I’m A Tear Jerk (The King is Back).

We’ve been over my problems with so-called “Comedy” episodes of Sliders. Last week’s episode was, I guess, supposed to be a ‘comedy’ episode, but it was saddled with too good of a ‘smart’ concept, and the attempts at humor dragged it down to a terrible slog.

I don’t know if it was my mood or what, but let me give you a mild spoiler and tell you that I enjoyed this episode immensely. The lesson being that so far, Sliders hasn’t done a great job of mixing humor and seriousness yet. It’s all-or-nothing. Middle-ground episodes can’t pull it together.

So let’s talk about the episode. There isn’t much to say about the parallel history. Jim Morrison is still dead. DEVO is still a band, and they ostensibly still wrote “Whip It.” There’s still a King of Rock N Roll.

Before I go further, let’s stop for a second and talk about one of the show’s big problems thus far: Rembrandt.

"Purple Hawaii" is no one's favorite song.

So far, our man Remmy’s been our go-to comic relief character, putting a mildly outdated ‘funny black dude’ kind of stereotypical humor into the show. Which he gets a pass for, since he’s more fleshed out as a character than, say, Wade is (poor Wade). He’s had some good moments (and if it seems like I’m framing Remmy’s role as funny man in a bad light, I don’t mean to— he is truly hilarious at times, and Cleavant Derricks has an impeccable amount of comic chops) but he hasn’t had a solo outing to truly shine in. He had some moments in “Weaker Sex” and “Summer of Love,” but they were B-plots, and they were both basically about “Rembrandt getting laid, wow!” Which is fine, gotta nut somehow (yikes), but I want more from this character!

And by "more" I don't mean "more of this kind of face."

And more we/I will get. Remember when I said the parallel world in this episode sitll has a King of Rock N Roll? Well, it ain’t Elvis.

It’s Rembrandt Brown.

For as big a deal as Rembrandt seems to be, this concert is decidedly low-budget.

To make things even more fun: on this world, like Elvis on ours, Remmy’s double ‘died tragically.’ So when OUr-Remmy shows up on this world, hijinks ensue. And by hijinks, I mean that hungry zombies eat Remmy’s shirt:

Another god-awful shirt bites the dust.

And later, the Pavarotti’s:

Another shred of dignity bites the dust.

The episode is basically setpiece after setpiece of “funny fame-is-dangerous” moments, and Cleavant Derricks nails them every time— which isn’t to say the rest of the cast doesn’t ace their moments as well. The bit where Remmy refers to everyone else as his “entourage” is excellent, and the same goes for Arturo’s “Pavarotti” scene:

The middle of the episode has a detour into tension, as Rembrandt is kidnapped by an ex-Spinning Topp (Rembrandt’s old band, guys, don’t you remember?!?), Maurice Fish. These scenes start funny, and the Fish character looks like a clown, but there’s a subtle escalation to these scenes that make them more terrifying as they go on. By the time Maurice does his song & dance routine for Remmy, it’s kind of actually really, really scary. Likewise the line “I usually use this for my legs, but it’ll do your neck just fine” is really haunting.

Watch my lips as they move. Are they not striking up close?

Of course, he escapes, and of course, there’s a big concert blowout at the end of the episode. Rembrandt gets a taste of the limelight he’s always wanted. His faux-colonel-Tom-Parker figure, Captain Jack Brim, relays to Remmy the setlist, and it’s appropriately hilarious:

•Tears in my ‘Fro

•Love Explosion

•Cry Like A Man

•Explosion of Love

•I’m A Tear Jerk

•Head Butt Me

•Weeping Wall of Tears

•Who Stole My Woman?

Also, Jack Brim is terrifying:

This episode is all about people's terrifying eyes.

So Remmy starts the show, but Alt-Remmy gets wind of the Million-dollars-a-song deal, and busts into Remmy’s tepid version of “Tears in my Fro” to rip it up with some rock and roll. He spoils it for Our-Remmy by announcing that he’s just another Rembrandt impersonator (of which there are so many on this world), and he’s forced to take the Slide with the tail between his gold lamé tails.

DOUBLE THE TEARS.

Like I said, this episode is funny, and it is also really good. But it’s not perfect. For starters, there’s Wade. Again. I watched this episode with a friend, and these are her words on the subject: “I don’t really have any idea who the woman is.” And she’s right. We still don’t know anything about Wade, and there’s only one episode left in the season (whoa).

All that said, there are some really pleasant (but irrelevant) background moments with her. Things like her checking out Quinn in a bath towel (it’s a sweeter moment than you’d think), or any one of the many small looks/glances that Sabrina Lloyd packs a ton of feeling/emotion into. If you pay attention, it’s clear that this woman has the chops to deliver, the show just won’t give her the chance.

