A 90s American science fiction TV series. Not about kids skidding at a local ice rink. The series instead told the tales of a four-strong team of people travelling and adventuring throughout the multiverse. They were forced into this involuntarily, after a freak accident with the titular “sliding technology” removed them from their own timeline (analogous to OTL in the mid-to-late 1990s, and dubbed Earth Prime). Essentially a “Lost in Space” style setup, but with alternate versions of Earth as the “planet of the week”, instead of… well, planets. The series offered ATLs both on the more realistic and more ASB side, various strange parallel worlds, even other civilisations that developed “sliding” and explored or tried to conquer the multiverse. Sliders was to be the ultimate, dimension-and-timeline-hopping adventure show.
The series' (troubled) history
Initially helmed by talented creator Tracy Tormé (under supervision of producer Robert K. Weiss), the series started out on Fox in March 1995. Tormé left by the third season, due to executive meddling and his own dissatisfaction. The whole series lasted for some five seasons of 87 episodes, though it was forced to move to the SciFi Channel for its fourth and fifth season. Strangely, when the series was cancelled in 2000, it apparently still had high ratings. Strange, given increasingly frequent complaints of fans about the very devil-may-care (and sometimes insulting) quality of the writing present at that point.
Which brings us to the central flaw of the series… Despite the wonderful premise and plenty of good ideas behind the structure of an episode, the show is largelly considered a failure, both on AH.com and outside of it. Though the series started off relatively strong in its first two seasons, it got increasingly burried under an avalanche of bad writing, near-constant executive meddling on nearly everything imaginable, textbook acrimony behind the set (actors getting insulted or expressly fired, directors/screenwriters with big egos, fights over the direction of the series, the creator and head writer leaving stressed out by the third season, etc.), and so on and so forth. Season three was infamous for major exits from the main cast and imitating plots of popular films and other series. Seasons four and five included further extensive cast changes and a move towards distinctly cheesy pish.
Cast and characters
The original (and according to most people, best) main cast of the “sliders” consisted of:
Quinn Mallory (Jerry O'Connel) - 20-something genius recently out of college, the protagonist but not necessarily the leader of the quartet. Typical “90s adventure show young genius”, really. Inventor of the technology behind travel between alternate histories and parallel worlds. Really ! Could be a bit of a prick at times, especially in later seasons. “What if you could find brand new worlds right here on Earth? Where anything is possible. Same planet, different dimension. I've found the gateway !” Did we mention he could be a bit of a smug prick ? Quinn exited the series after the conclusion of season four, at a point when his actor didn't give much of a damn anymore (despite being promoted to producer at the time and contributing at least one script). In the fourth season, he also had some ATL siblings/relatives of his or something or other in tow, then got replaced by a merged clone of himself and the sibling and some other guy and…Okay, look, we're not sure ourselves. It was bloody confusing.
professor Maximillian Arturo
(John-Rhys Davies, awesome as always) - brilliant scientist of British extraction, with an old-school fashion sense, and prudent mentor to the overeager Quinn. Both proud and a bit peeved at the fact that Quinn beat him to the punch by discovering extra-dimensional travel technology. Though professor Arturo could get fussy, the mere fact he was played by John-Rhys Davies with great gusto
, elevated what could otherwise have been a bland character to a higher level of quality. A running gag with the professor was that people occassionally confused him for Luciano Pavarotti. Professor Arturo perished by season three (around the time when the show stopped being worth watching). The execs had decided to fire John-Rhys Davies after he criticised the falling quality of writing. To pour salt in the wound, the execs had Arturo's exit in “Exodus” rewritten to be as bad as possible, with Arturo shot by recurring cartoonish villain, colonel Angus Rickman. That was in addition to a whole heap of nonsensical tragedies heaped on Arturo out of the blue. To say the fans were upset by this exit of one of the best-liked main characters would be an understatement. Many still feel Arturo's death was when the show jumped the shark, never to recover. Davies still put enough pathos into Arturo's character death to make the downer departure work. “Get them home… Sliders.”
, indeed. (This was just a year or two before he was cast as Gimli in The Lord of the Rings
, so we might consider ourselves lucky he left in time. Win-win ?)
Rembrandt Brown (Cleavant Derricks) - African-American professional musician and singer, former member of the band The Spinning Tops. Nicknamed the “Crying Man”, because of his tendency to cry at the sight of very good, moving musical performances. A fairly cool guy, with a cool given name. Unlike Quinn and the professor, he went along for the multiverse ride by accident, and gradually came to terms with their new role as lost adventurers. He had plenty of character development throughout his stay in the series. Which was the longest. Strangely, Rembrandt is the only main cast member to make it from pilot to final episode. The one positive consequence of this is that he received plenty of development along the way. Sometimes, this could seem a little too extreme. Going from a jovial, sensitive musician, to a more hard-bitten and worldweary (if still sensitive) traveller was quite a big change in five seasons.
