This is a new season of Sliders! That’s reason for celebration, no matter what! And it’s a season premiere that actually treats itself as one! We’re on a new network, the Sci-Fi Channel! There’s a new creative team! There will be a new slider, part way through the season! There’s a new edict in the writer’s room: “Make It Smart.”
These are big things! Big, exciting things! Look, it’s called “Genesis.” In the beginning, was the Word.
The Word, however, was Kromagg.
So there we go. We know Sliders is an intensely nihilistic show. Not even just that, the thing gets downright sadistic. Remember “Into The Mystic”? There we were greeted with the one thing the characters wanted, when it was still a feasible goal. But it’s one thing to have made it Home and not to know it. It’s another thing to get Home, and have it taken away from you before your very eyes.
Quinn & Maggie, who’ve been traveling alone for three months (a pretty good nod to the fact that FOX originally wanted to air Sliders once a month as a sci-fi rom-com), finally make it back to Quinn’s Home. But it’s been overtaken by the Kromaggs, or at least a lower caste of ‘Maggs who look particularly devolved. Quinn & Maggie make it to the Chandler (I know, I know), only to find it destroyed, and Rembrandt & Wade are gone.
Not only that, but Quinn, while languishing in a Kromagg holding cell, runs into his Mom (played mercifully by Linda Henning instead of that Meltphaced Woman in Season Two). Quinn’s Mom lays some heavy shit on him: he is not from Our World. His parents put him with doubles of themselves (right? They explicitly say that they’re doubles of Quinn’s parents. So the cybervideo Quinn watches has some strangers in it because they’re younger versions of Quinn’s parents, right? That’s why they look different, but sort of similar? Right? Right? Keep this casting in mind for later, when it may or may not blow up in someone’s face), promising to return in the even that they defeated the Kromaggs.
Because it would seem that a large reason for the Kromagg Dynasty’s assault on the Multiverse is because of a deep and horrible civil war on the Tree-Housed Home World, between the regularly evolved human scientists, and the alternately evolved, but no less intelligent Kromaggs. And there’s a weapon, a secret weapon that the Sliders have to go on a journey to find. They’ve got the co-ordinates to find a part of the weapon: Quinn’s secret Brother.
There’s this show on FOX called Fringe. And if you call yourself a science fiction television fan, you already know that. You already watch it. And if you’ve seen Season Four of Sliders, you know what I’m about to talk about. Because Fringe, bless its heart, has pretty much xeroxed the Sliders playbook. But it’s upped the contrast, made things crystal clear. Made things stand out where before there was all grey.
What I’m talking about, you see, is a show’s willingness to reinvent itself. This has happened now and again in genre television over time. Doctor Who is probably the most obvious example of this, since a re-casting of the main character is written into the show’s framework. But I wouldn’t say it happens very often. Sliders’ contemporaries tried to pull this off. The X-Files killed off most of the characters in its big “mythology” it had been working on, but it never really took off, and the same ol’ coven of scary dudes ended up still running the show anyways. I also could not even count how many times The X-Files were closed and reopened, or Mulder & Scully were forced off the case, or blah blah blah nothing ever changes.
Here, we have change.
But do you know what’s going on with Fringe these days? A race of bald, super evolved humans has overtaken the Earth, enslaving the human race, getting humans to do the dirty work, dressing up as pretend Nazis, and doing strange experiments on other humans (and let’s not forget that it turned out one of the main characters was from a parallel universe).
What I’m saying is this: Sliders apparently has more influence than we thought? That’s arguable. Sliders in Season Four was playing with age-old sci-fi tropes just like it always has. But no one really remembers Sliders these days (it’s our job to be really annoying about it), so it’s high time a show tried to make the show again.
A common praise/complaint about Fringe is that it’s basically The X-Files for the 2010s. And while occasionally that’s true, the fact of the matter is that Fringe is really just the Sliders of the present day. That’s great. That’s why I love Fringe, and you should to. Because Fringe takes the vast majority of Sliders’ pratfalls and makes them work.
But look. For all my postulation that Sliders is in need of a massive overhaul if it ever expected to get off its ass and be a good show again, I never thought that it would actually pull it off. Obviously, it’s not perfect, more than it doesn’t, it sticks the landing it’s aiming for. There’s an awful lot going on in this episode. It’s basically a brand new Pilot for a brand new show. And while I could gripe about things like “budget” and “how bad the Manta Ship looks” and “Marta in general,” and “Jerry O’Connell’s face sometimes,” I’m not going to. (Especially when the token used to prove that it was their Wade who’s been taken is a necklace that we never actually saw a close up of for the entire time she wore it. I honestly didn’t know Wade’s weird little necklace was her name. It’s really very cute.)
Because for the first time in so long, there’s a real sense of momentum to the show. There’s a story arc now that we can truly be invested in. I mean, sure, “Rickman” killed Arturo, but that arc was swallowed completely by Maggie (and a ton of mediocrity). It revolved around her in a way that separated the ‘arc’ from our characters. Since we’re never actually going to root for them to get Home (unless we want the show the end, remember), we’re just waiting for Maggie to finish up her ‘revenge’ arc and leave.
