Sliders. Do you even remember Sliders? Well, you’re on a website called Den of Geek, so I’m going to assume you’ve at least heard of it. If you don’t remember Sliders, you’re with the majority of the population. Whenever I mention the series I usually get responses like this.
“Was that a late ’90’s show?”“Is it about burgers?”“It’s like time travel, right?”
Sliders, which aired on Fox from 1995 to 2000, is barely a blip on the pop culture map. At best, it’s mistaken for Quantum Leap. The only reason it’s kept alive is because nerds like me won’t ever shut up about it. But why? Why do Sliders fans love this show so much they’re still talking about it over 15 years after it was cancelled? Is it some underrated gem?
Look, I’ll be real with you. Sliders is a rough watch at times. It’s a show that had a really good premise, traveling to alternate earths and trying to get home, that was destroyed by network interference and some pretty horrific writing. The show ended with only one of its original cast members intact. They met a worm that pooped out the elixir to eternal life. It condemned one of its characters to a rape camp because the executive producer thought it would be funny.
So why bother writing about it?
Because every so often, Sliders was brilliant. It had a cast that transcended the material and displayed a chemistry that has never been duplicated. It mixed science fiction concepts with moving character pieces. It could also be really funny and make you think.
So I’m going to show you what Sliders could be. While it’s tempting to mix in some of the bad with the good to give you the full Sliders experience, I’ll save you the pain of watching, Slither which by the by, features snakes using the force.
Yeah, you’re welcome for not including that one. Look, I’ll make no bones about it. You’re not getting the full story of Sliders the way I’m about to present it. What you are getting is a group of episodes that I feel best display Sliders potential. What the show could have been. What I sometimes can delude myself into thinking it was.
So let’s dive into the vortex, shall we?
Season 1: Episodes 1-2
The success of the Sliders pilot is all down to its characters. The chemistry between Quinn, Wade, Arturo, and Rembrandt is infectious and it’s brilliantly introduced here. Quinn is a compelling lead; in wonder at his new invention but realizing he’s in way over his head. He’s completely oblivious to Wade’s crush but is delighted by her energy. She’s excited to be here. She validates his hard work.
Arturo is skeptical of the two but his own curiosity shines through. This is a scientist’s dream after all. It is in the character of Rembrandt, the only unwilling traveler on this journey, that we start to see some of the friction that would come to define Sliders. Rembrandt is abrasive with the whole team. He wants “Q-Ball” to get him home ASAP.
Unlike later Sliders, however, this friction only helps the ensemble. Quinn needs to answer for his actions. The Professor needs a contemporary to relate to, even if the two will trade jabs from time to time. Wade needs a nonscientific friend she can be normal with. It’s in Rembrandts differences from the others that helps make them the perfect team.
Sure it’s the first of many “overthrow the government” plots that would become a staple of Sliders throughout its run but hey, it was fun the first time they did it!
Season 1: Episode 4
You can break Sliders episodes into three different categories. Each one asks a question. What if you were different? What if the world was different? What if you could change something? (You could argue a fourth category would be ‘the hell were they thinking’ but I’m leaving those out.) The best episodes would mix all three.
Last Days is the second question. The world is about to be struck by an asteroid and the Sliders won’t be able to leave before it hits. How does the world react? Well, through the eyes of our group, we see those who’ve accepted their fate and those who struggle against it. Like any good piece of TV, the situation impacts our main characters.
Quinn and Wade’s romance burns brighter here than it ever will. Arturo has to learn to work with a double of his most hated student. Rembrandt gets the best part of the episode, dealing not only with his faith but also facing death with a group of partiers who are ready to end their lives before the asteroid can.
Season 1: Episode 7
I’ll go on the record and say this is Sliders‘ funniest episode. Come on; is the Library Rap not enough to convince you of this? It’s an Earth where geniuses are treated like athletes on our world. Product endorsements, money, fame, even the Wheaties box. Gangsters spewing Latin like nothing. Oh sure, Quinn is afraid for his life but it’s not a serious threat.
The episode is also a great look into human nature. I know that’s a broad term, but go with me here. As geeks reading this, we’ve all thought at one time or another how great it would be if “smart” people could run the world. In theory it’s great, but the episode demonstrates that even with smart people at the top of the food chain, we still wouldn’t be perfect. We’d still screw up. Arturo’s double completely screwed up his relationship. Quinn’s double skipped out on his debts. No matter how smart you are, fame and power will corrupt.
