Its a christmas miracle! Or a birthday present. Or luck, or chance. Or an illusion.
Tracy Tormé, who you might have heard of before, is best known for his brief tenure on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where he had a reputation for being “difficult,” and quit after a season and a half, taking his name off of most of his televised scripts. One of these episodes was called “The Big Goodbye,” an episode that used the then-new holodeck as an excuse to put all of the regulars in 20s gangster suits and have a romp around a detective novel. It was a decent episode, mostly kept aloft by the cast’s evident joy and getting to take off their smelly spandex for a week.
“The Java Jive,” oddly enough (since Tormé has absolutely nothing to do with this show anymore), has a similar vibe about it. It’s not great, it’s not life-changing. But there’s a spirit that’s present that’s hard not to be pulled in by. However the production team pulled this budget out of their ass (Keith Damron’s Year Five Journal goes into it a little, but not a ton), they did gold. We’ve got an episode that has locations that don’t make me instantly fall asleep. I swear the show is trying to induce hypnosis every time I see the word “Chandler” on screen.
In any case, here we have a streak of two episodes of Sliders that don’t make me want to rip my face off. Thats not to say that this week’s episode is any where near as good as “A Current Affair,” but this one has the bonus of the only offensive thing being a kind of obvious joke about “the white dude being flummoxed by a lowrider.” And even there, the problem is mostly that of all the people on this show, Mallory is the person you’d think would be the least flummoxed by a lowrider.
But anyways, here we have an episode that isn’t much like anything we’ve seen this season. So much more care is happening than usual. We have elaborate costuming, non-insulting gunplay, and singing and dancing! And you know what? The singing and dancing are good!
Really, it is truly wonderful to see Cleavant Derricks singing on this show again. Has it really been since “Asylum?” It’s like the reason the team didn’t believe his story about ” The King Is Back” is because they didn’t know he was a singer at all. Which brings me to the larger problem with this season that simple isn’t being addressed in any way, shape or form: who is Rembrandt? How is he doing? What is he thinking? Is he okay?
We don’t know, and no one is telling us. Every episode he spends doing one of two things: either extolling xenophobic nonsense or telling Mallory over and over that “they’re a team.” But he hasn’t talked about himself. He hasn’t said how he’s felt. We’ve spent all the time in the world finding out how Mallory feels, or how Diana is adapting to sliding. We’ve spent enough time as well with Maggie, as she wept about the life she’ll never have with Quinn. But lest we forget (and I know we won’t), Rembrandt is the only original member of this show left. Does he not deserve an episode where we talk about how this new phase of his adventure is affecting his life?
I guess we do eventually get that episode, but I will tell you now it is not the episode we were thinking of.
So for now we must content ourselves with the sound of his voice, and the fact that he looks really good in that gangster suit. We must content ourselves in the idea of a world with bootleg caffeine. I’m not sure why the lack of legal coffee on this world instantly leads to everyone dressing like it’s 1923, but I can’t really complain. One could argue that once Arturo’s “Almanac” left the show, the show stopped bothering with compelling alternate histories. That’s almost true, but what is just as true is the fact that you couldn’t even fill half a page of paper with worlds like these.
You could almost fill an entire page here, which is refreshing.
Yet still I am at a loss for words. Despite the clear enthusiasm the cast has for the material, or the setting, or whatever, there’s still not a lot going on. I can’t condemn this episode— it’s still made far better than almost anything else in the last three years of this show— but there’s nothing really happening, either. Not to mention the fact that “making coffee illegal” is something that has far wider reaching ramifications than just “making people need a black market for caffeine.” Coffee is a world wide commodity that is produced by small farms and workers picking coffee cherries under the blazing sun for all hours of the day. Climate and weather have massive import on their lives. Not to mention the supply and demand that the world now places on coffee. Our little first world devotion to “that perfect cup” is directly related to the well-being of thousands of people who we usually will never see.
So if coffee was illegal in the entire United States (thank God for Canada, I guess), that would impact everything. It would have far-reaching implications for the world’s economy, not to mention the livelihoods of the coffee farmers all around the world. But of course, Sliders isn’t interested in that. It’s interested in an excuse for a Gangster Movie. It’s Third Season logic all the way, under the classic blanket of “the government outlawed fun” idea. That idea is and has always been stupid. It ignores the world around us. Completely accidentally— because I’m sure no one bothered to think further than the next page on this— it reinforces the fact that Sliders is a show that cannot exist outside of the American Landscape that produced it. This has always been true, to a certain extent— remember “Prince of Wails?” But so far in the last two seasons, it’s commitment to engage in “outside culture” has not only dated it completely, but also placed it in a tiny little box. Wrapped in an American Flag.
“So here, watch The Java Jive,” I could say. “You’ll only be a little bored.” That gives it more points than say, the perennial punching bag “Time Again & World.” But is that enough to really recommend it? I can’t say that it is.
In this site’s official review for “This Slide of Paradise,” Mike Truman says that he’s “tired of giving Sliders points for showing up.” While I’m not exactly at that point (I certainly was at the end of last season, though— what a difference “Applied Physics” made!), I can’t really say that Sliders is doing anything other than showing up. Even last week’s episode, while ostensibly “a little better than the rest,” is so lacking of note that I can’t even remember what it was.
This show is almost over, and it’s already run out of gas. Sandahl Bergman aside, this show really needs a kick in the ass if it’s going to even make it to the finish line with any shred of dignity remaining.
Fortunately for me, I’m pretty sure it’s coming next week…
…Next Week: the first and last time, part one (The Return of Maggie Beckett)
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