A Rebel Without A Clue (Net Worth).

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“Remember that this is 1999. I mentioned eschatology before, but this is something new. We’re now nearing the millenium— something wildly important to culture, both ‘pop’ and ‘serious.’ COMING SOON: The end of the world. And the internet is growing faster than we thought. Changing us in ways we’d never dreamed. It’s a time for wonder, no doubt about it. But it’s also a time for fear, for worry. How will this change us? What will our future hold?

And, truth be told, a future where “Net Worth” proves prescient isn’t that unbelievable. Really, what “Net Worth” does is paper our future with glam spectacle. It’s a glittered fortune. There aren’t many episodes of Sliders where you can say “oh man, that’s so close to us.” The very nature of the show usually denies us this. That may actually be the greatest failing of the show— that it shows us things perhaps too removed from our own familiarity.

When was the last time we could say that Sliders guessed right? “California Reich,” I guess. But then, of course, it tempered its futurism with sci-fi schlock. What, then? “The Weaker Sex?” Probably, in its own bizarrely sexist way. I understand that the point of the show is to show what could be, but there’s no point in showing that if you don’t relate it to now. Right?

Which brings us, of course, to “World Killer.” The episode that shows us a barmy science fiction tragedy but plays it for the emotion. But the secret triumph of “World Killer” is that the science fiction tragedy is completely recognizable to us. Overpopulation has been a threat to our world for as long as any of us can remember. “World Killer” shows us what it would be like.

Which is to say, horrible.

Surely that’s the way to approach this show.

The show disagrees with me, of course.. But still, I’m dithering.”

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Burying Your Head In The Sand (California Reich).

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“Sliders doesn’t have the benefit of history.

It exists as a time capsule, made in a time of peace and stability. The 90s were great! But if you look at our culture, you’d think we lived in a post-apocalypse. The X-Files is probably the apogee of cultural darkness— paranoia, the feeling that evil is seeping in between the cracks of reality. But it wasn’t true, not then. We put that evil on a pedestal and revered it because it seemed impossible. We couldn’t trust what we had— hence the paranoia— but we still had it great.

But then the bubble burst, the camel’s back cracked, the tub was emptied. Our perfect little soufflé of a country fell flat. The Great Disappointment. Death. Destruction. Recession. Comparing 1998 to 2008 to 2013 is an act of depression. Not only in the sense of economical downturn‚ but one of emotional depression. This country, in its cowboy hubris, took itself down the tubes. You could argue that we’ve pulled ourselves out of the worst of it, but have we?

I’d argue no.

And the simple fact of that makes “California Reich” at times both infuriating and terrifying. The evils that “Reich” posits aren’t really science fiction— in 2013, they’re fact with fiction glaze. That’s not to say that the lead singer for The Germs and some immaculately coiffed thugs march around rounding up black people and throwing them in concentration camps. But we live in a country where a majority of the population doesn’t believe in evolution. A country where a very vocal portion of the population refused to believe that our President was actually a citizen— something that most certainly wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t black. A country where, in so many of our cities, “poor” neighborhoods are just a nicer way to say “non-white.” We don’t live in a fair country.

But it isn’t as if things weren’t like that in 1998. It’s not like immigration wasn’t still a concern. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t racial tension. It wasn’t as if poverty didn’t exist. Today, though, all of our mild concerns of 1998 are magnified to tremendous levels— the tension is all around, not just seeping into the racks, but simply all we know. It’s worse now, because things haven’t gotten better.

So now, in 2013, it’s impossible to watch this episode and not recoil. Because a lot of things that happen in the episode are truly terrifying. But they’re cut with inanity and sci-fi bollocks and bad ideas and over-proselytizing— basically, it’s just an episode of Sliders. “

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Tell Me Your War Story (Asylum).

