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. “

Read the rest at EARTH PRIME.

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Oil Slick, With Noodles (The Fire Within).

In 2012, there’s something romantic about “The Union.” People look back on the 70s and 80s and think, “Arthur Scargill, wasn’t he a nice man?” Nowadays, there’s riots, and London’s on fire. Here in the US, that banding-together against The Man spirit has taken the form of the Occupy movement. But the Occupy movement is toothless, a group of trust-funded aimless children who never bathe and latch on to any sort of micro-movement that appeals to them. That’s a generalization, of course— and I should point out that I firmly and wholly agree with the basic principles of Occupy and of Unionizing in general— I just disagree with the way Occupy’s chosen to make their claims.

But back to The Union. Science Fiction, in the 70s/80s, was often occupied (har har) with the idea of The Union. There are great examples of classic Doctor Who taking the issue head on (What’s up, Green Death?). The idea of “the common man is crushed by the system” is one of the oldest tenets of story-telling, sci-fi or otherwise. Sliders has tackled it from the side— “Prince of Wails” and “Fever” (and yes, I guess you can count “Time Again & World,” but I’m not going to) were both examples of small groups of citizens being tossed around in a torrent of a Government outside of their control.

But those groups/stories were never organized under a Union. Sliders never based a story off of the Coal Miners of England in 1972. So when, in this episode, the team lands on a world where the entire city of Los Angeles is a glorified Oil Foundry, and the Company works the workers into the ground, denying them anything and everything, even Health Insurance, we’ve got ourselves the makings of a real cracker of an episode.

Apparently the only thing The Union does get are dope-ass sunglasses.

Somewhat surprisingly, the team at first doesn’t want anything to do with the Union and the Machinations of the Planet. They’re more concerned with just finding work and laying low until the slide. Naturally, Wade gets involved when she discovers how far the Corporation is actually going in their quest to remove their workers’ rights. And this where the episode takes a slight downturn. The episode didn’t need a subplot where there’s a murder mystery and a secret arsonist working within the Corporation. The threat that the Union faces is greater than any silly murder/revenge story. But really, the episode should get credit for giving The Union a face, not just some faceless mass of humanity that we’re supposed to care about because of course we are. Wade’s journey through the episode is brilliant in this way. She carries almost all of the story revelations by herself— the meat of the character moments in the episode are all on her shoulders.

Or at least they would be, if this episode weren’t actually about A LIVING OMNIPOTENT FLAME THAT CAN TALK AND FORM INTO A SHITTY CGI “HUMAN.”

BBBBBBBAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRFFFFFFFFFFFF

I semi-apologize for the alternate-dimension entry above. But do you see what I’m getting at? There could have been a wonderful episode here. A call-back to the more human-centric episodes of the first season. Instead, we have a sketchy framework background of a world that just serves as an excuse to shoot in the Universal Studios Backlot again (more on that later). The only thing that this episode does to redeem itself is the fact that they don’t shoot in that fucking cave set that we’ve seen every week for no fucking reason.

LOOK AT THIS FUCKING STOCK FOOTAGE

But even then, this episode commits maybe the laziest of production sins that the show, and maybe any show ever of all time, will commit. As much as it’s a pain and obvious and distracting, I understand the need to continue to shoot on the backlot. It’s a part of the compromise of the show’s move to Los Angeles. It’s a great money saving resource. Fine. Save that money. But get creative with how you choose to shoot the backlot. And I’ll admit, the episode’s choice to make a lot of the cars from the 50s is one step to making the backlot creative. The next step would be having an actual reason for making a lot of the cars from the 50s.

OH MY GOD ARTURO LIKES CARS NOW THEY MUST HAVE TAKEN THE WRONG ONE 😛

But I’m digressing from my point. Let’s watch a scene from the episode, in which Wade and Rembrandt are trapped in a burning building, unable to escape (I guess the door is locked and they were tired).

Oh, wait, I’m sorry. That’s actually just BACKDRAFT THE RIDE. THEY DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER TO STAGE THEIR OWN FIRE. THEY JUST FILMED FUCKING BACKDRAFT THE FUCKING RIDE AND STITCHED IT TOGETHER, REPEATING THOSE DOORS BLOWING OPEN LIKE TWENTY TIMES, AND THEN CUT IN SOME SHOTS OF WADE LOOKING CONCERNED.

