By Way of Consolation, Have a Scone (Murder Most Foul).

So, there’s some behind the scenes shenanigans I’ve been completely avoiding a discussion of.

But pretty soon I’m going to have no choice but to avoid this discussion, so why not throw it here? This episode kind of ignores the slow-burn of the end-of-friendship, so why not talk about what’s going on under the hood?

Well, in a word: Peckinpah. That name, to Sliders fans, is synonymous with Pain.

Let me back up before I delve into this. If you recall, the stipulations of Sliders’ third season included the move to Los Angeles and a new team of FOX-Approved Yes Men, who’d be there to stop Tracy Tormé from ignoring network interference. FOX wanted action. They wanted Sex. They wanted Adventure and Intrigue. They wanted 90210 mixed with The X-Files (the ones with the big ratings, not those pesky cerebral ones).

Basically, they wanted Silk Stalkings mixed with Beauty and the Beast (the TV show). So why not call in the Executive Producer of both of those shows? Silk Stalkings… hey, man, I don’t know. I’m too young for that nonsense— but I remember its existence being …prevalent to say the least. I don’t think I ever watched it, but I have distinct memories of its constant presence, that feeling of “this is on again?” Beauty & The Beast, though: there’s some television. I don’t know. It’s better Television to strive for than Silk Stalkings.

But honestly, if you’re a show on FOX in the mid-90s, shouldn’t you be trying as hard as humanly possible to be The X-Files? I mean, in 1996/1997, The X-Files is pretty much at it’s absolute peak of popularity. One year off from a mother fucking feature film? Man, that show is still great. But it’s still in Vancouver. I mean, just saying. Moving to Los Angeles kind of kills The X-Files, too. But that’s neither here nor there.

The fact is, David Peckinpah was brought in as an expert. He had a very specific job to do. And the fact of the matter is, he did that job really fucking well. He made Sliders into an action/adventure show way better than Tracy Tormé did. Look, I know that’s a completely controversial thing to say, especially on a Sliders Fan Blog. But I’ve said before, when Season Three is working right, firing on all cylinders, it is good. It’s not great, but it’s good. It is satisfying television— and that’s all it’s trying to do here.

Sure, that’s less than it used to be trying to do. But there’s no point in knocking something that’s actively enjoyable because there’s something else completely different that may or may not be better. Or let me put it this way: even “The Fire Within” was better than “Time Again & World.” David Peckinpah will, later, make decisions regarding Sliders that are downright lousy. Some of those we can blame him for entirely. Some of those were influenced by his bosses.

But this dude has a seriously bad rap on the message boards, where he is often referred to as “Peckinballs” and most threads dissolve into jokes about his ineptitude. Which was fine in 2001, but in 2006 he died suddenly of a heart attack. And I don’t care what he did to your favorite show, he died young, he left family behind, and that’s tragic. So I’m going to respect this dude when he deserves my respect. When he doesn’t, I’ll let you know.

But, I have to say, if this is the episode where I introduce this dude, I’m going to have a hard time knockin’ him, because this episode is awesome.

Do you guys remember how heavy laptops were in the 90s? Apparently these people also have Super Strength.

I mean, just look at this wild teaser. It’s pure 90s slink. Power suits abound. The Sliders are not going to fit in here, that’s for sure. It isn’t long before Mr. Grumpo himself gets in serious trouble.

Get used to that face, bro.

Here’s the thing: the team would have absolutely zero idea that any of this had happened, or what to do about it. Were it not for a conveniently chatty bartender who they run into in like every world this season named Elston Diggs who tells them exactly enough to get the plot in motion.

Also Digg’s hair— dictated by what, exactly? Why was it Rainbow in “The Dream Masters?” Ugh this guy.