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Rembrandt’s journey on this show has been the most drastic of all the characters. He started at a personal nadir, really. He was vapid and empty— desperately clinging to a career that didn’t exist. Snapping at Quinn about his car. Shrill. Angry. Dressed in bizarre clothes. I mean, he was a joke. And sure, he was written to be that way. He was a stereotype. “Funny Black Dude” was where he began and ended.

 

And part of his journey into “believable human being” is due to a willingness of the writing staff to allow for more than a one-note character (too bad the same wasn’t allowed for Sabrina Lloyd). But part of it, too, is because Cleavant Derricks is a truly amazing actor who can take the worst material ever and elevate it to the sublime.

 

Season Four may not be perfect, but the decision to make Rembrandt a Wounded Survivor was the absolute best one it could have taken. No one else could have handled it. Kari could have tried— she’d have failed, but she’d have tried. Jerry’s past caring enough to work with that. Charlie doesn’t count. But Cleavant cares. And so Rembrandt grows. Rembrandt grows, and he does so naturally. It’s why Rembrandt awkwardly hitting on Grace isn’t creepy— because it’s a shade of the Remmy we first met.

 

All of this is to say that Rembrandt is a broken man. And if his shaky belief in God is what gets him through the day, then who am I to judge him in that?

 

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All My Friends, Nothing But Blood & Meat (Slidecage).

Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 6.55.37 PMThis week on Sliders:

The Slidecage changes you. But it’s changed the Kromaggs for the better. The humans— the people we’re supposed to root for— they’ve devolved. Which would be fine, but I’m not sure that’s really what we’re supposed to take away from this episode.

 

Still, there’s the quiet moment where Rembrandt watched Jules and Kolitar embrace, and he is clearly moved, but also equally ashamed and confused by that swell of emotion. Which sets us up for actual progress in the ‘arc’ of Rembrandt getting over his captivity. Which, frankly, should be the entire arc of the season. Instead, we’re ‘treated’ with another tag in Leisure World, where Rembrandt is sad that he tried to kill Quinn.

Which is a pointless, irritating scene. After all, Rembrandt was brainwashed when he tried to kill Quinn. When the spell wore off, he clearly had no memory of it. So what the tag implies is that the other sliders told him about his ‘betrayal,’ in a way that still allowed him to feel guilty about it. Which is A) cruel. And B) it denies us the opportunity for a killer scene down the road— imagine if Rembrandt’s revelation about Kromagg Love inspired an about face of feeling in him, only to have it undermined by the revelation that he had been brainwashed into murdering his friend?

 

Plus, the Leisure World tag is bizarre because it seems like it’s written by someone who didn’t watch the episode. Sure, the line about Rembrandt’s heart being too strong for Kromagg Influence is cute, but it had nothing to do with Rembrandt’s heart. Jules broke the spell. Jules and Jules alone. Rembrandt was powerless. Which is wayyyyy more interesting than a shitty “power of love” message that the episode tries to force down our throats.

This episode isn’t really about love. It’s kind of about hate.

 

That’s what this entire show has become.

 

READ IT AT EARTHPRIME.

 

I Need A Drink (Just Say Yes).

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This episode is basically a re-tread of “Narcotica,” the comic that Jerry O’Connell wrote for Acclaim. At the time I reviewed the comic, I praised it for it’s grey-area emotional tone, and the fact that it’s clearly meant to be ambiguous whether or not the sliders ‘succeeded’ in ‘overthrowing the government.’ All of that is missing from “Just Say Yes,” which, in case you didn’t get it, is a joke about the whole “Just Say No” anti-drug message, which is about as preposterous as this episode.

 

But there are parallels here. In “Narcotica,” Wade’s arc details her descent into drug addiction. It’s slow, and scary, and the toll it takes on her is obvious and horrifying. “Narcotica” uses real drugs as a means of Body Horror, where in “Just Say Yes” it’s used for dopey stoner jokes. If there was anything bad to say about “Narcotica,” it was that the idea that ‘everyone can use cocaine in the streets’ took it out of the realm of reality— that plainly wouldn’t be allowed in society. Also you can’t really operate your life normally whilst on Cocaine.

