The story goes like this: Tracy Tormé read an article (the way that he never elaborates on that part of the story makes it seem like he was sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for some unseemly exam). The article was about the American Revolution, and how at one point George Washington was almost hit by a British bullet. Tracy realized that if that bullet had hit ol’ G.W. anywhere else, he’d be dead, and we as Americans would be screwed. He, being a nerd, probably formed the thought like this: “Man, in a parallel universe, we’d be screwed.”
Robert K. Weiss, apparently also a nerd (and as a man who directed multiple music videos for Weird Al, this is negligibly debatable), was thinking how cool a show about parallel universes would be. He was thinking about The Twilight Zone, he was thinking about Time Tunnel (but ‘sideways’). He was probably thinking about Spock with a Beard. He was thinking about how it’s a concept that hadn’t actually been done to death, wrung out to dry, thrown in the television graveyard.
So these two nerds (and as for Tracy’s nerd-cred, he wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation in it’s first two seasons, and apparently made up Lwaxana Troi, which I just learned this morning and am going to have trouble forgiving him for. Also, nerd. [says the dude writing a blog about Sliders]) got to talking. They were thinking about developing a show together, and in the course of what one imagines was like, two seconds, they both agreed that parallel universes was the way to go.
So where does that bring us? It brings us to March 22nd, 1995 in the real world, watching FOX and eating, I don’t know, Doritos and drinking some Ecto-Cooler. We’re wearing cut-off Guess jeans and wearing a Garfield tank-top. Valeri Polyakov came back from outer space with a merit badge for “long-ass time in space.” It’s the 90s, baby.
But when this new show comes on the air, we’ve shifted back in time a little bit. It’s 1994, and it’s September, and, like I said last time, we’re in a San Francisco basement.
Someone rewinds a tape. On a television screen, a young man extolls the virtues of a “big, weird thing.” He tells us that we should have seen it, that it came out of nowhere, that it made some sort of a whooshing sound. Then a woman’s voice shouts “Quinn!” Now we have a name for our way-too-excited-about-a-big-weird-thing nerdy (yet just handsome enough to look like a jock still) fellow. Though we don’t quite know for sure he’s a nerd, but he’s definitely nerding out on this “big weird thing.” This “Quinn” fellow pulls a pre-Blair Witch-Blair Witch, looks us viewers right in the (camera)eye, and tells us he just knocked out the power.
All in all, it”s not a bad way to start a series. We have mystery— what on Earth is this “big weird thing?” We have a character that already is someone we can like— he looks genuinely excited about this big, weird thing. Which is important, because it shows us that this young everyman here is really impressed with something. There’s wonder to be had, and that flip of the flashlight into darkness is our invitation to find out what it is. It’s a finger waving “come on!” It’s an open door.
Let’s follow this Quinn fellow and see where he takes us. Who is he, anyways?
The show chooses a pretty smart way to force feed us some information about who this dude is: it pans across a cluttered room while the main credits roll. Which is also how we are first greeted with this font:
Let’s list the things we pan across in Quinn’s room:
•”You Are Here” cosmos poster.
•Basketball hoop with dunked sweatshirt.
•Sharks hockey jacket with hockey stick wrapped around sleeve
•A telescope with a bumper sticker that says “I Brake for Asteroids”
•In the background, we see a shelf lined with trophies—whether for science or sports, it is unclear.
•Quinn’s desk, with Globe, tiny wood-stick sculptures, ancient and huge laptop, mass clutter.
•In front of a poster which appears to be a Magic Eye of the Cosmos, a dresser that has a baseball glove and dinosaur toys on it.
•A 49ers hat on what I guess is an exercise machine? Also, the floor is dirty and has clothes everywhere.
•A cat! A fuzzy furry cat! Meow!
So who is Quinn? Apparently Quinn is an amalgam of everything that a four to ten year-old would be into. He loves S P O R T S, like sooo much. But then he loves the COSMOS. He surfs and plays basketball and baseball and works out! But then he wears glasses and has a telescope and reads some book called HYPERSPACE.