Okay, since this post already tackled the Peckinpah, let’s use it to tackle the other thing I’ve been meaning to tackle: Elston Diggs (which means I’m going to have literally nothing to talk about when I get to “The Breeder.”) Now, as an idea, Diggs is fine. Diggs is great. One of the best parts about the first two seasons was how there was a tiny network of bit parts that kept showing up. Mace Moon, the Electronic Salesman. Pavel the Taxi Driver. Conrad Bennish, jr. And of course, Gomez Calhoun, the innkeeper. I miss you, Gomez.

Diggs, though, is a bartender. That’s fine. I’ve talked (read: joked) at length about how often the team is drinking all the time. So it makes sense that they’d be in bars all the time. It also makes sense that they’d drink at the same bar all the time: these people really need their stability, after all.

So now we have Elston Diggs, who is the very embodiment of the ‘token gay bit player in 90s television shows.’ Even just saying that Diggs is gay seems ridiculous. It’s gay as defined wholly by stereotypes: a fey voice, a limp wrist. It’s mildly offensive, and doesn’t have a place on a show that knows better.

But does this show know better? After all, what amounts to “casting” these days is basically completely reliant on “sex appeal” and …nothing else. So casting based on stereotype is the name of the game at this point. Diggs is problematic. But he’s also a bit player, so it almost doesn’t matter.

Also overshadowing his stereotyping is his function on the show— a living almanac. I don’t understand why the show has pretty much never  figured out a graceful way to give the background for these parallel worlds. The almanac was cute, but it was still ridiculous— you can’t piece together 6 billion years of history from one tiny book in five minutes. The only time the show’s ever been subtle about it was in “Double Cross,” where they just walk around taking in the scenery, figuring out what’s going on with the world as they go along, reading newspapers and pamphlets— using their eyes and ears.

Diggs, though, just spits out exactly what they need to hear at exactly the right moment. He’s the laziest of writing crutches, every time. And the sliders ask him the most brain dead questions. Like in Dragonslide, when Wade point-blank says “is everyone a Druid on this world?” WHAT? That’s the clunkiest most ridiculous question ever. But Diggs, blank as he is, smiles and says “Yes, the bullet points of this alternate history are this: blah blah blah.” That happens every time. It’s alright in “Desert Storm,” since he’s almost his own independent character. But even then he’s underused and that episode is awful anyways and full of missed opportunity and UGH THIS GUY.

ELSTON DIGGS: THE ANIMATED SERIES. ONLY ON THE WB.

So the Sliders in this episode wonder where Arturo is, and Diggs tells them exactly where he is, and thank god now the plot can begin.

THE S—FILES. ONLY ON THE WB.

So let’s dig into this episode. I said it was good, and then I talked about problems. But Diggs is a problem of the whole show, not just this episode. What’s going on in this episode? Why is everyone wearing business suits? Well, on this world, efficiency is King. Everyone works a 100-hour work week, running around wired and working as much as they can all the time. This world seems to be in pretty good shape, financially, and as we’ll see, they’ve got technology pretty well in hand too. Normally, this is where The Professor would hem and haw about unfairness and blah blah blah. But The Professor’s been drugged, and he’s being taken to real meat of this parallel world.

Arturo, if you don’t cooperate, I’m going to take your temperature with this thing.

So obviously, the human body/mind can’t withstand the pressures of 100-hour work weeks forever. People bend, they slag, they break— they fracture. So when someone becomes a “Fracture,” they’re given a Government-Paid/Mandated Holiday. They’re taken to Theme Parks where they’re hypnotized into thinking they’re a player in a living play. A ren-fair where half the people actually think they’re who they’re playing. A living stage.

I will forever admire these folks ability to keep a straight face.

Arturo, apparently not having a double on this World, gets the big treatment, and is hypnotized into thinking he’s Reginald Doyle, a Sherlock Holmes-lite kind of dude. Quinn, Remmy, and Wade all get parts in the play as well (this is a sticking point to fans— how would they get such choice roles around Arturo? I’m going to venture a guess and say that if Remmy could use his threatening “I’m an angry G-Man” shtick at the Lab, he could use it in the park, too.)

