Net Worth

"I don't believe it. We've been here two minutes!" — Quinn commenting on Maggie's uncanny ability to find trouble.

Review by Mike Truman


Not too long ago, an Australian fellow by the name of Baz Luhrmann decided William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet was in dire need of modernization. So he brought it into the present, added transvestites and Leonardo DiCaprio and appalled many an English professor across this country’s college campuses (not to mention a gaggle of film critics.) The producers of Sliders analyzed this and discovered Luhrmann’s fatal mistake — he didn’t modernize it enough. Sadly, their efforts resulted in a product that is all too fittingly described as tragedy.

“Net Worth” is a tale of two star cross’d lovers whose forbidden love is fostered over that most romantic of mediums, the Internet. Here the Capulets and the Montagues have been replaced by on-liners and off-liners, i.e. people who spend all their waking moments on computers, as opposed to those who choose to live as hillbillies. One would think there’d be some sort of middle ground between these extremes, but none is presented. This figurative wall is buttressed by an actual one — the two societies do not mingle, cut off by tubes and gates that are almost never opened. Joanne (Hayley Dumond) is an on-liner; Rick (Christian Oliver) is an off-liner. Rick and Joanne. It’s not quite as poetic as the original, but it is modern!

It’s never quite explained what’s caused such a ridiculous world, but the Sliders encounter both sides of it when the vortex opens right in the middle of a pane of glass, splitting the party in ‘twain. Since the vortex also has the magical property of opening at the Perfect Time™, our two guest stars are about to meet in person when the Sliders arrive. Behind the safety of the glass, Quinn is mistaken for Rick while the real deal fends off thugs with Maggie and Colin.

It doesn’t take too long for Joanne to realize she’s been had, but long enough to introduce us to all the lingo of this world. You see, their language is almost as foreign to us as that of Shakespeare’s time. There’s talk of digidise, ret-write, and F2F as well as new definitions for more common words like “naked.” And just as you giggled in 10th grade when Capulet declared “Give me my long sword, ho!” you’ll double over when Joanne declares there is “no way that my Rick is a ‘cracker.'”

Joanne doesn’t know her BFF Rick is an off-liner with a knack for picking up WiFi with his homemade laptop. (You just know Colin is jealous.) With the help of our Sliders, or maybe it’s the other way around, the two finally meet. Things are awkward, made all the more so by the four strangers shooting the breeze in the living room while they try to make a human connection. The tension is broken when the thugs return, abduct Joanne, and fire a missile into the ceiling. The thugs aren’t terribly bright, taking Joanne back to her place so they can buy knickknacks off of eBay. Our heroes redouble their efforts to make love happen, beat up the thugs, and save the day. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, our young lovers will live… in a shack. Viewers are left reaching for the vials of poison.

Oh, where to begin? In an episode that fails in so many ways, it’s hard to find its most offending attribute. One candidate is the underdeveloped – and largely empty – world it presents. Even if we accept the majority of on-liners have plugged themselves in to a chair, potentially sedate for the remainder of their lives, what became of the rest of humanity? Why are the off-liners confined to hidden camps instead of dominating all spaces in between? We can’t possibly believe roving gangs of scavengers have driven the off-liners into hiding, especially ones as inept and comical as those revealed to us in the form of Jack (Mark Sheppard) and his crew. They’re clowns, right down to the face paint.

As to the on-liners, how do they get by? Despite their immersion in all things technical, they themselves are not machines. By Rick’s own admittance, the off-liners are essentially dead to them. They have no contact, yet someone has to be producing their goods, running their power plants, and growing their food. One of the things that may have been of interest to us is the digital world these people inhabit, but that’s never revealed to us. Instead, we are presented with the usual backlots littered with junk while some half-hearted CGI is applied to make it look futuristic.

Given that the story ends with Joanne leaving her on-line world for Rick’s, I can only infer the plague is only upon her house. Is this a critique of our ever-increasing reliance on computers for interaction? If that was the intent, they missed the mark. There are elements of this theme in Joanne’s inability to talk with Rick without the Internet as a chaperone. However, that is distinctly undercut by Quinn’s experiences with her. She has no trouble making out with him upon meeting him. This implies she’s had human interaction. Then again, if there’s one thing the Internet has already proven itself expert at, it is sex.

No, the worst sin committed here is that it’s just dull. Like The Dying Fields before it, I’m asked to care about two people I’ve never seen before while the characters I do relate to are shunted off to the side. It doesn’t help that the episode essentially ends midway through the third act with Rick and Joanne meeting. Aside from the unintentional variety, the episode is largely humorless. “Leave it to Beaver” cracks aren’t cutting it, and the Canada jokes wore out their welcome much earlier this season.

Conflict for Quinn and company is minimal and the villains they do face are dispensed with ease. Jack has slightly more charisma than your average stock bad guy, but not enough to overcome his diminutive size and eye shadow. If you’re going to waste our time with generic thugs, at least give us a small charge and bring back El Sid. Oh, and you might want to try something less destructive than a rocket launcher if you only want to slow down our heroes, instead of, say, blow them to bits.

It’s too bad the show’s producers have suffered so much turnover, otherwise someone might have realized that Sliders had already done Romeo and Juliet, and successfully at that. It was called Obsession.

A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, but “Net Worth” is a real stinker.

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