I really didn’t want to watch this episode. I looked at my list of remaining Season Two eps and thought “oh man, Greatfellas is next? UUUGH (first nerd problems).” But I couldn’t tell you why. Fan consensus doesn’t hate this episode (not that they really love it, either). I don’t remember ever hating this episode.
Plus, it’s actually an episode with personal distinction: this is one of only two episode that I remember seeing as they aired (the other is actually “The Seer.” UUUGH). It’s a vague memory at best— I’m at a friend’s house, and someone must’ve wanted to watch it, because there was no reason for us to not be playing video games. More than one person remarked “oh, yeah, I’ve heard of this show.”
For better or for worse, if this show is ever well-remembered enough to warrant an epitaph, “oh, yeah, I’ve heard of this show” will be that. Let’s just say, in my day to day life, I talk about Sliders a lot (by blog-necessity, it’s often on my mind). The reaction I get (aside from tolerance to “Ian, really— again?) is pretty much just “oh, yeah, I’ve heard of that show— they go to different planets right?” and then they describe an episode from either Season Two or Season Three, and then I politely tell them that “actually they don’t go to different planets.” Then they ask me if it’s actually a good show and I tell them “well, not really. But you should totally watch it anyways.”
Another time, I’ll go into my life’s ebb/flow relationship with Sliders. First I’m going to address the huge elephant in the room that resides in this episode.
Maybe not an elephant. More like a hole.
Or a mist.
A smooth… mist.
Yes, Mel Tormé, The Velvet Fog, is in this episode. And while I can’t (or maybe just don’t want to) really say that “we knew this was coming,” the fact remains that we knew this was coming. Tracy Tormé, in case I haven’t mentioned it before, is like, actually Mel Tormé’s son. It’s not a coincidence.
So we have reason to be, if not nervous, then at least skeptical. The cry of “nepotism” is never far off. If we’re that kind of fan, then we’ll notice that Tracy’s name isn’t listed anywhere in the credits. (A slight tangent: I realize that I’ve totally ignored things like ‘who wrote what when,’ and I’m actually sort of bummed about that. Here’s the run-down: Jon Povill is the best [unless he writes El Sid], Tony Blake and Paul Jackson are the second-best [Gillian & Love Gods are well-remembered-and-actually-also-good classics], there are people who only write an episode once or twice, and Tracy’s scripts are serviceable, but sort of bogged down by either a good idea taken in the wrong direction [Into The Mystic] or bogged down my Network interference [Into The Mystic, every script that isn’t the Pilot].) So to see Scott Smith “Good Bad & Wealthy” Miller’s name on the story credit means that Tracy took someone else’s idea and decreed that “Yo, Scott, ham-hand my Dad up innit.”
But as awful as that seems, there’s something uncanny about this episode: it’s not bad. Not only that, but the very best parts of the episode are the parts with Mel Tormé. One could conceivably argue that if Mel wasn’t in this episode, it would only be middle of the road at best. Mel Tormé out-acts pretty much every guest actor that’s ever been on the show! Seriously, he’s electric! I find it hard to explain how good he is in the episode without sounding like a sarcastic dick, but I’m totally serious. Just watch this video:
Mel aside, there’s a lot in the episode to speak highly of. I mean, after you cut around the padding and the fact that there’s a whole season’s worth of plotting happening… when the Sliders are out of the room. What I mean is that the sliders’ adventure on this world amounts to breaking up a wedding or something and getting mistaken for their doubles and Quinn having to gamble and also being an idiot.
The thing is that the parallel history here is better thought out than pretty much any other so far. Prohibition was never repealed, which leads to America being the most corrupt place on Earth. The Mafia and other organized crime syndicates take advantage of the huge smuggling opportunities abound, using the great wealth they offer to more or less take over the country. Also Ronald Reagan is Governor of California (a joke that’s less funny post-Schwarzenegger). Written down, it looks a little ridiculous—and the shot of San Fran covered in Casino glitter is hugely ridiculous— but the episode sells it by showing the underbelly of society. The ways that the American Government is more or less powerless is… well, I’m hesitant to use such a glowing word as ‘chilling,’ but it’s an effective way to get the point across. This is a dimension where the ‘one silly change that makes it different’ actually has consequences. It’s kind of impressive.
But even if I’m a fan of the alternate history, I can’t wholly defend the entire episode. Watching the thing, one kind of gets the feeling like you could remove the sliders from the episode and you wouldn’t really miss them. And they’re even doing stuff! Sort of. I guess they’re just really running around and reacting to things happening around them. We’re supposed to believe that they’re all doubles of a crack FBI team, right? I mean, we only see Rembrandt’s double— which makes sense from a budgetary standpoint, I guess (though now that I think about it, I don’t we ever see a full team of doubles, do we?). But it seems like the script waffles back and forth on whether it wants them all to be “Incorruptibles” or not. There’s a plot where they apparently stop Nevada & California from seceding from the Union, but the way the action unfolds, it’s A) hard to tell that’s happening, and B) doesn’t seem like the sliders had to be there at all. Like, they’re only there to explain to the audience what’s happening. Also Cleavant Derricks’ performance as his FBI double is pretty awful. It’s so one-note it’s boring. He’s like “I’M SERIOUS,” and I’m like “dude I get it.” But still, Alt-Brandt’s got to work in an abandoned warehouse with an “FBI” sign duct taped to it. It’s a nice touch. On my most cynical days, I could almost imagine this world becoming our own.
Also what is this jacket Wade is wearing:
The thing is, while there’s so much to enjoy in this episode, it just feels a little tired. It’s the same old story: they slide in, get involved in something, tell each other not to get involved, and then spend the rest of the episode being involved and trying to change the workings of the world they’re in. Sliders-by-numbers all the way. There’s good ideas, but they’re bogged down by the show itself. Like, if this wasn’t an episode of Sliders, it would probably be better. And if this is going to be the formula for the show to come, then it’s going to become a real problem.
But who cares? We got Mel!
Next week: Kids plot the darndest things! (The Young and the Relentless)