Anyways, that’s a super ambitious parallel world idea. And it’s all in the service of throwing the Sliders into a Sherlock Holmes Dickensian Mystery Plot. But you know what? AWESOME! Bring it on! There’s no living flame involved in that idea. It’s more natural than most ideas we’ve had this season.

And, somewhat shockingly, the show goes for it. It’s running on all cylinders, and every part of production is on the same page. The costumes, the lighting— for the first time in ages, I didn’t notice we were on the backlot. Which just goes to show how lazy the show’s got. It doesn’t take much to convince or fool us— I just want you guys to try.

And try they do. Even the casting is back in good form for the first time since Logan St. Clair.

Hey man, I just took the screencap. I didn’t film the episode. Don’t look at me.

Now, at first we’re all thinking: “Ho Boy, how can she breathe in that thing?” But the way the episode runs, this is how we’re supposed to read this. She’s a bubbly home-town innocent, playing the part she’s always wanted to, whether or not it involves wearing slightly degrading costuming. She plays that part really well.

See, that’s the difference with this episode. For once, all the tones line up. It’s a mystery show, and a bit of a lark, a Holmes pastiche— and everyone is on the same page.The actors are all playing this the same way. The semi-cartoonish Evil Doctor fits in fine, because that’s his role: the secret mastermind. The grumpy Sheriff character does a good job too as a false antagonist. He really sells his “let them die these people are too important” speech (a speech with surprised me at its inclusion and subtlety: it’s a line that reveals more about the values of this parallel universe than anything Diggs ever said). Even the comedy works right— Arturo’s “have you lost your marples joke, the line about the Scone. Genuinely funny, and intentionally so! 

The rate this is going, you’d be forgiven for thinking this episode was a porno.

So in the episode, Arturo/Doyle is investigating a series of Jack the Ripper Murders, which at first are fake. But halfway through, someone actually starts killing people. The switch from lark to horror is really well handled, and mostly is carried all on Wade’s face. Even smarter is the fact that even when Brainwashed, Arturo is smart enough to get to the bottom of the real mystery. It’s really nice to see him at the top of his game, even if he doesn’t know it for himself. It’s also a pleasantly creepy thing for him to have figured it out because the “smell of blood” was lacking from the earlier crime scenes.

STEP ASIDE ROBERT DOWNEY JR.

So, obviously, everyone who needs to get busted gets busted, everyone is happy, Wade kicks a ton of ass (which is great), Rembrandt overcomes diversity and “uses his key” to open a door, which is the most unintentionally hilarious moment of the show until “Stoker.” But there’s one more thing I want to touch on, which is the bandit fracture kid that steals the timer.

Thanks for finding your key light, Kid.

Because that is how you pull an infodump. That 12 year old fills in every lingering question we had about how this world works, while still adding some new and interesting ideas. He could probably make a timer himself— he all but says so. At the end he says “one day I’ll find you guys.” Which is corny, but kind of exciting. This kid is smart, and a real person, and he’s actually a really good kid-actor. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing the dude again. I haven’t been able to say that about anyone in a really long time.

I mean, I understand the desire to block your shots well, but c’mon…

So sure, Wade throws a Vortex halfway up to Mars. That’s a little silly. But let’s not forget the fact that for once, the people watching the Vortex actually act like they’re watching a HUGE HOLE IN THE FABRIC OF SPACE OPEN UP. The Sheriff’s wide-eyed reaction to the Vortex, so contrasted with the “oh, yeah, sure, that’s normal” reaction that we usually get, is enough to make me forgive the CG Faux-Pas.

Yes, an “O” is the shape of the Vortex.

So here we are. This show can be a Pastiche if it wants to be. You could whittle down Season Three to like, a 13 episode run and it would be, like, the most fun Season of Television ever. That’s not a bad goal to have. Especially when they’re this good at it.

Next Week: The Final Ride of the Dope-Ass Cellphone (Slide Like an Egyptian).