Taken as a list of these things, Quinn is an attempt to appeal to literally every 18-34 demographic male ever. But, if we’re going by the glasses, the nerd sect of that demographic is just barely winning. Yet a man is not made by his things. Who is Quinn, really? (Other than someone who listens to a Howard Stern-esque [and by esque I mean the radio announcer is written by someone who seems like someone told them about Howard Stern and thought ‘how edgy!’] radio show that’s hosting a Miss Nude Feminist Pageant. On the radio. Gosh, I’m sure this radio show won’t figure at all into the plot of this episode.)
Quinn is a 20-something dude who lives with his Mother. His mother who very casually refers to his Dead Father. His Dead Father who Quinn says was hit by a Car. Quinn and his Mom’s relationship is really, really strange, but it’s sort of endearing. Like, endearing in the way that any middle-aged woman who starts talking to her dead husband is endearing. Quinn’s Mom says that his Father had “too much on his mind.” To which Quinn makes a sassy face and says: “better than too little.”
At this point, that’s basically Quinn in a nutshell. He’s an overachiever, he’s overly-confident in a way that probably is covering for some inner uncertainty (this I’m getting from the way his face shifts from Stoked to Oh Shit when his Mom yells his name in the opening video). But this back-and-forth between Mother and Son reveals also that Quinn is kind of just an all-around good guy. He might live with his Mother, but he totally loves her.
But he also loves his work. And, as a slap in the face to the five thousand Sports Team Posters he had in his room, his work is SCIENCE.
Quinn is trying to invent the worlds first Anti-Gravity device! How cute! But sadly, there is no video of Quinn’s cat freaking the fuck out as he floats it into a ceiling fan (in the name of science!) Instead, there is something else entirely:
Hmm, that’s not Quinn’s “big, weird thing,” is it?
It is, but Quinn doesn’t know exactly what it is. He’s pretty sure it’s a gateway, but to where? And why? How? Too many questions, and not enough time. Quinn’s got to go to CLASS!
As he runs across campus, Quinn passes a homeless dude who spouts some Commie propaganda. That’s weird. I feel like Campus Security would be ALL over that dude’s ass in like, three seconds. But maybe that’s just a 90s thing. “It’s the 90s, baby! Communist Hobos are back!” Also, Quinn passes what is maybe the worst ever statue of Abe Lincoln. These two things are not related. Do not keep them in mind.
But how could you when you’ve got class with THIS DUDE:
Maximilian P. Arturo, professor of cosmology and ontology, erryone. He is having a bad day! He’s teaching a class full of no good students who can’t handle all the heady shit he’s loading on them. We’re supposed to believe that he’s teaching the most advanced concepts that theoretical physics has to offer. Surely this group of students is a group of the most serious individuals on the face of academia.
Instead, we’ve got some 90s magazine cover models, Quinn, and a man who is too stoned to be allowed on National Television:
Conrad Bennish, jr. does not know the answer to Arturo’s question, but I have a feeling someone else does!
Quinn knows exactly what the Professor is talking about. He’s miles ahead of the game, but for some reason he doesn’t want to let ol’ Max know. Quinn’s private show of know-it-all at first looks like he’s being an asshole, but really he’s doing it out of a strange respect for Arturo. Quinn could easily be a teacher’s pet, answering every question correctly, sucking up, brown-nosing. But he respects Arturo too much— he knows that Max deserves better than that. Just take the following scene where Quinn tells his classmates how amazing Arturo’s theories and papers are— it’s pure love!
The conflict in Quinn is that as much as he’s love to be an equal to Arturo, he also knows he’s better: smarter, younger, hungrier. Quinn knows this, and it embarasses him.
But before we get too heavy, we have to see the see the last nail in the coffin of Quinn as a jock— the final triumph of Quinn as a nerd:
Yes, Quinn works at a Computer Superstore. Of course he does! Of course his boss is a total dweeb! But what is maybe not so obvious is who Quinn works, and also appears to be good friends, with:
Wade Welles, everybody. We’re 3/4ths of the way through assembling our team (spoilers)!
