Dead Man Sliding

"Now there is no way that that is me. That guy is huge." — Quinn's double, in a hilarious New York accent (even though he's still from San Francisco).

Review by Matt Hutaff


Turn on the boob tube nowadays and you’ll be hard pressed not to find some form of “Voyeur TV,” as I like to call it. Endless talk shows parading those most in need of sterilization in front of a live studio audience, sensational news that glosses over things of importance to highlight the latest dog in a well, and court television.

For some reason, the American psyche has latched on to court television almost since the minute it was legalized in courtrooms. People seem to think interesting things happen when you’re watching a trial. The possibility that the defendant will pull the shiv he fashioned in C Block out of his boot and attack the bailiff keeps people glued to the likes of Judge Judy, Divorce Court, Judge Joe Brown, et al. It makes one pause and wonder, “would average people know they’re watching small claims if the word ‘judge’ wasn’t in the title of the show?”

It’s this kind of atmosphere “Dead Man Sliding” feeds off of. What if a world so enamored with watching another person sentence to die turned it into a game show complete with audience participation?

It doesn’t seem too far fetched. It’s a common grumbling that the law system in the United States is out of control. At a time when the electorate is completely uninformed on the inner-workings of its own government, an initiative to outlaw, well, the law, could be popular enough to make its way onto ballots. If California can ban gay marriages it can do just about anything.

One of the main things that Sliders found wanting in its third season was social satire. Sitcoms have the luxury of the easy laugh; drama has to make you laugh at society around you. No pratfalls, no double takes, only looking at how ridiculous the social structure really is. “Dead Man Sliding” succeeds in this by creating an America that has taken a seemingly logical idea — tort reform — and pushing it to such an absurd level (while at the same time keeping it believable) that the viewer really gets a chance to think about just how good a system we have.

I’m instantly drawn to comparisons of Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia. In it, Moore outlines a society perfect in meeting the needs of its citizens in every way. There is no crime, as there is no need for crime. In this way I can see similarities with Luck of the Draw as well.

What if there was no crime? Sounds like a nice proposition. I wouldn’t mind dropping my wallet by accident only to have it mailed to me, contents intact by a citizen who knows that if he’s caught keeping the wallet himself he’ll be publicly humiliated. While it’s a situation more governed by fear than anything else, it works — and you can’t dismiss the results.

This is the scenario Quinn and company find themselves in when they land in Hollywood, California. The new geospectrum stabilizer has deposited them in Southern California and the Sliders have decided to see the sites and take a chance to relax. Quinn spots a wallet loaded with cash sitting on the ground, and pausing to inspect it while noting that the people around him are almost afraid of it, he avoids a tranquilizer dart in a very funny scene that shows that the producers have the ability to inject humor when it’s needed.

In the nearby Royal Chancellor Hotel the four sit and relax with some of their vacation spoils when a bounty hunter named Taryn (Perrey Reeves) barges in and arrests Quinn. Apparently his double is not the man of science that Quinn is and the charges are steep — murder. Arturo, Wade and Rembrandt barely have enough time to make to the “courtroom” to assist Quinn in his trial.

And what a trial it is. Or is it more of a game show? It’s a bizarre hybrid; there’s a studio audience chanting for the kind of punishment they want, a strictly ornamental tribunal of judges and a carnival mentality orchestrated by the host, Skip Collins (Don Most). The prosecutor? Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs from Welcome Back Kotter. There is no defense except entertainment.

Arturo becomes Quinn’s public defender of sorts and, after a video clip showing Quinn’s double beat the hell out of someone in an alley and take his money, they decide that the truth is the best option. Finally, the Sliders have a legitimate reason to explain their predicament to a group of people. All too often the show needlessly forced the cast to expose their identities, often sliding in front of people (Time Again and World) or discussing it for no particular reason. Kudos go to Nan Hagen for utilizing a truly inventive defense strategy.

When Quinn is predictably found guilty and sentenced to death by guillotine (too bad he didn’t pick door number three), it’s up to the rest of the Sliders to track down his less than upstanding double, a welder who also gambles by day at the Del Mar racetracks and sleeps the night away in a barmaid’s home. I’ve heard some people complain that Quinn’s doubles should all be intellects. These are fans who find it completely logical that Arturo’s double is the Sheriff of the Western Americas and that Rembrandt’s double is the head of the FBI, but Quinn’s double isn’t a paragon of the physics circle? Please. The beautiful thing about doubles is that each one presents a new personality, a new twist on a familiar face. Besides, Quinn already had a tagging double in The King is Back, remember?

The rest of the episode is fairly straightforward, with an insightful discussion between Rembrandt and Arturo over the way this particular world handles crime that again harkens back to Luck of the Draw. It just goes to show that ideology doesn’t need to be heavy-handed, as the two characters debate the merits of a society that is so fed up with crime that they simply refuse to grant leeway to suspects. It sounds so rational, in fact, that I wouldn’t mind seeing such a system in place. You know science fiction has worked when it makes you think, and “Dead Man Sliding” succeeds.

And of course, Quinn’s double is hilarious.

So it turns out that the guy behind the television show forged the tape, which alludes to evidence tampering. While I find it a little implausible that a crappy desktop computer can successfully render one man’s face and hair over another so flawlessly, it works for me. And predictably, Taryn ends up helping bust Quinn out of jail. The escape scene is over-the-top. Most of the production is. It just doesn’t matter. “Dead Man Sliding” is so damn funny and entertaining, while at the same time maintaining what made the first two seasons so interesting, that even when Quinn and company make it to alien bookend world, you can’t help but smile.

You can tell the cast had fun with this one. So did I. If only the producers could realize smart sci-fi can be funny and have action, too. Then the whole season would be this good.

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