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14 thoughts on “By Way of Consolation, Have a Scone (Murder Most Foul).

  1. Hmm. I found your response to my comments in your previous entry a bit baffling. But now that you’ve further explained your wish to avoid looking too closely at the behind-the-scenes issues, I can see why as far as you’re concerned, Quinn is Quinn no matter how much Jerry is off his game. And I am looking forward to seeing you continue with that approach. 🙂

    There were a number of reasonably capable action-adventure style episodes in the first portion of Season 3. But it didn’t take long before the mediocrity of “Double Cross” gave way to incompetence like “Desert Storm” and “The Fire Within.” As you pointed out in the “Desert Storm” review, the problem isn’t that they’ve abandoned the SLIDERS concept, it’s that these episodes are clumsy pieces of television. “Murder Most Foul” is a very enjoyable and well-written episode, but this was the genre Peckinpah knew: crime fiction. Outside of this one script, Peckinpah was commissioning “Paradise Lost” and screwing up “Exodus” and “The Other Slide of Darkness.”

    When Season 3 is working, it’s likely because some Season 1-2 writers (Nan Hagan, Tony Blake and Paul Jackson) were still on the show and had yet to realize how radically different this year’s production would be executed.

    Peckinpah’s family did post on the Sci-Fi boards once, upset that SLIDERS fans were so down on their family patriarch. To which a fan named Informant replied:

    “People need to realize that if they produce something like this, they are leaving a legacy. If they don’t want that legacy to be a bunch of people bashing their work, they need to actually put some thought into what they’re airing. I’m sure Peckinpah was a fine, upstanding citizen of this world. Unmatched in his moral integrity. The last good man on planet Earth.

    “His show still sucked.”

    • On the Quinn becoming a player did you ever consider the fact that Mommas boy Quinn Mallory didn’t have luck with the ladies for two very important reasons #1 he was never out of the house, outside of school and a part time job at the computer store which he “was the lab rat so very little social interaction their” he spent a majority of his time working on the anti-gravity machine that became “Sliding”
      #2 He was never in the same age bracket with anybody in school plus he was way smart so this would have a negative effect with the ladies.

      Here is the thing if you are shy around the opposite sex then it is going to be hard to come out of your shell the few woman that you are around you won’t want to screw up any friendships etc. that is why Wade had to be the aggressive one in the relationship.

      Now, Wade by this point had made it clear, it’s not happening, Quinn has Rembrandt their as a wing man, “even if it was never showed we have to assume that Rembrandt would kind of push Quinn into asking girls out on different worlds” also here is the best thing if your pick-up lines don’t work or you get a drink thrown in your face, your gone in 22 hours non-one is the wiser, now you have confidence, Rembrandt is also their to help tell you to dress hipper etc., keep in mind he did all these things for Farm-Boy”Collin” granted he got some disastrous results so maybe Wade helped tone it down, Collin had blue hair Maggie that would probably think it was humorous for Collin to look like a clown.

      So I accept Quinn’s changes as the show progresses Quinn has alot on his shoulders and he is in his mid 20’s, and was never trained to lead nor would he of took on leadership if it wasn’t for sliding so finding out a fun adventure would turn in to what Season#4 was, I would think it was completely in character to just want some way out of the mess you created, without sliding his friends would be alive and earthprime would still be Kromagg free.

  2. I too loved this episode, for many of the reason you state.

    I also liked the alternate world within an alternate world aspect. The entire premise behind the Sherlockian Pastiche was believable and I thought that was done well. And JRD makes a good Doyle/Sherlock. I didn’t have to many nits to pick in this one…maybe Sabrina Lloyd in 19th century corset distracted me too much. 😉

    • It’s like everyone’s favorite episode that no one can admit to! I’m working hard to break the chains this season has wrapping it in mediocrity. This episode is good, and it’s as good as a Season One episode, and the guy who is “responsible” for “ruining” the show wrote it!

