So, another week, another Elephant. This one is a little easier to spot, though. It’s very bright. It’s sunny. A sunny Elephant. Here it is: the show looks totally different now. It’s not moody or dark or rainy. There’s no fog or cold-breath. The sky is always blue. And that’s because the show doesn’t film in Vancouver anymore. No more Canada (but not no more Canada jokes). Here’s the skinny: one of the compromises Tracy Tormé had to make in order to secure a third season of Sliders from FOX (which was already a tricky situation— the show was definitely cancelled after Season Two) was that the show had to move to Los Angeles, California. Tormé at the time gave a reason like “we found a loophole in taxes,” but he was lying.
The real reason was that FOX wanted to replace the majority of the Production Team with their own people. To implement a Horde of “Yes Men” (so imagine a bunch of maniacal Jim Carreys yelling “go with it!”). These “Yes Men” (and more about them [and one in particular] later) would serve as liaisons to FOX, making sure that Tormé didn’t try any funny business like making the show interesting and intelligent. Remember that sneaky secret Bennish from “Invasion?” Well, that shit wasn’t going to fly no mo’.
The first indication of this new regime (other than the fact that it’s totally sunny all the time) is that this episode ran as Season Premiere instead of “Double Cross.” So instead of a thoughtful mix of ‘excitement’ and ‘other more interesting things,’ we get what is basically to us 2012 viewers HUNGER GAMES HUNGER GAMES KATNISS KATNISS TEAM HAYMITCH.
It’s kind of interesting to watch this episode now in 2012. In the wake of The Hunger Games, people got all sorts of raw about how ‘derivative’ and ‘unoriginal’ that book was— how it’s basically “Battle Royale” for kids or something. I mean, sure— “Battle Royale” is something you could think of when you read The Hunger Games. But there are also a BAJILLION other things that The Hunger Games AND Battle Royale is reminiscent of (“Most Dangerous Game,” anyone?) Like, say, for instance, this episode.
So yes, this episode revolves around the sliders happening upon a world where there’s a nationally televised event that involves teams of humans trying not to die in an enclosed battleground. There are tons of lasers.
And some robots.
And …I don’t know, action?
Even though I’m not making it seem that way, this episode is not devoid of character moments. They’re not perfect— Wade’s revelations about middle school aren’t particularly thrilling. The Professor’s journey, however, is the real Star of the Hour. While it’s a little silly that his blindness A) heals so quickly B) happens in the first place, Arturo’s reaction to this turn of events is really the meat of the hour (nuts to whats-her-name). He has a genuinely satisfying arc, going form grumpy to jerky to stubborn, trying to alienate the group to the point that they’d be willing to abandon him. But they won’t, and in a truly moving scene with Rembrandt, he learns that he doesn’t really want to be abandoned either.
Arturo’s had a strange arc through this show. He’s more defined than Wade, but he rarely has a show-stealing episode. He’s an old man, getting too aged for this action, but still in love with the adventure. His life is defined by the contradiction between his jaded Salieri-like jealousy and his beaming pride for Quinn. That line he has to Quinn about “everyone wishing they have a student as good as him” is delivered perfectly— meant to be an aside, the shakiness of Arturo’s voice proves it to be utterly true. The Professor is truly worried if he’s letting his emotions slip that much.
Of course, I would be a bad person if I didn’t bring up the other elephant in the room. By which I mean the fact that we know for a fact that Rembrandt cannot swim and therefor couldn’t possibly be in the Navy. It’s a strange coice that came out of a desire to “define his character” more. But A) I’m not sure Remmy really needs any more definition, and B) the first time it’s brought up, it’s used as a joke at his expense. Now, like I said, we know he can’t swim— he said so himself. And while I’m well aware of that little thing called “retconning,” I think it’s a lot funnier to imagine that both things are true and Remmy was in the Navy despite the fact that he can’t swim.
Quinn’s actually the guy that gets short shrift in this episode. He’s defined by his vague guilt for “getting them into this,” (which I’m using the ‘campfire explanation of Sliding’ scene as an example) but for the most part, this episode is defined by his vaguely inexplicable (read: blondes) desire to hang out with Whats-her-name.
As much as I support the use of “obelisks for no reason,” I do find it wildly convenient that the vortex was like, “oh you have a ridiculous and noble thing you need to do? Cool, I’ll wait.” I mean, the dope-ass cellphone is oddly forgiving. That said, it’s a little weird. Not to get all “I know best” on you guys (Editor’s Note: I do know best), but wouldn’t it have been way more interesting if the game ended, like, 3/4ths through the episode? I mean, I doubt production could pull off pacing that complicated, but I would like to see the outside world, and y’know, like, consequence, or something. I don’t know, I guess I understand the desire (mostly Quinn’s) to, like, help out and like, pay his dues. Whats-her-name was nice, and helped them out of a jam, and to Mr. Guilt Mallory, that justifies a wildly dangerous effort to make her “win.” Especially since they just overcame all odds and didn’t die in like, three seconds.
Probably the largest hole in this episode is the fact that they’re allowed to even “compete.” Also, I am sure the “plane” they slide to (which also, UGH) was televised. If this is a national sport, they’ll be filmed 24/7. Wouldn’t the gamemakers twirl their ridiculous beards and freak the fuck out? There are four strangers who infliltrated your game and are totally roasting your Cyber-Dogs.
If we’re talking about flaws, then this is really the biggest one: what is happening in the Outside World? The sliders constantly admonish the skies, bemoaning the idea that a world/government would allow such a horrific game. But they never stop to ask why the fuck anyone would choose to compete in it. It’s never stated that you have to compete. It’s not forced, not mandatory. So at the end of day, it’s a conscious choice to come to these things and murder people. They may wonder what society must be like to allow the games, but it’s much more unnerving to wonder what kind of society willingly participates in them.
I keep calling this woman “whats-her-name,” but I’m not (wholly) trying to be funny. I honestly can’t remember, and there’s a pretty good reason for it. This woman is like a concrete block of non-personality. And, sure, I guess that could be a conscious acting choice, but I doubt it. It’s disheartening— last week we had a huge accomplishment in casting. This week we have someone one half-naked who looks like they were kind to be half-naked.
And this is what we want to open the season with. Popcorn, not paté. It’s a little like the argument from Season One: was “Fever” or “Summer of Love” a better episode to start with? The question of “Double Cross” vs. “Rules of the Game” is less difficult (it’s Dub Cross, duhhhh), but it is a little more complicated. Whereas “Fever” was exciting but a little clumsy, “Rules” is actually a fairly competent piece of action television. The pacing is remarkable (for this show, at least), and even if it relies on the script’s trope of “setpiece-to-setpiece,” it never seems clunky. Both these episodes are fun to watch. They’re both satisfying. But they’re satisfying for different reasons. Once again, the question becomes “What do we want Sliders to be?” And right now, as much as I want to just tell you that I want it to be “Double Cross” every week for-ever, I have to admit that I want it to be more. I am totally willing to accept a show that can have both “Double Cross” and “Rules of the Game.” Right now, these are both acceptable forms of entertainment; acceptable forms of the show. Of our show.
The question, now, is where else can we go?
Next Week: Vortex Bobsled, Tornado Skateboard (Electric Twister Acid Test).