All done in an episode with the Library Rap.
Luck of the Draw
Season 1: Episode 10
Sliders always had a problem giving all four of its stars focus. But hey, this list is about showing you Sliders at its best, right? So here we’ve got the episode that finally got the balance right. Everyone has something to do. They’re all wrapped up in the world that at first seems perfect but slowly turns deadly. I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t seen the episode, because I’d objectively call it Sliders‘ finest hour. If the show had been like Luck of the Draw more often, it would have been a sci-fi classic instead of the sci-fi embarrassment it’s sadly referred to as these days.
Gillian of the Spirits
Season 2: Episode 3
Quinn is a ghost.
Okay, he’s actually out of phase or something because a bolt of lightning struck the wormhole.
…So he’s a vortex ghost.
That sounds ridiculous and shark jumping but it’s treated with a gentle hand and some real heart. This episode is seen through the eyes of our guest star, Gillian, who has an unusual attunement with the astral plane that allows her to see a stranded Quinn. This is where I start reading too much into what was probably pitched as “Quinn goes full Swayze.” Can you imagine Jerry O’Connell in that pottery scene?
Gillian’s ability to perceive Quinn on the astral plane reads as an acknowledgement from Sliders that there are other levels of perception in our world. We aren’t attuned to everything. We can’t see all the energy that flows around us. It gets spiritual in a way that isn’t tied to the normal Christian view of religion you’d see in a show like this.
Plus you get a cool world of anti-technology and the Professor finally expressing some jealously over Quinn’s intelligence.
Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome
Season 2: Episode 8
What if they made it home? Since the show never really answers the emotional weight of that question for real (so basically, fuck you Exodus and Genesis) this is the one chance we had to explore it.
Wade lands a book deal, Remmy finally gets the career he’s always wanted, and Arturo slips right back into the academic world. They’re all happy, if noticeably changed. They aren’t the same people who fell into that vortex over a year ago. They’re all kinder. Warmer. Ironically, the only one who doesn’t try to profit from sliding is its inventor, Quinn. He starts noticing the inconsistencies in this world. It all unravels from there.
You know, everyone points to Into the Mystic as when the show became hopeless. They had made it home and left. That was a bummer, but it’s here when Sliders secretly starts devolving from a mostly happy jaunt across the multiverse into an unrelenting journey. No matter how much they try, they’ll always wonder. Is this really home? It’s brutal. It’s dark.
I actually don’t look at that as a bad thing. While not intentional, the only way to make Sliders work as a whole is as a cautionary tale. One of consequences that are solely laid at the feet of Quinn for testing the sliding device when it wasn’t perfected. The whole show is Quinn trying to make up for that mistake. But is Quinn capable of coming to terms with that? To deal with his own flaws?
As Time Goes By
Season 2: Episode 13
What does Quinn do when he’s wracked by the guilt of sliding? He tries to hook up with an alternate version of Daelin, his first love. Three times. On three different worlds. #JustQuinnThings am I right?
He’s desperate for any connection to his old life. He knows this isn’t Daelin, but he proceeds to try and romance her anyway. What does this say about him? What does it say that he wants to take her with them, even if he knows that adding more mass to the vortex only spells disaster? (Unless you’re a van or a Humvee, I guess. SLIDERS FANDOM IN-JOKE YEAH.)
It says that Quinn still has a lot of growing up to do. He hasn’t moved on from the pain of his youth. As much as he fawns over Wade, I suspect Quinn has always carried a torch for Daelin. This girl who, in the passion of youth, seemed perfect. No one, not even Wade, could live up to that. So when he stumbles upon her, he tries to rekindle what he had… But this isn’t his Daelin, no matter how much he pretends her to be so.
His next two attempts at finding Daelin present Quinn with the opportunity to learn from his mistake on the first world, to move on and grow up. He refuses. I won’t spoil the ending, but the universe itself gives Quinn a wakeup call that he shouldn’t ignore.
This episode starts a trilogy of episodes that, while not intentionally connected, serve as a fascinating character study of Quinn.
Season 3: Episode 4
What if you could change something? One of the main hallmarks of Sliders, 90 percent of the time this would result in the yawn inducing “overthrow the government” plot. But here it’s something more personal.