      Apparently the episode was highly rated at the time in all the right demographics. Clearly viewers in 1997 wanted the same quality out of their shows as we do in 2012.

      • That’s an admirable goal, but starting in two weeks, let’s just say you’re going to have your work cut out for you.

      • Hehe — I can’t wait! Although if you end up giving a positive review to Paradise Lost, I’ll feel like *I’m* in a parallel dimension. 😛 Perhaps you will find a way to escape.

        To escape.

        To escape.

        PS. Thanks! It’d be even better if I could figure out how to get avatars to work on this board.

  3. The one thing you may want to add to your comments is the death toll of innocent people, our Sliders, and bad guys that the new Egyptian timer brings us as the Sliders cross the multi-Universe. Cause I don’t know if Quinn crossed the wires the wrong way but that new timer will bring them into some crazy worlds.

    On the bartender Diggs, he wasn’t as big a deal to me since he was a constant, and it did get the needed information faster, my problem was that the very few times that they returned to San-Fransisco that they didn’t meet the old gang of characters nor did it look like the San-Fransisco they we were shown in season #1-2,

    I do wonder how they couldn’t afford Diggs in season #4-5, would of been nice…again not a character that I cared about.

    David P. sadly if your a Sliders fan as much as they hate the guy he is the reason Season #3-5 got made had he not came in and made the fixes Fox wanted and got the show to the 48 mark then their would of been no reason to have Sci-Fi pick it up, the changes in Season #4 as insane as they where had to be done to turn it into a Sci-Fi show with a Star Trek like bad guy, every episode needed a Sci-Fi hook, so unless you just buy into Sliders being a 2-season show then you got to like the guy for keeping it going. The thing is as much as I believe it would of gave Tracy ulcers and an early death some of the best episodes of the show happened in the short time that they collaborated on season#3, and had Tracy stayed around probably could of made the show work….I don’t know you got Tracy in the writers room and JRD with the actors both screaming that this show had the worst writing on television, and they demanded better, and in about an episodes you will see what happens when the people that care about a show give up…or leave.

    You are correct never cared about this episode gave it a re-watch holds up well even today.
    The Mind reconstruction Chair will pop back up in season #4 and #5 at least 10 times

    • Good point about the death-toll. There’s an episode this Season that actually brings it up as well— I’ll certainly be discussing it then (and again and again, later).

      It’s really nice to see some agreement with the good bits of the Peckinpah Era. You bring up a good point about Season 4, too— as problematic as his treatment of some of the characters are, he spearheaded a drastic regeneration of the show for the new network. As much as Seasons 4-5 lose steam halfway through, they at least begin with some amazing new concepts to the show. That’s not something to insult.

      For all Sliders had a truly infinite concept, people seem pretty hung up on only accepting the show as whatever it was in Seasons One and Two— which was pretty damn scattershot anyways. Seasons 3-5 only prove that there was a lot more than people thought to be wrung out of the concept— and Peckinpah was responsible for a lot of it.

      • Yeah, I’ve always felt the early episodes of seasons 4 and 5 were really, really strong. Season 5, especially, felt really fresh at the start, in spite of the depressing developments. It still petered off and lost 90% of the potential a few episodes in, but it’s worth acknowledging at least trying to go in a new direction and succeeding for a little while, even if it’s only one or two episodes. That’s a long way off from here, but I’m excited to see so many people finally acknowledging that.

  4. My apologies for another rambling comment…

    Pete wrote: “On the Quinn becoming a player did you ever consider the fact that Mommas boy Quinn Mallory didn’t have luck with the ladies for two very important reasons #1 he was never out of the house, outside of school and a part time job at the computer store”

    Well, I’d point out: Quinn was a serious athlete; look at all the sports gear in his bedroom! He could have easily been a ladies’ man and he quite clearly and deliberately chose to be something else.