I ATE A BABY

I’m sorry, but that’s unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable. I’m willing to forgive the episode for its foray into fantasy with the stupid fire being. I’m willing to forgive the waste of story with The Union. I’m willing to forgive Rembrandt’s weird sunglasses. I’m willing to forgive almost every stupid ridiculous bullshit part of this shitty episode. But to insult me so completely by just filming Backdraft The Ride and not even make any amount of effort to hide that fact? Unacceptable. They might as well just show this the next time they jump through the fucking vortex:

That’s more or less a joke. But look how well that’s aged over time. Then watch “The Fire Within” and tell me how much fun you had. And I’ll ask you to wipe the drool off your face because Yes, I’m Sorry, You Fell Asleep. Arturo, in one of the only charming moments of the episode, geeks out to Quinn about the Fire Beast being basically the coolest thing that has ever happened ever of all time (other than, y’know, SLIDING). But his excitement doesn’t translate to us. We don’t share in it. We’re bored and waiting for him to shut up so we can watch Ally McBeal.

This is the last time these two characters look like they have any sort of affection for each other.

So I guess, before I put this crap to bed, that I should talk about Wade’s little admission that she, like, really wants to squeeze one out. This comes in the middle of Backdraft The Ride, which is a pretty awkward time to tell anyone that fact. I mean, sure, she thinks she’s about to “die.” I don’t know. I’m torn. I don’t think it’s out of character, per se, though we’ve certainly never heard any sort of indication that she’s wanted a baby before. I think what rankles me about it is the fact that it’s impossible to take it seriously when I’m watching fire burst out of a door for the fourth time in as many minutes. It’s a potentially powerful character moment squandered in a lousy excuse for a TV show.

Also WTF was with all the Strip Clubbin’?

That’s the epitaph for this episode. And if we keep on this trajectory, it’s going to be the epitaph for the entire show.

Next Week: I’m going to be taking a holiday week, because I’ll be at CAKE, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo! If you’re in Chicago, please come out! I’ll be selling some new comics, and some old favorites, and every cartoonist you’ve ever loved/should love will be there!

Next Next Week: Rembrandt One-Ups Wade and Squeezes One Out Himself (The Prince of Slides).

Into This Cosmic Mess (The Weaker Sex).

Let me recap the teaser for this episode.

Arturo buys a pretzel:

I did try the Pretzel...

But then President Clinton comes on the television:

This is even funnier in 2011.

And Arturo drops his Pretzel:

...but I did not inhale.

Sha-bamp-a-da-bwowrrr.

Okay, so there’s a certain amount of ‘free/gimme’ ideas inherent to Sliders. We’ve already gone through most of them— that being variations of the “foreign government in power” alternate history. This week, it’s probably the most obvious idea in the ‘alternate history’ playbook: instead of patriarch, it’s matriarch. Ladies’ choice. Except it’s not choice, it’s law. Or something.

This sculpture is still so dumb on this world.

So we have a tricky episode. It’s a concept that’s probably the most controversial, the easiest to end up being accidentally offensive. Women are the dominant gender, Men are second-class citizens. This whole thing could very easily wind up in a ‘let’s make fun of stereotypes’ mishmash of pratfalls and name-calling.

And, unfortunately, it sort of does.

Before I get into that, there’s a couple of things I have to point out. For one, this is the first time since starting this project where I remember enjoying an episode much, much more than I actually did. “The Weaker Sex” isn’t a really weak episode, but it’s nothing compared to “Eggheads,” or hell, even the second half of the Pilot.

"Easy Cheese" is too apt a metaphor for this episode.

You all know how much I’ve been griping about how little Wade gets to do in the show. Now, here we have an episode that’s basically written for her, what should be the first real showcase of the character. Wade’s finally getting off the couch!

And she does get off the couch, but none of it is on screen. She spends the entire episode off frame, working for the Mayor of San Francisco’s re-election campaign. If she’s ever on-screen, she’s only serving to remind us that she’s a woman. Like, seriously. I think she even says “I’m a woman.” That’s a line of dialogue.

This is why no one lets Wade read the Almanac.

