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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).