Liz Tells Frank What Happened In the “Sliders” Pilot

Dear Frank,

Of all the terrible things about being a teenager, here is one that’s only really terrible in retrospect: There will be books and movies and TV shows you consume in your adolescence that, upon future reflection, might prove to be embarrassing, especially when you realize just how much they reveal about you. There’s an inevitability to this — the most you can hope for is that the media with that kind of power over your psyche won’t include a Vancouver-produced micro-budgeted Fox show about people who hop between alternate universes with the help of an oversized cell phone.

I am, alas, not so lucky.

The pilot episode of Sliders opens with Jerry O’Connell videotaping his experiments with wormhole technology in the basement of his mother’s house; blah blah blah science science science Jerry’s a genius, having successfully opened up a portal of some sort to a… I dunno. It’s a mystery! (The answer is parallel universes.)

This probably goes without saying, Frank, but Jerry O’Connell’s character has floppy brown hair, flannel shirts and a cat named Schrodinger that he refuses to subject to experimentation — teenage me was definitely in like with him.

Saving this image for a future blog project: Pictures of Famous Men Holding Cats

Jerry’s pretty psyched about his breakthroughs, natch, but still has to go to school to ignore physics lectures by Gimli the dwarf and go to work at a computer store to ignore Sabrina Lloyd‘s crush on him. Poor Sabrina Lloyd! (We’ll get back to this.)

Jerry decides to jump through the portal and see what happens, his only safety measure a giant modded cell phone with a timer that will bring him back home. After traveling through some CGI-whooshing, he lands back in his mother’s basement, and assumes that the experiment didn’t work.

Or did it? (It totally did.) After listening to a radio DJ blather about President Kennedy and his ladyfriend Marilyn (both still alive), Jerry nearly gets into a car accident because in this alternate world, green lights mean stop and RED means GO. This makes no sense to anyone who’s studied colors as they relate to human psychology, but whatever.

Jerry’s timer eventually launches him back into his home world, where he immediately starts running around to tell people what happened, but somehow while he was gone, someone else that looked like Jerry was there? And that someone mocked Gimli and made out with Sabrina Lloyd and everything is all confusing!

So Jerry retreats to his basement, only to discover OMG parallel himself! Who, let me be honest, tucks in his shirt like a douche, and was also fucking around with Jerry’s life by screwing with Gimli and Sabrina, remember, but our Jerry doesn’t seem to mind, trusting Alterna-Jerry when he tells him that “sliding” between alternate worlds with a super-cool not-at-all-just-like-the-cell-phone-my-mom-had-in-1995 is super-fun.

Frank, lest you think that Alterna-Jerry is an okay guy, when he slides back to his home universe, he’s all like “Oh, but there’s one super-important thing you gotta know–” right before disappearing. Say it with me, Frank: KING DOUCHE.

But Jerry’s not bothered — he’s just jazzed about his new future as a slider. And when Gimli and Sabrina Lloyd show up at Jerry’s house because they’re worried about him and the shit with his doppleganger, he asks them if they want to join him on his next slide.

Gimli’s initially reluctant, but eventually is like, sure, for science blah blah. But Sabrina Lloyd…

Sigh.

Frank, here is where, when rewatching the pilot as a lady of advanced years and improved perspective, that I find Sliders ever so slightly uncomfortable. See, Sabrina Lloyd is a tomboyish, awkward computer nerd whose innate cuteness goes unnoticed by the guy she’s most interested in. Then, her crush asks her if she wants to join him for a potentially super-dangerous and most definitely unproven experiment involving jumping into a magic glowy CGI vortex. And she is like FUCK YEAH.

This? This made COMPLETE AND TOTAL SENSE TO ME when I watched it as a lass. I was like, sure, of course, that’s exactly what I’d do if the boy I liked asked me if I wanted to do something incredibly stupid and unsafe with him. Jesus Christ, my parents were lucky that I was completely incompetent socially until the age of 20. In the alternate universe where I was capable of actually interacting with boys as a teenager, I’m pretty sure that I was either knocked up at the age of 16 or (in the alternate universe where my crush was a physics genius who had discovered a way to travel between alternate universes) trapped in an alternate universe.