I’ll recap a bit of plot so to illustrate my point: the main plot of this episode deals with Aturo engaging in a campaign to become the first ever male mayor of San Fran. It flies against everything Arturo always preaches about non-involvement, which Wade repeatedly tells him. Wade’s role in this episode is pretty clearly supposed to be antagonistic. It never really seems like we’re supposed to agree with her— if we were, the episode wouldn’t devote basically its entire running time to Arturo.

So she becomes a shrill talking head, calling Arturo a sexist nutjob, a patriarchal anarchist, a morally corrupt ne’er-do-gooder. An idiot. Morally reprehensible.

Which would be fine, except for the fact that, in this episode, Arturo is ALL OF THOSE THINGS.

Is it really a good idea to tap a newspaper with a lit Cigar?

So in theory, this is Wade’s golden moment. She’s the voice of reason here. Aturo really doesn’t have any right to upset the status quo on this world. He’s upset that he’s second-fiddle for once, and this opens up a greater issue with his character: we understand how he feels tread-upon by life. What with Quinn being smarter than him, and all of his doubles having all these things like Power and Love that he’s never had (or has had taken away from him), we’re supposed to think of him as some martyr for Science, or some kind of Walter White kind of tread-upon could-have-been.

But all of that is no reason for him to try to destroy the very fabric of the universe! It’s my understanding that we’re supposed to think of him, and this episode, as comic relief. And it’s true, the episode does a very good job of skewering political ads and elections in general. But honestly, what Arturo is doing isn’t funny. And even if John Rhys-Davies is playing it for laughs, he still comes off as a ruthless asshole.

Albeit a ruthless asshole that just shat himself.

And that’s before we even get into how the episode actually deals with every other human. Let’s start small, with poor Rembrandt’s storyline. Which basically amounts to “Rembrandt gets laid, then later stops getting laid.” The episode is trying to be funny and say “look! when women have the same amount of power as men, they become the same kind of sexist abusive manipulative slobs that men are!”

THAT IS SO LAZY.

Not so lazy: this woman's hair.

But anyways, this episode is assuming that every last man on earth is a sexist, abusive, manipulative slob, which is fine, I guess, a lot of them are (and I know it’s poking fun at the stereotype of a macho man, but it goes either too far, or not far enough, and misses the mark, muddling the ideas even further).

Also, if Arturo is supposed to be in the wrong about trying to become the first male mayor, then it would also help if we see a female character who isn’t a sexist, abusive, manipulative slob. I guess what we’re supposed to be doing is laughing at the show, saying “hey, isn’t it funny to see women acting out the sleazy roles that men usually play!” But it isn’t funny, it’s just offensive. But then Arturo is also offensive. Quinn eventually is so incensed by the current Mayor’s insulting of Arturo that he quits. But it reads more as Quinn being angry at his manhood being insulted than his friend being insulted.

So then Quinn’s just the same as every other sexist, macho man.

Arturo is running for mayor to satisfy his neverending quest for self-aggrandizement.

Rembrandt is insulted that a woman could be using him, even though he was trying to use her for her ‘record company’ connections.

For a man who seems to have a lot of sex, Rembrandt sure seems flummoxed by sexuality.

So basically, everyone on the show is kind of disgusting. Wade is the least offensive, since she’s just reacting to everyone else being disgusting. Like when she tells the dudes that she can get them jobs, they are so disappointed! They’re on a world for six weeks and they don’t have money! They all need jobs! But they were totally happy to have Wade do all the work while Rembrandt gets laid and Quinn and Aturo eat all the food. Fuck you, guys!

But Wade never has a scene where she can say “Guys, your behavior is really offensive to me.” I mean, sure, that’s all she says, but she’s always second fiddle to Arturo’s anarchist rampaging. Her character comes off like a gnat. Or a mosquito. It’s disheartening.

At least she has this powerful scene where she makes fun of Arturo for GETTING SHOT.

Oof. I’m being really tough on this episode. But that’s just because I just watched “Eggheads,” which did showcased an amazing concept executed brilliantly. This episode has just an amazing of a concept, but fucks it up so horribly, it ends up being embarrassing.

I shot the Professor of Cosmology & Ontology, but I did not shoot the Deputy.

No episode should have have its audience disappointed that an assassin failed to kill off one of your characters. But here we are.

But how cute would this be if Wade wasn't glaring at Arturo?

Better luck next week, where it’s The Return of The King.