Another season of Sliders has come to an end, and with any luck, it will be the last one. A show like Sliders gives genre-television a bad name, and I would rather see it canceled than continue pilfering our popular culture in search of story lines (this season has witnessed derivations of "Species", "Mad Max", "Interview with a Vampire", "Anaconda", "Tremors", "Night of the Living Dead", and "Jurassic Park") or relying on T & A to attract viewers.
Wait, wait, wait... I don't have the timer!
"This Slide of Paradise" had the Sliders landing in the sea a few yards from shore of a tropical island. After walking in slo-mo out of the water (at this point I thought that they had landed in "Baywatch" world), they find themselves being followed by a snarling beast. Pretty soon, they come across rejects from "The Isle of Dr. Moreau", half-man/half-beast/all-cheesy creatures, created by mad scientist of the week, Dr. Vargas (Michael York). Of course, Mallory loses the timer, which is quickly picked up by their nemesis, Colonel Rickman (now played by some unknown actor who is actually a better actor than Roger Daltry-- but not that much better). A lot of clunky dialogue (which we have all probably gotten used to by now), uninspired direction, and continuity errors later, Wade and Rembrandt were sent home to Earth-Prime using Rickman's timer. Mallory and Maggie followed with the other timer, and somehow ended up in San Francisco in the future due to a malfunction (why am I not at the edge of my seat?).
In a lot of respects, Sliders shares a lot of traits with another science-fiction series of yesteryear, Dr. Who. Dr. Who episodes were usually a re-hash of another science-fiction or fantasy story and followed the following structure:
1. The Doctor and the Tardis lands on some strange planet or strange time period.
2. The Doctor befriends the local underdogs.
3. The ruling fascists capture the Tardis or a monster prevents the Doctor from returning to it.
4. With the help of the local underdogs, the ruling fascists/monster is defeated.
5. The Doctor returns to the Tardis and sets off on his next adventure.
Sound familiar? By limiting themselves to the same plot devices to drive the story (such as the missing timer/Tardis), both Sliders and Dr. Who are limited in the types of stories that they can tell. Contrast this with other genre offerings, such as The X-Files or any of the Star Trek series (yes, including Voyager), which have employed different narrative structures throughout their runs, allowing the stories to serve as an allegory and a reflection on the human experience and contemporary issues. Imagine if The X-Files had merely stayed within the bounds of monster-of-the-week plotting and the characters of Mulder and Scully had remained static, showing no development as the series progressed. No, the writers have explored both lead characters, developed their relationship, and given us unconventional vehicles in which to perform, such as "Jose Chung's From Outer Space", "Ice", and "Memento Mori".
As I have stated before, Sliders had the right idea in its first season. Societal attitudes towards AIDS, sexual harassment, the worship of sports heroes, confronting one's own mortality... these were the concepts that the writers spun their stories around. Now, they just go to the local multiplex and mine what they see for story ideas. There were very few episodes in the third season that approached the more theme-based story-telling, but the ones that did were memorable. "The Guardian" had the Sliders landing on an Earth where time went slower, so it was actually 1984. Quinn was able to meet his younger self, a vulnerable little boy being bullied at school and trying to cope with the death of his father, and redeem himself for an act that he committed at that early age. The Christmas episode was another high point of the season, where the Sliders found themselves trapped in a shopping mall, highlighting the perils of unrestrained consumerism.
Ever since Tracy Torme left the show in disgust and John Rhys-Davies was shoved out the door, the quality of the writing in Sliders has sunk lower with each passing week. The alternate universes that the Sliders now visit are uninteresting, almost generic now. They should be challenging the audience to reflect on the parallels with our world or with the social issues which we face, instead of having them wonder when's the next time Maggie is going to run around in a skimpy outfit.
Having lost my patience with the series, I can only pray that it will disappear over the summer and never be seen again.