But Maggie is who we’re stuck with. And it is a truly wonderful thing that the new writing team understands that having a show with Maggie as one of the three (!) leads would be unwatchable. She’s unwatchable. At least the way she was when we last saw her.
So does the new blood succeed in toning down my arch-nemesis? More than they don’t. It certainly helps that her screen time isn’t spent antagonizing Wade. She does antagonize Marta & Otis (and to a certain extent, Rembrandt), but in each of those cases, she has a definable, understandable, and most importantly, believable reason. The so-called ‘rebels’ aren’t trained by the military (I don’t know who Marta is. A cook? A barmaid? Like, where did she come from?). Marta, I guess, has done okay. But judging how little time it takes for Otis to get a hole blown through him, I’m not sure I really trust the team to put up much of a fight.
If anything, that weakness just adds more momentum. They’ve got to liberate their Home. They certainly can’t leave it in the hands of these fools! Plus, Marta’s hair was just too perfectly feathered for her to lead a revolution.
Anyways, Maggie. She’s softer, if by softer you mean “almost crying while still being sort of mean.” But she only delivers hard truths when it’s necessary. I mean, which is worse, telling they’ve got to wait an hour before rescuing Quinn? Or Rembrandt clocking Quinn because he wants to go back to save his Maybe Mother?
I don’t want to waste time in this entry talking about the so-called “Jerry Face” that “plagues” Season Four. I know what you’re talking about. I can see it sometimes. But right now, it’s not really the most egregious sin the episode commits. I can believe Quinn can be completely numbed from all the dark revelations he learns in this episode.
But what I can’t really ignore is what they ‘do’ with Wade. You know what, though? Putting Wade in a “breeding camp” isn’t offensive. It’s horrible, and I deplore it (and if we’re aware of the behind the scenes shenanigans of David Peckinpah saying “I thought it was a funny place to put her,” then yes, it’s offensive), and I miss Wade, forever and ever amen. But it isn’t the most offensive part of the episode. It isn’t the most oddly tone deaf. Even though we’re told about the “breeding camps” from a social retard named Trevor Blue who is a “hacker” who eats melted cheez-whiz. Even though the words “be my Love Monkey” pass his non-existant lips.
(No, the most tone-deaf and offensive part of the episode is when two African American Kromagg Sympathizer Civilian Goons tell Quinn that the “Masters at the Slave Colony will get your mind right, boi.” That’s awkward. That takes you out of the episode.)
Because for all the griping the fans give the show for committing Wade to such an awful fate (and I am not trying to say that her fate isn’t terrible, or that “forced Ape-Rape” is no big deal. Because that shit is always a big deal, and the fact that there are only dudes in charge of this show only makes that decision more suspect), it’s serving to give our remaining characters more to care about. It’s a fire lit under their asses. It’s impetus for War.
It may seem like a huge about face for me to say I’m excited (or at the very least allowing) for Wade to be gone (really, though, the fact that an all-male production team forces even off-screen rape on a character is very, very troubling to me the more I think about it— having to use that word every time you talk about Sliders is awful).
All of this is used as another reason to get ready for the oncoming season. It’s here where the “Seeing it for the 1st time” routine is very important. Put yourself in the shoes of 1998. You don’t know what’s coming next. How could you? All the pieces are in place for a true renewal. Is this episode great? No, it’s not great. But I do want to know what comes next. Just that simple fact is so much better than anything we saw in Season Three.
Even the fact that “Genesis”‘ actual plot is paper thin isn’t a deterrent. Other than the long winded infodump sequences, the plot is still firmly in “capture/escape/recapture/reescape” territory. But at least there’s more reason to care this time. And plus, we don’t ever see the fucking cave set. Ever. Bring me dingy, poorly lit tunnels any day.
Yet even though Sliders’ track record for following up on promised ideas is pretty dismal, we’ve got to keep out eye on the 1998 vibe. What we’ve got here is impetus for the journey. But in terms of a season to television at this point in history, what we’ve got is just a framework on which to hang the rest of the season. That’s the difference between then and now in terms of TV. If Fringe was being made in 1998, it would look exactly like this (actually, Fringe was being made in 1998, it was just called The X-Files then). Likewise with Sliders in the year 2012.
But there’s no real reason to hang the show for this. The show’s done the same thing before. “Double Cross” gave us a viable excuse for LA sunshine. That was framework. It’s the same with the Pilot, or “Summer of Love,” or hell, every show ever of all time. But we can’t be angry at the show because we are pretty sure we won’t be fighting Kromaggs next week. That just wasn’t how it was done then. We wouldn’t have expected that. Plus, if the show became “Battle for Earth Prime” every week, could we really still call it Sliders?
Here’s the real reason we love this show, why it manages to stick with us for so long. It’s not really the sci-fi trappings. It’s the scene where Quinn & Maggie rescue Rembrandt. Cleavant Derricks eradicates the last shreds of his roots as the “token black guy” and proves himself to be up for a true challenge. Rembrandt is a survivor now. He’s finally managed to do what Wade never could: become defined as a character.
That’s the triumph of the hour.
Now let’s see what comes next.
Next week: Oh Lord, I am so baked (Prophets & Loss).
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