Okay, I’ve been joking through the last paragraphs, so I’ll settle down a little bit. Quinn and Wade’s relationship is important, and totally flies in the face of what the Youth Boy and Girl leads should be doing on a Network Television show.
Wade is very very very besotted with Quinn. But it’s also very unsexual— it’s geek love. It’s like a high school crush, maybe even middle school! In either case, it’s very adorable. She’s trying to get tickets for a hockey game to take Quinn! She feels embarrassed that she mentions an ex-boyfriend around him! More importantly, though, Quinn doesn’t notice it an iota. He goes right to his work station and calculates equations:
Dude, Quinn. The cutest girl in the MULTIVERSE is throwing herself at you, and you’re busy COMPUTING? Let’s keep in mind, though, that while Wade is throwing herself at Quinn, we are never really embarrassed for her. We might be embarrassed for Quinn, but it’s kind of clear that this back and forth of Wade trying and Quinn not getting it has gone on for a little while, and probably isn’t going to either stop or actually damage their friendship. This is a crucial fact to their relationship. It’s easy to imagine that if they hooked up, they’d probably stop being friends afterwards. So anyone who wants to jump on the ‘shipper’ boat is basically advocating for them to hate each other. Huh.
Alas, though, we must leave Wade and the fun-filled world of Doppler and return to the dark magicks of the “big, weird thing.”
Quinn’s actually gotten a lot further along with his “big, weird thing” research than we’d thought! He’s now decided for certain that it’s a gateway to some other …something, and he’s been throwing random objects into the vortex (including a T-Rex! Later that T-Rex will grow into a real T-Rex and Quinn will have a tearful reunion with it. That’s the series finale, I bet). But even though he’s turned a cellphone (a cellphone that is so big, btw. I am afraid to imagine how big the Timer would have been if this show was made in the 80s) into a Timer that will make objects come back out of the Vortex (and let’s be frank, here: I am somehow perfectly willing to accept that he would accidentally create a hole in the fabric of time and space, but somehow I find it completely ridiculous that he would be able to invent a device [out of a cell phone, no less!] that controls how long you stay on the other side), Quinn is not satisfied with his tests.
The next day, Quinn records a heartfelt message of love and potential future regret to his Mother (Best Son Ever Merit Badge), but he can’t resist. He’s going in, baby! He’s going to throw himself to the whims of the Big Weird Thing! He’s setting his dope cell phone machine of magick for 15 minutes and taking the BIG P L U U U N N N G G G E E E ! ! !
And, after a semi-over-long CG journey through a wormhole, Quinn lands on the other side… and lands back in his basement. What a drag! I guess the wormhole just sort of keeps you in a fugue state or in a no-space or something. Understandably, Quinn is totally bummed out and goes out for a drive.
But things get weird on the drive. First off, that Howard Stern-lite guy on the radio is talking about all sorts of nonsense! Global cooling! JFK lives! Vinyl wins the war (the way he talks about CDs rolling off the belt is pretty funny though)! Americans wanting jobs in Mexico! It’s bananas!
Not only that, but for some reason, everyone is honking at Quinn when he’s stopped at red lights! They drive on the red ones! They stop on the greens! What the hell is with that? More importantly, why is ELVIS STILL ALIVE (baby)???
Quinn drives home, because he’s totally freaked out, and is greeted by the sight of his Totally-Preggers-Mom, who got knocked up by the Gardener, Jake. Go, Jake! Just kidding, that’s gross. But before Quinn can beat the crap out of the Gardener for doing that to his Mom, he gets a phone call:
Yes, Quinn was in an alternate dimension! Yes! He was!
Let’s pause for a second and take in the fact that a show where the premise is interdimensional travel chose to depict it’s first alternate dimension as a laundry list of tropes for ‘opposite world.’ Elvis is still alive? Give me a break. I mean, I get it. The show has to paint with the big brush, keep the suspense up, hint at the mundanities that can be affected by history (or something). But the show sort of fumbles when it shows something that’s really funny to us viewers, but frames it in a dramatic light. Quinn’s reaction and the background music are all amped up for drama, but we’re looking at a shitty poster of Elvis.