Because sliding is out to punch Quinn in the dick at every chance it can get, the group lands on a world where time has moved slower. Because shut up. Quinn meets his younger self, just after his dad died. Our Quinn can’t handle it. He wants to make things better for young Quinn. Toughen him up. Make him a fighter. Something he could never be.
The rest of the group tries to stop him, but Quinn won’t listen. Once again he’s confronted by a youth he never moved on from. Quinn is carrying so much hate inside him and he has to make it right. He has to change it. He doesn’t care how this will alter the young Quinn’s future because he thinks he knows best. His own hubris gets the better of him. He doesn’t want to move on. He wants to change what happened.
He even tries to romance his old elementary school teacher because Quinn is just that eager to get some. But it speaks to that little boy locked up inside him. He can’t let go of those fantasies. If he’s going to be stuck on this interdimensional journey, he should at least get to live out a few fantasies when he can.
This is Sliders at its emotional best. While Luck of the Draw is objectively the best episode of Sliders, this is my personal favorite. The writing, the acting, the emotions throughout. Everything is pitch perfect. Look no further than the scene where Arturo stops Quinn from interfering in young Quinn getting beat up. The look on Quinn’s face. The desperation. The pain. The fear. In that look, Quinn is that boy again.
Season 4: Episode 5
A direct successor to The Guardian, Quinn has matured quite a bit over the year. He’s had to make some tough decisions, two of which involved the death of Arturo and the loss of Wade. They’ve also gained a new Slider, Maggie. Quinn not only has the weight of Earth Prime on his shoulders, but the multiverse.
Once again, the universe decides to dick slap him. The team emerges in a world where there’s only one man left. A double of Quinn, and an immature pompous one at that. He accidentally slid the entire population to another planet and doesn’t feel bad about it.
Quinn finally has a mirror held up to him. This is who he was and he’s sickened by it. The group manages to make it to the Earth Alt-Quinn slid everyone to and it’s unbearable. Overpopulation has destroyed the planet. Alt-Quinn cares more about the opportunities this provides. It’s here that Quinn finally makes the mission statement for the show. Something that he’s quietly learned in the background of all their previous adventures.
“The universe doesn’t have a conscience, so we have to.”
In As Time Goes By, Quinn was reminded of that boy who never grew up and attempted to live out those fantasies. In The Guardian, he tried to escape that boy’s pain and change what had happened. In World Killer, he finally confronted that boy. He doesn’t resolve the pain or accept it, but he does acknowledge it’s there and that it needs to change. Too bad it never did.
The Return of Maggie Beckett
Season 5: Episode 9
One of the lone season 5 episodes that functions as a character piece, Maggie is faced with a double that actually made a difference and died for it. She’s a hero on this Earth but it all it does is remind her of the past. Of a father she was completely estranged from. Maggie’s whole personality was defined by this relationship. So when she gets the chance, she stands up to him.
Compare it to Quinn in The Guardian. There, Quinn tried to change what happened. He wanted to make the world fit his perfect vision. Here? Maggie lashes out at her father but she doesn’t try to change anything. She just wants solace. Closure.
Unlike Quinn, she makes peace with the little kid inside her. What happened can’t be changed, so live with it and try to move forward as best you can.
In the end, Sliders was at its best when it was a story of consequences. Of a man named Quinn Mallory who just wanted to take a spin around the universe and ended up getting two of the closest people in his life and a stranger lost in the infinite roulette wheel of parallel universes. Can he get them home? Can this group make it through alive?
The answer was no. They couldn’t. But that’s okay. Sometimes your mission in life doesn’t work out. But I think Sliders ultimate lesson is that you have to accept responsibility for your mistakes, live with the consequences, and try to improve not only yourself but the world around you.
That lesson is why I’ll always speak highly of this show, even if I freely admit it wasn’t intended by the writers or producers.
Note to all my hardcore Sliders fans. These are by no means the only episodes I like. I love Fever, Double Cross, Asylum, Applied Physics, and more. But these are the best of the best, in my own humble opinion. If you’ve got a favorite episode I didn’t mention, feel free to let me know in the comments below.
Big thanks to Eath Prime for some of the images featured here and for being THE Sliders fansite online.
Shamus Kelley is gonna cry like a man. As hard as he can. And if you had a heart, then maybe you’d start… To follow him on Twitter!