Rules of the Game

"This ranks very high on the weird meter." — Quinn, describing the whole bizarre business of it all.

Review by Matt Hutaff


“Rules of the Game” is the third season premiere in the same way U.S. Marshals was a sequel to The Fugitive. It is and it isn’t.

I’m a die-hard Sliders fan now, but I wasn’t always. In fact, it took me until late 1997 that my affinity with the show became a borderline obsession. But for some reason, I remember asking a girl who I really didn’t even know to tape this episode for me because I’d be otherwise detained in a drunken fraternity ritual.

I remember sitting down with the tape and popping it in my VCR and actually being excited. To me, this was a really great episode! Maybe it was the excitement level that a show I was actually into had been renewed for another season; most television programs I enjoy don’t last too long. Maybe it was any number of things, but I liked “Rules of the Game.” I’m thinking that’s the same spirit with which most people say this episode is good have when they reflect upon it. Fortunately, I have the wisdom of the ages behind me to be able to look back at this episode and say, “Hmmm, not bad.”

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t find this outing to be particularly thought provoking or intellectually stimulating in any way. It’s entertaining, though. I was certainly watching the whole time. At the end, though, when I popped the tape out, I had to think back to an hour ago and wonder what I had just watched.

For those of you who don’t know, production-wise, “Rules of the Game” was supposed to air second, after Double Cross. That’s why I say it isn’t much of a season opener. Nothing truly innovative happens, no new plot twists are introduced; there isn’t much of a radical change of anything. It just kind of sits there, happy that it’s doing its job and wondering when the break is so it can go do something else.

With the exception of Rembrandt’s military background. I figure that the powers-that-be were tired of trying to keep Rembrandt what he was — mainly a washed up entertainer who spent his entire life wishing he could be James Brown or Michael Jackson — and decided to throw all continuity to the wind by giving Rembrandt a tour in the Navy. I don’t know when this could have occurred, because Rembrandt had a band when he was in his teens and seems to have spent his entire adult life working in the R&B business, but now good ol’ Rembrandt has enough training to look at a car and see if it’s rigged to a bomb? Please. Besides, didn’t Rembrandt say he couldn’t swim in Summer of Love? A show can have action-adventure elements while remaining true to the core characters. Sticking Rembrandt in a situation that by any natural definition goes against his very character is ridiculous and ultimately self-defeating. It’s like saying Doc Brown was at one point a Navy SEAL. It just doesn’t add up.

Tracy Tormé summed it up by calling this “video game world.” And it is, replete with dangerous androids that shoot lasers, big tall spiky things that are attached to a hopscotch game in an alley, death, mayhem and all sorts of craziness. Unfortunately, the episode seems to think that this is the way to go instead of social satire and alternate history stories that are pretty much the premise of the show. It’s evident that the “it’s a parallel world, nobody cares!” mentality has already taken roost by the time production began for “Rules of the Game.”

And yet, despite all of this, I can’t help but enjoy watching. The show starts gamely enough, with the Sliders landing inside a moving airplane. After a month on Igloo World, the foursome is more than happy to sit down, relax and grab some food on what looks to be a first-class flight, except for Wade, who is afraid to fly.

“Sliding between parallel worlds doesn’t bother you, but flying does?” Quinn asks.

“You have no idea,” Wade says before heading to the bathroom.

It turns out the plane is an elaborate simulation, and that the Sliders have landed smack in the middle of the popular Game, where weapons and wit are the key to survival. Apparently, the Game is the most popular sport in America since all other sports have been banned. It’s a panacea for a populace that was once on the verge of civil war. It’s good to know that the writers have all but abandoned realistic scenarios about parallel cultures. What possible explanation could they have for a United States that can ban all sports? Hell, the U.S. can’t even ban Oprah. I suppose I should be grateful that there’s any mention to the parallel culture at all, since it later becomes a rare commodity.

Forced to take up arms and move through the walled-off portions of the city that has become the Game, Arturo is blinded by a rogue laser blast and Rembrandt becomes his guide. There are some good scenes between the two. Arturo has always been a pompous ass who thinks the sun rises and sets around his movements, so it makes sense that when he can’t see any more that he would want help from no one. Eventually the Sliders make it to a safe haven where a despondent Professor admits to Quinn that he always wished for a student like him. It’s little touches like this that pull mediocre stories out of the quagmire. Characterization is essential to a small ensemble cast and this episode makes do.

Separated by accident, Quinn and Wade stumble through the Game while Rembrandt and Arturo move to meet up with them. One of the most irritating things about this episode is that four completely inexperienced people with few weapons and even less training are able to maneuver through a deadly maze of obstacles while seasoned vets of the Game get killed off left and right. Especially when the Sliders are split in half and Arturo cannot see… come on.

There’s a small sub-story involving an attractive woman who will obviously die by the end of the episode. She helps the Sliders find sanctuary and when her partners are killed teams up with Wade and Quinn to make it to the finish line. And when she dies, Quinn and Rembrandt go through a farcical MacGyver-esque plan to make sure her family wins the five million dollars she’s entitled to as winner of the Game.

It’s a simple story, and it doesn’t provide any lasting emotional depth for the characters. And in every way “Rules of the Game” presses the Reset button — Arturo regains his eyesight, and the four slide in typical “ride into the sunset” fashion. And yet it’s watchable. “Rules of the Game” isn’t terrible television; it’s actually decent. It has the luxury of being lumped in a group of really stand-out episodes and as a result it comes off as being a little more substantial than it should. As a guy, I enjoyed the weird gimmicks and escape scenarios that the show presented me. I could see myself getting into a game of Survival like that. Maybe that’s why people blow perfectly good money on paintball or laser tag. This is a show that appeals to those people.

It means well. It’s a guilty pleasure. And that’s about it.

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