Quinn, though, is too busy freaking out to realize this (also, he is not that self-aware). He runs to class immediately to go tell Arturo how cool Science is, but when he gets there, Arturo is TOTALLY PISSED at something Quinn had said to him about his theories. Wait, whut? Quinn was just in a parallel Elvis dimension! When would he have had the time to utter something disrespectful enough to earn this face:
The fun (not fun) doesn’t stop there, though. Quinn goes to work, and Wade tells him that he just got fired! Quinn can’t believe it—
It turns out that Quinn told his boss to put a computer up his ass, and then made out with Wade! Say What! Also, Quinn is so dense he can’t possibly imagine kissing Wade. “We’re buds!” he says to her. Poor girl. She should go hook up with Arturo and talk about how lame Quinn is.
Quinn runs back to his house because he is having such a bad day. But when he gets down to his Cyber-Cave (basement), he finds that someone has solved some really important equation! (Y’know, I don’t think anyone ever really explains what this equation is, or why it’s so important. But it’s like, really hard, or something, so someone would have to be pretty dang smart to figure it out.) What sort of trickster god could have done such a thing?!?
Why, Quinn Mallory, of course:
Wait, whuuut! It turns out, a double of Quinn Mallory from another parallel universe journeyed to our world and starting fucking with Quinn’s shit (that’s really good timing, isn’t it? He just happened to hop into this universe right as Quinn was hopping around in another). He spouts some scientific mumbo jumbo, looks really smarmy, talks about his wife (wait, wasn’t he just kissing Wade?), and tells Quinn that he’s a slider.
What? He’s a hamburger? No, he’s an interdimensional traveler, but it doesn’t seem catchy enough to call your TV show “Interdimensional Travelers.” Quinn’s a dork, but he’s not dorky enough to coin a phrase for himself. At least, not on this world (tiddy-boom!)
Alt-Quinn seems to me like the Quinn that FOX actually wanted our Quinn to be: he dresses better, he’s more charismatic, he kisses girls. (Stick around with this until Season 3 and that last sentence will seem really funny.) The thing about Alt-Quinn though, is that while he appears to be smarter, he lacks the caution and, I don’t know, humanity that Our-Quinn does. But he’s important, because he tells Quinn (and us!) about all the possibilities of Sliding. But he’s new to it to, and that sets a spark in Our-Quinn’s head. He’s thinking “Man, I’m on Slide #1, and all I got was a lousy Elvis poster? I bet I can do better.”
But before they can make out and give Jerry O’Connell fans an explosion of love, Alt-Quinn is summoned back home by his own timer. His vortex, though, is inconveniently really, really loud, and he gets sucked in before being able to give Our-Quinn some absolutely crucial piece of advice.
Quinn is excited about this, whether or not he knows the secret Sliding advice his double never gave him. But, lo! Wade & Arturo are on his doorstep, wanting to get a piece of him!
All of the sudden, though, we cut to a shot to remind us that we’re still in San Francisco, and pan to a mysteriously Rad Ride:
Inside this apartment, we see a cigar-chomping old fellow dancing along (a little creepily) to this dope-ass jam:
Ladies and gentlemen: Rembrandt Brown, former lead singer of the Spinning Topps. He’s an RnB singer, who has run into a bit of a dry spell, career wise. I’m being nice— Rembrandt is a wash-up, a has-been, a man who floundered a solo career while his old group shined. I should also add that his claim to fame was being able to cry tears. Individually out of each eye. On command. Dope.
Rembrandt is planning a huge comeback! He’s going to have a career insurgence! He’s going to take over the charts and win big and show his old group he never needed them! Or, he’s going to sing the National Anthem over at Candlestick Park.