Quoth Wade Welles, "Damn, boiiii."

Plus, when Remmy decides he’s going to stay on this world (I didn’t mention it last week, but Arturo makes a similar decision in that episode. We’ll discuss this phenomenon in the finale), her reaction is very intense and wonderfully heartfelt. And why shouldn’t it be? These four people are the only friends they have in the universe(s). They’re the only constants in their lives. So if one of them has to leave, it changes everything. It unbalances everything in their lives. And you can see all of that on Wade’s face. It’s small, but wonderful.

The sound you are hearing is the sound of my heart breaking.

Another thing that holds back the episode is a casting choice. It turns out that Cleavant Derricks has a twin brother! Which sounds great! It’s a budget saver, it’s so easy. Except for the fact that this twin brother looks and sounds nothing like Cleavant!

NOPE.

So we have a stranger without Cleavant Derricks’ face and a voice clumsily dubbed over in post. It all leads to a kind of uncomfortable “they all look the same to me” vibe, since anyone in their right mind wouldn’t think for a second that this dude looks like Rembrandt Brown. Plus, at the end of the episode, they forget (I guess?) to dub in Cleavant’s voice, so there’s a strange man with a strange voice hanging out with them, and they’re still like “hey, Rembrandt!”

But at least he stole Bowie's coat from 1974.

The last thing that takes this episode down a peg is the fact htat there’s no lesson. Nothing is learned. Alt-Remmy tries to warn Our-Remmy about the perils of fame, but Our-Rem doesn’t listen. And at the end of the episode, Remmy gets the dream taken away from him (again), but he’s only disappointed. Nothing happens to him to make him say “maybe I should be grateful for how my life is today.” Even though he almost got gutted by a lunatic whose life he had inadvertently ruined, at the end of the day, he’s no different than he was at the beginning of the episode.

I think I actually own that same shirt...

Not to mention the fact that Maurice Fish is basically just a violent Rembrandt. He’s just as obsessed with ‘career’ and ‘what could have been,’ and blames everyone but himself for his lack of success. He just prefers straight razors to AIDS ribbons.

Which is a waste of an opportunity. This show should be all about seeing your life reflected differently, and learning something about how all your decisions shape your life. Sliders could be a brilliant show about human nature if it wanted to be. It just doesn’t yet want to be.

But still, there’s entertainment to be had. This episode delivers exactly what it set out to do— we’re here to be entertained, and Rembrandt Brown, the Cryin’ Man, the King of Rock n Roll, is the man for the job.

Long Live the King.

There goes next season's budget!

Next week: Birth Control in a Can (and the end of season one!!!)

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3 thoughts on “I’m A Tear Jerk (The King is Back).

  1. I think that this episode also didn’t push the boundaries enough.

    After all, what Elvis did was to cross the color line in music

    but there was nothing in this episode that addressed the social differences between a world with a white king of rock n roll and the world in which a black man could have had that career.

    So either, Rembrandt needed to bring white music to a black audience – a rock Charlie Pride – or race needed to be more explicitly a non-starter.

    this show overall had such wonderful potential that got squandered when it stopped shooting in Canada.

    • Well, the problem with this episode is the problem that’s inherent to how Sliders was conceived in the first place— that the comedy would be such a large part of the show’s structure. Your idea of an alternate dimension’s version of “The King Is Back” is valid and really great, and could’ve been an amazing episode— but that episode couldn’t have been done well enough by the show as we know it.

      As it stands, we have to accept that they’ll be ‘serious’ episodes where they visit ‘serious’ worlds, and there’ll be ‘comedy’ episodes with ‘comedy’ worlds, and we have to accept them as they are.

      Taken as it is, as a ‘comedy episode,’ I think “The King is Back” is pretty great.

      Final Note: as much as I would love to see Sliders tackle race issues, we mustn’t forget the one attempt they made: Season 4’s “California Reich.” I mean, sure it’s late in the game, but they might as well not have bothered.

      PS. Thanks for commenting with a really well-thought-out comment! Please continue to do so if you like— I have the feeling that once I get to the last three seasons, discussion is the only thing that’ll be keeping me alive.

      • I’ll be back, Sliders was a fun show – my spouse and I watched it on DVD last year from beginning to end.

        I think the montage of King Remmie’s career – and Purple Hawaii

        was worth the price of admission.

        Remmi was such a wild card, being the only Slider with no Quinn connection and being just a bystander.

        I forget which episode it was, but it’s an LA show and they are in a hotel, where they cross vortexes with alternates of themselves and Quinn is the metalhead and not at all a geek, but Remmi is the science guy and slider inventor

        was pretty cool and a nice way to turn the show’s convention on itself.

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