Wade Welles (Sabrina Lloyd) - alliteratively named old pal of Quinn. A 20-something computer specialist who was accidentally caught in the sliding vortex. Wade had some feelings towards Quinn that went beyond friendship, but these remained unrequited by Quinn. (Did we mention our protagonist, Quinn, was a bit of a prick ?) Wade's character is best remembered for how infamously badly handled it was later on, especially in the third season, the character's last. Lloyd was fired by the execs (presumably for “not being sexy enough” - they needed to check their specs), and consequently, refused to return. Wade was unceremoniously written out of the series, season four stating she was abducted and eslaved off-screen by the vicious recurring bad guys, the Kromaggs. For many, the throwaway line about Wade being sent to a Kromagg euphemism for a “rape camp” doomed the series from then on. Many viewers and fans never looked back after such an ignominous and absurdly dark writing-out of a good-natured female character. (Need we remind you, this first aired just a few years after “rape camps” were revealed as a real thing during the civil wars in Yugoslavia. How sensitive of the writers !) Along with the death of Arturo, Wade's exit was when even many ardent fans decided to jump ship. A later episode from the SciFi Channel era made a much-maligned attempt to resolve Wade's fate. She was featured as a sort of vague, indirect projection to the main cast. Instead of the intended fixing of things, this outing botched the resolution of her fate even more. To many, this was the last straw in the show's wild downhill ride, and an absolute low point.
After the series basically fell off a cliff, Rembrandt was the only remaining initial character, and travelled with:
Maggie Beckett (Kari Wuhrer) - an armed forces captain from an ATL with much more destructive world wars, a much more tense Cold War, and an Earth threatened by the explosion of a pulsar star on top of that. Beckett was introduced as little more than eye-candy and a potential love interest for Mr. Quinn “I'm too good for Wade” Mallory, and was a blatant attempt to side-rail Wade, then fire her actress. Criticised for being a shallow character dreamt up by execs (with an infamously broad casting list to boot). Oddly, by the time Quinn left the show (not that long after Wade), there wasn't much hanky-panky between him and Beckett.
doctor Diana Davis (Tembi Locke) - African-American scientist lady, supposedly a very experienced, nigh-genius researcher. Felt distinctly tokenist instead, and a poor substitute for the greatly missed professor Arturo. Not the actress' fault. Shame on the writers for not giving a damn and not trying better ! Diana only appeared during the final season. About the only really interesting story involving her that the writers bothered to cook up was when she learned the bad guy of that season might have influenced the history of her professional life.
Finally, Rembrandt's last new companions, and the worst of all the later cast decisions:
Colin Mallory (Charlie O'Connell) - travelled along with Quinn, Rembrandt and Maggie in the increasingly sorry, Kromagg-obsessed fourth season. Some ATL lost brother, relative or something or other of Quinn Mallory. Played by the brother of Quinn's actor, no less. Look, it… The whole thing with two, three or four different Mallories in seasons four and five was just… confusing. Okay ? Yeah, we have no bloody clue either.
Mallory (Robert Floyd) - season five cast member, who originated after a bizarre merger of Quinn Mallory and his aforementioned ATL relative Colin. Quinn's personality, kind-of-sort-of lived on in him for a while, but gradually evaporated. Erm, yeah. We've got nuthin'. Mallory himself was a bit of a nothing character, a gimmick in an era of the show when the embracing of gimmicks (including gimmick-y ATLs) was in full, shameless swing. A character created in an unsettling accident, an idea that even Star Trek: Voyager played for drama with “Tuvix”, Sliders completely botched. Was it any wonder ? Sliders was just that kind of show, especially at the end.
"Timeline of the week" and plausibility issues
Plenty of episodes had generic, one-word titles (“Requiem”, “Obsession”, “Invasion”, blablabla). Many more had (fairly unamusing) pun-based titles. Examples: “The Other Slide of Darkness”, “Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome”, “This Slide of Paradise”, “Slide Like an Egyptian”, “Dragonslide”, “Dinoslide”, “Slide by Wire”, “Prince of Slides”, “To Catch a Slider”. Does it hurt already ? Should we be merciful and stop ?
Sliders was not the “travelling alternate timelines” adventure series that 90s fans of the then-fledgling alternate history genre deserved. Nor was it the series they or the alternate history genre needed at that time (or at any time !).
The higher quality and relatively innovative nature of the first two seasons are often overshadowed by the diminishing returns of seasons three, four and five. The series is, in and of itself, worthy of a POD, as often expressed by its loyal fans: Had the OTL season three not have happened, or only kept its better episodes and its original cast, there was still hope for the show. It was starting to find its footing. Sadly, due to many of the initial characters and writers leaving, and the execs focusing on how to actionise or sex-up the series, an improvement in quality was not to be.
10/10 for the premise and basic ideas, 3/10 for the execution (relative to the entire series), 23/30 fromages for the cheesiness factor.
AH.com discussions on Sliders
Sliders - Article about the series at Wikipedia.
Earth Prime - A long-running fansite (ca since 1998, with a nice modern revamp since 2012), that documents, examines and picks apart the series and all its anciliary materials. Behind the scenes stuff includes rare things that you can't find anywhere else on the net. If there is one fandom that knows their own show hated them and their intelligence, it's this one. The website's authors openly admit that, but work on the site and keep it running as something of a memento about series with a neat premise that were dreadfully mismanaged. The critical essays Genesis: The Destruction of the Sliders Concept and Abusing the Audience are a particularly biting read about the show's gross mismanagement during seasons three, four and five.
'Sliders Ended Two Seasons Too Early, If You Ask Me,' Says Sliders Creator To No One In Particular - A 2010 satirical post-mortem article about the series, from parody news site The Onion.