    I honestly feel that Quinn Mallory was and could have been an icon of science fiction. He makes being intellectual and intelligent look appealing and cool at a time when geeks with esoteric knowledge and interests were dismissed as oddballs. And when certain core aspects of his character were replaced with the actor’s own personality, something precious and fragile was destroyed.

    Ian wrote: “people seem pretty hung up on only accepting the show as whatever it was in Seasons One and Two— which was pretty damn scattershot anyways. Seasons 3-5 only prove that there was a lot more than people thought to be wrung out of the concept— and Peckinpah was responsible for a lot of it.”

    I’d never deny that Seasons 1 – 2 are flawed and a product of the era in which they were made. I recently put a quote from you to that very effect in a SLIDERS script I wrote. But at the end of the day, Seasons 1 – 2 were made by people who cared about what they were making and put a lot of thought and time and trouble and passion into their work, and that sense of goodwill and energy and enthusiasm permeates the final product. Even if you didn’t like “Invasion,” it can’t be denied that they went to a lot of effort to get the Kromagg makeup f/x right, going so far as to call in the makeup artists from THE X-FILES. They took the time to get in-character photos of the actors for the wanted poster in “Love Gods.” They made sure Jerry acted like Quinn when a girl grabbed him and kissed him in “Greatfellas.”

    As we get farther and farther into Season 3, there is the painful and eventually inescapable realization; the people behind the camera just don’t *care* about what they’re making. At all. And throughout the latter half of Season 3 and *most* of Seasons 4 – 5, the show is not only indifferent about the quality of its product, it’s hostile and abusive and antagonistic to its core audience — which is pretty much the only audience remaining. There comes a point when only the diehard fans are still watching, and the show treats them with scornful contempt. That contempt, I feel, is what is difficult to accept and what fans would like to remove from their memories of the show.

    • I guess what I meant to say is that I agree with you that Quinn could of been the way you wanted as an upstanding hero,but the truth is people change(especially in their 20’s when they are finally away from their parents) and I feel the changes that he made in the 4 seasons that we knew him made perfect since.

      He was in a small group, a group that A looks to you for answers, B looks to you for guidance and C says that all your answers and guidance are awesome(except Rembrandt that hates you for getting him in this mess, but outside of that agrees with the rest of the group)…this is basically why a group of bullies pick on certain kids they get rewarded because they accomplished their goals(bonding by picking on the nerd).

      What I am saying is not only is confident Quinn have a big ego, he constantly gets a bigger ego as the first 3 seasons go on since the only constants in his life (Rembrandt, Wade, and the Professor) tell him that everything outside of getting them stuck on this adventure is great and that without him then they would be lost…Mid season 3 when they loose the Professor he finally starts to see the error of his ways this is not going to stop him from being a ladies man but it will start to make him make bad decisions since now he is the true leader and it was his bad decision(of not leaving the world when they could) that cost the Professor his life and inevitability all other bad things that happen to the Sliders from this point on.

      ireactions Keep up the great comments you always have a lot of good stuff to make you think about the show…

      • Yes. I enjoy our conversations too.

        My personal view is that yes — Quinn would have a bigger ego as time passed. But that ego would not be presented by having him hook up with lots and lots of girls. (Again, that’s Jerry O’Connell.) Quinn’s ego would be represented in terms of a saviour complex; believing that he is required to interfere in the lives of others. We see a bit of that in “As Time Goes By,” where he doesn’t really understand the world where time runs in reverse but is determined to get involved. That’s where Quinn’s ego would come in, along with perhaps a somewhat condescending attitude whenever encountering fellow scientists because their theories and models are his realities and experiences. You can absolutely, definitely make Quinn develop an arrogant, egotistical side — it’s just that showing it in terms of him becoming ridiculously oversexualized is possibly the shallowest and most out-of-character way to do it.

        It seems to me that “Into the Mystic” is also a good example of Quinn’s ego. “Of course!” he says when discovering his double is the renowned and famous Sorcerer. That’s what I would have liked to see developed.

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