this show being a time capsule. A funny little reminder of what television used to be.
TV is different now— thankfully the bar has been raised. There are freshman student videos made better than Sliders. Sliders exists at the edge of modern television. Even SyFy’s house-made shows are better made (they just get cancelled before you can realize that it’s true). But that’s not really an excuse— Farscape is being made at this point in Sliders’ run, and it’s constantly blowing Sliders out of the water weekly.
Part of this is due to Sliders roots in the cult sci-fi “hit” tradition— more like the first two seasons of the X-Files before they got money. The Doctor Who TV Movie (made in 1996) is in the same vein as well— and look how it’s shot in Vancouver and uses a lot of the same bit actors (as does the X-Files, come to think of it). So yes, Sliders comes from the mid-90s search for the purposefully campy hit. Yet too often that meant lazily camp. Even in the early days Sliders was no exception— “Time Again & World” would never be allowed on TV today. But there it remains— a testament to the worst impulses the show has to offer.
The other part of Sliders’ problem is budget. I’ve thought long and hard recently (obviously, maybe) about why the show is so adamant about being nothing like the 1st season, even as its producers swear they’re making the show come full-circle or whatever. And really, it’s down to story ideas, but it’s also down to the amount of things that happen in any given episode. With less budget, you can go less places. Think about “Summer of Love”— there are so many different locations, different bits of action. It’s not willy-nilly, it all works to serve the story.
But now there’s no money to do that. It all has to be in the Universal Backlot. And now, apparently, it always has to be in Hill Valley. Every shop, every church, every restaurant, every room in the Multiverse is a redress of the Chandler Hotel set. These are the things the show “has” to do now because there’s no money to afford going any where else.
This is where the laziness ties in— because in a perfect world, budget isn’t enough of a constraint to make great television. Look at what the BBC was doing forever, or remember that Season Three of Star Trek still made “The Tholian Web.” Look at Doctor Who always. If you care enough, you can still bring it.
But no one cares to bring it anymore. Oh sure, the cast mostly does. Robert Floyd brings it. Tembi Locke brings it every now and then, despite the best intentions of the production team. Even Kari Wurher brings it, as much as she is able to. Every now and then Cleavant Derricks shows a little of the fire that made most of Season Four at all watchable.
But everyone else? Autopilot. And the show suffers. It turns out at-best-decent episodes like “Please Press One,” about which the best thing I have to say is that I am not actively made to rage out after watching it. But this isn’t good. This show made “World Killer” the year before. This show made “Luck of the Draw.” At this point, I have to constantly remind myself of this.
But let’s also remember what I said earlier— this show is a time capsule. Another one of the differences between Seasons One and Two and Four and Five is that of size. The ideas of “what sort of parallel earths should we look at” was completely different early on, and much larger. There it was the usual one-bullet-point ideas: “America is Russian,” “America is English,” “America is Woman,” “America is a Prison,” “America <3’s Rembrandt.”
But since Season Four, the focus is much, much smaller. It’s taking the fears of the 90s and making them into complete worlds. And so “Net Worth” is about the (albeit a little prescient) fear of Social Media, and creates an entire Earth where that fear is not only manifest, but is the entire whole of creation. “Data World” and “Virtual Slide” is much the same— a fear of reliance on technology made into the entire world. Cloning is sort of scary— and lo, “My Brother’s Keeper” is an episode where Cloning is King.
This “problem” continues into this season— the next run of episodes is going to be completely devoted to it. In this episode it’s a fear of Consumerism made into a Dystopic Universe of a Total Monopoly. It’s a mix of Microsoft-Paranoia and the Home Shopping Network. BowieBonds made flesh. Coming up we’ll have the Clinton-Lewinsky debacle writ-huge, and Video Game Consumption made a totality.
But look at the list of things there. The early season’s ideas are, more or less, the same as they’d be if you thought of the idea of Sliders in 2015. But the ideas in Season Five could only have been made in 1998-99. Which, along with the intensely drab clothes the team wears, dates the show so completely it is almost unwatchable, much like this:
Yes, yes, I’m sorry. But think about this— if you were born in 1992, would you understand any of the jokes he made? No, you wouldn’t— Heidi Fleiss and Lorena Bobbit have absolutely no part of the current cultural zeitgeist. But that’s the same zeitgeist that Season Five is tying itself to. The stranglehold of the 90s drags Sliders down to Ally McBeal-levels of remembrance, with M.A.N.T.I.S. levels of quality.
So yes— I spent an entire entry talking about anything but “Please Press One.” Like I said, that’s because it’s pretty boring. But it isn’t offensive, and that’s basically for one reason.
Finally, they figure out how to handle the whole “do we intervene” thing.
For a moment, it looks like they’re about to blow it again. It looks like Rembrandt, after making his big “this world is wrong because we accidentally did the one thing you aren’t supposed to do and made a mess for ourselves that probably would never happen ever to someone that actually lives here” speech, implies that Arlo and James will lead a revolution and overthrow the World’s Government.
This would be a problem. It’s a problem because I’ve seen nothing that really implies that this should happen. We don’t see anyone suffering because of the Government. Arlo lives a Cyber-Hobbit’s life by choice. James has spent six years in a waiting room again by choice. None of the people they encounter on the street seem like they are suffering— granted, they don’t even talk to the Sliders, but to be honest I probably wouldn’t talk to them either.
But if none of the world was expecting a revolution, there would be chaos. Indeed, no matter what that would be chaos. It would completely decimate the infrastructure of this world. People would lose everything. Governments (are there governments here) would collapse. Chaos would reign.
…which is exactly what Maggie says.
And so instead of world-ruining upheaval in the same of “Rembrandt Disagrees,” Maggie suggests a softer way: a quiet revolution where eschewing Data Universal is a choice, rather than the only way. This way, the Sliders aren’t changing much— that kind of thinking existed before them, they’re just serving as a guiding force to enlarge the movement. They are helping to spread ideas, options.
That’s much more palatable than the callous ignorance that usually passes for “the end of the episode” on this show. I prefer it tenfold.
In this way, of course, the show is still a time capsule to the late 90s. Because that sort of subdued optimism is something that can’t really happen anymore, in all parts of culture. Last time, I really took the show to task for its xenophobia. I realized later that I was perhaps slightly too harsh on it. Not for anything within the episode itself— that’s still a bunch of reactionary dreck.
Sliders is, of course, a pre-9/11 show. This usually has no bearing on it. The end of “Please Press One” is the positive side of this coin— the quiet revolution is a form of optimism that was firmly crushed in popular culture. The negative side of this coin is that shows like Sliders has less of a commitment to be delicate. That’s why “New Gods For Old” sat so poorly with me— it seems like it was made to appeal to the kind of person who didn’t vote for Obama because he was a Muslim. It is making entertainment out of a paranoia that leads to real death.
Of course it wasn’t made for that kind of person— it was made at a time before that person existed. In a way, this makes Sliders quaint. It exists in a time before the brightly colored paranoia of the 90s finally collapsed and gave way to real distrust. It isn’t really fair to hold “New Gods” (and for that matter, “California Reich,” which is morally pretty much the same episode) up to the moral standards of today.
Sliders simply isn’t for now. It’s for a time receding farther and farther into the distance. And that fading light is where it’s meant to be enjoyed. And so it is up to me (and all of us, of course) to enjoy it with that in mind.
If it is still worth being enjoyed at all, that is.
Next Week: I definitely had sexual relations with that woman (A Current Affair).
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