So Rembrandt is maybe a little insane. That’s fine. He’s also a master of his image, a man with a finger on the pulse of 90s society, as evidenced by his lapel:
I have to admit that while in the five minutes we’ve known him for, Rembrandt is a troubling character. He’s obviously going to be the comic relief, but he’s painted with such broad and high-octane strokes, in a semi-offensive “loud and crazy Black Dude” way. However, the “Cause-Ribbon” joke is pretty funny. It’s kind of a quintessentially 90s joke, and pokes fun at people who would wear those ribbons without really understanding what they were supporting. If Rembrandt is the everyman on the Sliding Team, then the show is taking the stance that the everyman of 1994 is a total idiot.
But then we’re back in Quinn’s basement (“the batcave!” Wade exclaims, forever sealing herself in my heart), watching Wade & Arturo look around. Quinn’s busy hacking his cellphone, and Arturo is busy laying into Quinn about being too smart. It’s pretty telling that the most egregious fault of Quinn’s genius is that he’s “unpublished.”
Quinn tells Arturo that his dope-ass cellphone can open portals to other dimensions. Arturo goes on the scientific warpath, saying that it’s all theoretical, that it’s a scientific impossibility, blah blah science science:
Quinn, inspired by Alt-Quinn’s smarminess, put on his own best try at looking smarmy (he does a pretty good job), and answers Arturo by whipping it out.
Whipping out a Vortex, that is! Wade & Arturo are understandably impressed. Wade is firmly seated in the “DUDE LETS FUCKIN JUMP IN THIS BIG WEIRD THING” camp, and Arturo is more reserved. He’s like “let’s study this.” Wade thinks that’s dumb. She’s like “Quinn & I are gonna take a spin around the universe.” Yeah, Wade, he definitely meant this to be a date. That’s why he brought a stuffy englishman who is more than twice your age.
In any case, they are totally going to go sliding together. I should add that while they’re figuring all this out, the camera is situated behind the Vortex, giving everyone in the scene mass Vortex-Face:
Quinn, though, gets performance anxiety or something and worries that there isn’t enough power in his dope-ass cellphone to take all three of them in the Vortex. Quinn, not being a man to do things in small pieces, cranks up his dope-ass cellphone to ELEVEN:
Rembrandt, meanwhile, has taken a short cut to get to the stadium sooner. He is so worried about missing his big comeback! But watch out, Remmy— you’ll soon have five years worth of pain and suffering on your mind (spoiler alert). Quinn’s over-powering of the dope-ass cellphone causes a pretty silly thing to occur:
A quick dip through the wormhole, and they’re on an iceberg! It’s iceberg world! Arturo swears God drives a Caddy, and Wade proclaims the wormhole to be better than sex! Arturo disagrees. Playaa.
In any case, it’s very cold, and Quinn’s house, while still standing, is totally abandoned and frozen. Well, mostly abandoned. They conveniently forgot to take that picture of Quinn’s family off of their frozen freezer. Now Quinn knows that he had a sister on this world! And his dog didn’t run away! Whoa. Crazy. But they’re probably all dead and frozen somewhere, whether from a shifting of the Earth’s axis, or from nuclear winter (they can’t decide, so neither will I). Bummer.
In any case, drawn by the call of a apoplectic Rembrandt (his wheels! his beautiful wheels!), Quinn, Wade, & Arturo venture outside, where they are greeted by this beautiful sight:
Here’s the dialogue:
Wade: Hell really did freeze over.
Quinn: We’re not in Kansas anymore.
Arturo rolls his eyes at how stupid they both are.
Anyways, they all huddle up in Rembrandt’s Ride and talk about how Sliding works (some of the basics: time is concurrent, the use of roulette wheel analogies is acceptable), and Rembrandt calls Quinn “Q-Ball.”
We’re here! The four leads are in the same place at the same time! Sliding Team Assembled!
Now let’s talk about the Sliders as a group of characters and the archetypes they represent. A brief second of thinking in those terms reveals some subversion, though. Generally on a scientific TV show, there’s supposed to be one person who is the ‘everyman,’ the person who needs to be explained things. On Sliders, almost everyone takes turns in this role (except Quinn, maybe, unless it’s about something to do with feelings). Likewise, different characters take turns being the ‘mentor’ figure. It’s easy to assume a Teacher/Student relationship with Quinn & Arturo, but it isn’t that cut-and-dry. It’s a rich relationship that sets up conflict and respect.