 

But “Just Say Yes,” at least on paper (if you black out the rest of the episode), is more believable. No, you wouldn’t be shooting up before you go to work— this world is about regulation, not stimulation. Which is a small but crucial difference. Which is why the joke of Alt-Quinn in “Just Say Yes” talking about not doing drugs doesn’t work— because these people aren’t “dropping out.” They’re just living.

 

Yet at the end of the day, “Narcotica” was smart because it showed an undercurrent to the ‘blissed-out’ nature of the world. There was evil, and it was worth fighting. But having Quinn & Rembrandt break in to an office with ease because the doors weren’t locked leaves a sour taste.

 

Especially when Rembrandt highlights it by saying “with everyone so blissed out maybe they don’t have a huge crime problem.” Which, excuse me for pointing it out, I guess, but isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that a huge and awesome example of this world improving upon our own? I write this from Chicago, where the homicide rate is so ridiculous that it almost is impossible to look at. There are so many gun-deaths in the poor, non-white parts of this town that the headlines become numbing. So when I hear Rembrandt (of all people) say that this ‘drug world’ has basically no crime— no crime to the point that no door would be locked— my first reaction is “right on.”

This week on Sliders: drugs and casual sexism.

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Five In The Hand, White Soul Man (O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

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This week on Sliders: we meet Colin, Quinn’s brother, who has a vast intellect and an amazing sense of style that’s not dated at all, whatsoever, why do you ask?

I understand it was going to be hard, no matter what, to follow something like “World Killer.” I stand by my wild assessment of last week— it’s simply the best. Here’s the good news: this episode isn’t the worst. The bad news is, it’s not… I don’t know, good? 

 

I mean, we’re not even really playing to the cheap seats here. I’m not even sure we’re bothering to play at all. It’s just so easy. The thing is, I’ve always enjoyed when the show goes down the path of “New Slider Learns The Ropes.” And sure, the good ol’ comedy trope of Country Bumpkin Hits The Big City can sometimes work (read: sometimes).

 

But the problem is that this isn’t just any old New Slider. This is Quinn’s Brother. This is one of the big hinges of the new season. This should be the defining episodes of the show. But instead we’re treated to a parody of a parody of a rube bumbling his way through city life. It just seems like a waste of a new character.

 

Actually, that’s not even the big problem with the episode. The problem is that this stupid way to introduce a character is grafted (all puns intended) onto an already decent idea about bone grafts and DNA banking and a pretty clever idea for criminal behavior. Both of these ideas are totally decent— they’re good enough for their own episodes, even! But it’s just… off here.

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We Could At Least Be Civil (Common Ground.)

The humanization of the Kromaggs, or the De-humanization of Rembrandt Brown?

This episode isn’t about Kromanus. It’s about Rembrandt.

Of course, it’s hard to actually see that without looking very, very hard. There’s subtlety in the script, but once it leaves the page it’s lost in an ugly miasma of overscored and overdirected nonsense. Every shot seems to last too long, like it’s waiting for a voiceover that will never come. It reminds me of that quote from Chapterhouse: Dune that I quoted in my review of “Slide Like an Egyptian”—

Intentional detail in everything although sometimes you had to dig for it. Budget dictated reduced quality in many choices, endurance preferred over luxury or eye appeal. Compromise, and like most compromise, satisfying no one.

In honesty, this is the only way to appreciate Sliders as it’s become. It isn’t a show for everyone. But below all the painfully dated decisions and lack of cohesion, there’s a wonderful show. It’s hours like “Common Ground” that underline this fact so completely. If you want to watch a show that actually has a lot to say about humanity and how we deal with extreme tragedy, then you can find all that in Sliders. But if you want to see emotionless schlock, that’s up to you too.

But I’m choosing the former. And I think you should, too.

 

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