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Sliders: The Complete Series (DVD Review)

29 Nov, 2016 By: John Latchem

Mill Creek
$44.98 DVD (15 discs)
Not rated
Stars Jerry O'Connell, Cleavant Derricks, Sabrina Lloyd, John Rhys-Davies, Kari Wuhrer, Charlie O'Connell, Robert Floyd, Tembi Locke.

The Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. President Donald Trump. It’s like we ended up in one of those alternate realities on “Sliders” where such things are treated as a joke.

“Sliders,” of course, was one of the most notable entries in the televised sci-fi boom of the 1990s, following in the wake of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The series ran for three seasons on Fox starting in 1995 before moving to the Sci-Fi Channel in 1998 for two more seasons.

The premise involved science wiz Quinn Mallory (Jerry O’Connell) discovering the secrets of interdimensional travel, allowing him to visit alternate realities in which history may have unfolded very differently (such as, the Soviets winning the Cold War, or the British stopping the revolution). As he and his friends Wade (Sabrina Lloyd) and Professor Arturo (John Rhys-Davies) prepare to explore some of these worlds, a mishap ensnares a fourth slider — a washed up singer named Rembrandt Brown (Cleavant Derricks) who was just driving by hoping to revive his career by singing the national anthem at a baseball game.

The accident forces them to keep sliding to random Earths in their attempt to find their way home. This is basically another twist on the “Gilligan’s Island” formula a la “Quantum Leap,” but with alternate realities instead of different time periods. It was a good mix of characters with winning dynamics, encompassing enough skill sets to allow them to quickly assess the situation of the worlds they arrived on and adapt.

The show started off with tremendous promise, but it quickly became apparent that budget shortfalls and network tinkering would prevent it from achieving anything more than the cult status it currently enjoys.

For starters, the network began airing the episodes out of order, which is kind of important when the episode that actually sets up the rules of the show is kind of skipped over (causing the deletion of some of the most important details about why the sliders have to wait seemingly random intervals until they can leave the world). The network also prevented anything but a perfunctory resolution to the first season’s cliffhanger, which is really a bigger harbinger of things to come. The network began nixing intriguing story arcs simply because executives didn’t think a guest actress was “sexy” enough.” And by the end of the third season, episodes devolved into thinly veiled ripoffs of popular movies (the dinosaur world, the vampire world, the “Species” world). The core cast began to bail out, starting with Rhys-Davies, whose Arturo was one of the primary anchors of the series.

It was really just a textbook example of network interference destroying a promising show (a lesson Fox didn’t seem to heed when “Firefly” came along five years later).

The show got some new life when it was retooled for the Sci-Fi Channel for its fourth season, making it a bit more serialized to accommodate a storyline involving aliens named Kromaggs who using sliding technology to raid and conquer alternate Earths.

By the fifth season, the cast exodus claimed O’Connell, too, leaving Derricks as the only original slider left in the group. Looking back at the series as a whole, it’s hard not to consider the fates of the original four and not think of their story as a big tragedy (dramatically speaking).

Mill Creek’s repackaging of the show comes in as basic packaging as you can get, with discs stuffed into cardboard sleeves. The episodes are compressed to fit more content on each disc, so the picture quality is a bit darker and not as sharp as the original Universal DVD releases from a few years ago. This being an economy release, however, it’s serviceable for the price.

None of the scant bonus materials from the Universal releases are included here either, so it’s really as bare bones as it gets.

On the plus side, however, the episodes are in their intended chronological order, and not the bizarre mess from their original airings that was preserved on Universal’s DVDs. (Seriously, why can’t major studios take the time to present the episodes as they were meant to be seen by the show’s creative team, which helps in binge-watching, rather than stick with a network schedule that was often decided by marketing concerns?)

Nostalgia is really the main selling point here, as this is one of those shows where the primary appeal is going to be to those viewers who remember it from 20 years ago, when TV was littered with earnestly produced high-concept sci-fi. The first and second seasons are undoubtedly the best, and the fourth is pretty good, too, so on the whole the show’s legacy definitely encompasses more plusses than minuses.

Given a few decades of advancements in visual effects technology, a decent budget and a network that gave the storylines some breathing room, “Sliders” would probably be a pretty effective show in today’s television landscape.

About the Author: John Latchem

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