The thing about archetypes though, is that they aren’t really how relationships work in real life. We slip into different roles constantly depending on who we’re interacting with. In general on Television Shows (or at least shows in the mid-90s), it doesn’t work this way. People are set up to be in situations where they best suit a certain archetype, and then they stick to it. Within the group of Sliders, there’s no chance for any of the characters to be easily pigeonholed. Wade doesn’t fit into an easy ‘girlfriend’ role, nor is she strictly comic relief. In a lot of ways, Wade starts as the voice of the general youth. Rembrandt and Arturo are too old in a lot of ways. Quinn might be the ‘youth sex symbol,’ though that’s not quite right, either.
But why try to put these characters who don’t fit into easy molds into easy molds? Because this is network television, this is FOX, it’s airing during a time when The X-Files is gaining popularity, and there isn’t any other show that’s more based on archetypes than the skeptic/believer dynamic Scully and Mulder have (at least at that time of the show’s run).
The problem is this: Sliders, at it’s root, is a science fiction show, and that’s already hard for a network to promote. But Sliders also doesn’t want to be strictly a science-fiction show: otherwise all of the characters would be professors or scientists. Rembrandt is a washed-up RnB singer! That doesn’t belong on a sci-fi show! Sliders doesn’t want to play by the ‘rules,’ but the ‘rules’ are being written by FOX.
So it’s clear, before we’re halfway through the pilot, that this is going to be a problem. It’s also a problem inherent in the concept: a show about infinite worlds has an infinite amount of stories that can be told, and no two people are going to be able to agree on what sorts of stories they want to tell.
Anyways, where were we?
Right. Things are picking up in Remmy’s Car. Wade hears a noise from outside, and Rembrandt rolls down the window to see:
Huh. So can we unpack that? I’m all about infusing humor into things, but that atrocious CG tornado might be a little bit of a stretch. Y’know, it’s weird, I could have sworn that I remembered reading the shooting script and there was a bit where the script said “They’re being menaced by a corny CG tornado.” And I was going to write at length about how you can’t actually show that kind of meta shit on TV without it blowing up in your face. But that’s not actually in the script. But that CG tornado is so fucking stupid that it doesn’t really matter anyways.
In any case, Remmy looks at a shitty CG tornado and freaks out:
The tornado ends up ripping the room off of Remmy’s Ride, and the group springs into action. They’re all screaming at Quinn— “Dude, you gotta activate the timer!” and Quinn is like “you mean my dope-ass cellphone?” and they’re like “seriously?” And he’s like “I’m not sure it is a good idea to activate the Timer before the time I had previously set it to runs out.” Which is fair. If you put popcorn in the microwave for a minute and take it out after five seconds, you aren’t going to be having a good time at movie night.
But, y’know, there’s a huge shitty CG tornado about to kill them all, so I guess this time we can munch on hard kernels.
On the other side of the Vortex, we’re treated to what will become a staple of Sliders: the comedic “everyone falls on everyone else” gag! The professor has some crazy inertia up in that vortex. Rembrandt says “that trip was a trip,” which sums up everything that is right and also everything that is SO wrong with his character. Wade & Arturo also share a moment:
Rembrandt proves that he is wearing the highest-waisted pants a middle-aged man could possibly wear:
But where’s Quinn!? Did he make it out of the Caddy? Wade is not happy about this idea. She tells everyone to go back and get him, but Arturo, taking a turn as the voice of reason, says that that open Vortex could lead back to an infinite number of universes. The roulette wheel is still spinning, so to speak. Okay, he doesn’t talk about a roulette wheel, but he could have if he wanted to.
Wade walks up to the Vortex in tears, hoping that Quinn is alright:
But the Vortex has no answers:
And this, if we’re watching this in syndication, is where the screen cuts black.
TO BE CONTINUED.