"Real human interaction has been on the out for years. Those damn chat rooms, I think." — Arlo
Review by Ibrahim Ng
In many ways, “Please Press One” is a total deconstruction of the Sliders concept. It regurgitates the Sliders trope where the cast topples an oppressive regime — only this time it’s an empty rehash where every ounce of social commentary, excitement, characterization, humor, or charm have been subtracted, leaving behind an empty echo of something better.
Which is a shame, since the premise is sound. Maggie gets stuck in the customer service experience from hell on a world where one monolithic company controls almost every level of human interaction. Data Universal dominates the world’s food, shelter, and clothing, making such items available only through mandatory credit plans. Maggie’s locked up in a cell and faced with a cheerfully unhelpful (and bipolar) customer service representative… all for attempting to use cash.
Maggie’s confrontation with relentless bureaucracy is terrific, but the episode quickly abandons any further world building in favor of filming cheap action sequences and portraying Data Universal as just another generic evil corporation that does evil things because it can. Instead of seeing Maggie exploring how a faceless retail culture has overwhelmed this world, she runs down corridors and blows up doors while the other Sliders try to rescue her. Isolated to these dull hallways, the action’s small-scale at best; Maggie looks particularly ridiculous running from the deadly menace of a remote controlled toy car that shoots lasers. The classic Sliders formula is here but no content has been added. The episode has no interest in defining Data Universal beyond the vaguest terms and these sequences have all the excitement of a jogging video played at half-speed.
The best episodes of Sliders feature guest characters who add depth and insight to parallel worlds. Here we’re treated to roles that actually drain plausibility from the surroundings with every scene they’re in. 5579-A (Maury Ginsburg) is an intriguing artificial intelligence: the face of Maggie’s customer service experience, who demands precise information and identification, but with pleasantries and voiced concern to soften the intrusiveness of Data Universal. But little about 5579-A withstands scrutiny: in some scenes, he’s played as a computer program executing his function and becoming sinister when Maggie’s lack of credit history is discovered. Then it turns out he has a personality and feels friendship towards Maggie — in which case, it’s not clear whether his more antagonistic behavior is part of that personality or programming he can’t override. The script raises these questions but never addresses them. 5579-A behaves as each scene requires him to: alternatively friendly or malicious, until it’s impossible to ignore that 5579-A is simply the function of a formulaic plot.
And then there’s Arlo (J.D. Cullum), the homeless man Rembrandt, Diana and Mallory stumble across. Fortunately, this chance encounter used to have a high position in Data Universal, has codes to get into any Data Universal facility, and has all the access needed to defeat and control the corporation. It’s a good thing Arlo prefers wandering the streets in rags and looking to become a plot device instead of using any of the resources at his disposal!
With so little story, the regular characters find themselves tugged back and forth to stretch things out. Maggie, held captive by 5579-A, is at first openly resistant. She rants about how she’s constantly being captured and threatened by parallel cultures and she’s fed up with it. Then she submits to the customer service process anyway. There’s no greater purpose to her defiance, it just fills a scene with dialogue. Then there’s Rembrandt. After Mallory has successfully hijacked and hot-wired a van to use for rescuing Maggie, Rembrandt proceeds to show his appreciation by chastising Mallory for having a criminal past. Coming from a guy who routinely raids his doubles’ bank accounts, that means a lot.
This scene is as close to characterization as “Please Press One” gets, and all it can offer is an interpersonal exchange that doesn’t affect the story and isn’t remotely relevant to the themes and issues raised by the plot. Eventually, the episode lumbers to a ludicrous ending where Maggie is rescued and declares that the Sliders have accomplished a great deal. At the very least, some general contractors will have some work patching and painting the low-budget halls of Data Universal.
By the end, “Please Press One” has completely reduced the Sliders formula to the most basic elements. It has taken every almost every element of the traditional Sliders plot — dystopian regimes, the Sliders randomly encountering well-connected people, victory over establishment agencies
— and it has presented them without substance, without ideas, without insight, without any purpose or deeper meaning beyond fulfilling the basic requirements of the plot.
“Please Press One” lays Sliders bare, and for that, it can have one-star.
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