Speaking of which! The guys go ahead and make their first big leap, and frankly it sucks — they land in a frozen-over San Francisco (a super-well-rendered San Fran, for the record).

THE MAGIC OF CINEMA!

And they also have company; see, Jerry turned up the power on his not-a-cell-phone in case it wasn’t strong enough to transport three people (even though one of them is a dwarf yes I know I can also be making Indiana Jones jokes about John Rhys-Davies but I’m in a Lord of the Rings place today).

By doing so, though, he accidentally sucked in soul singer Rembrandt Brown and his car, bringing them all along for the ride. I’m really not sure why the fuck the show’s creators chose to bring in this character this way. I suppose they didn’t think it was believable that Jerry O’Connell would just have a black friend. Racist.

Alas, Rembrandt is kind of worthless at least in this episode, whining about his missed chance at a comeback for the majority of his screen time. The actor goes on to be the only one to stay on the show for all five of its seasons, but I have no reason to mention him again during this recap.

Things aren’t great on Ice World, and they’re stuck there for another four hours when an ice tornado (I guess that’s a real thing) starts heading towards them. Everyone is like “FUCKING HELL JERRY GET US THE FUCK OUT OF HERE” and Jerry’s like “But I bet that fucking with the timer is the thing that my alterna-self said never under any circumstances ever do!” and the ice tornado says “RARRRRRR I’M A TOTALLY REAL NATURAL PHENOMENON RARRRRRR!” Jerry loses the argument, mods the not-cell-phone to get them out of there.

BAMF they think they have arrived home! But THEY’RE STILL IN THE GAME! I mean, they’re not home yet. Instead, they’re in a world where the U.S. lost the Cold War, and Soviet Russia fill-in-the-blanks you! And they’re stuck there for a while, because the timer has reset itself randomly!

There then proceeds to be forty-five minutes of oh-man-we-are-in-an-alternate-universe-and-we-have-problems. (I have just described for you the premise of every future Sliders episode ever, for the record.) Alterna-Sabrina is the leader of the rebellion! Alterna-Gimli is the military commander in charge of San Francisco! Rembrandt is worthless and whines! Jerry O’Connell can’t believe it!*

Sliding iz serious business, y'all.

Eventually, the time comes for them to jump back home — or is it home? (It isn’t.) I mean, they think it’s home — everything is as normal as Jerry O’Connell might have imagined. But then during a super-normal dinner with his super-normal friends (and stupid whining Rembrandt), Jerry’s dad comes into the dining room! But he’s supposed to be dead! Whooops! Looks like the cell phone is broken, and they are LOST 4-EVA.

And thus ends the pilot of Sliders! For the reasons mentioned above (not to mention the fact that, as we’ve already established, I had/have a hardcore weakness for 90s-era sci-fi), I fell hard for this show when it premiered and, for the first season at least, watched it obsessively.

But Sliders suffered tremendous drama behind the scenes and eventually became largely unwatchable. I believe I gave up around the time that the sliders slide to an alternate world with dinosaurs on it. (I mean, I like dinosaurs, but seriously, fuck that.) This means I missed things like the discovery of Jerry’s long-lost brother (played by Charlie O’Connell, Jerry’s less handsome brother in real life), Sabrina Lloyd getting captured by evil aliens and turned into a psychic breeder for them or something, and Charlie and Jerry’s characters literally morphing into a whole new dude played by a whole new actor after the brothers O’Connell decided to quit the show. In short, I didn’t miss much.

Fate was fickle when it comes to which sci-fi shows survived the 90s, Frank. Fickle and unfair.

Love,
Liz

*This is an extreme inside joke that maybe three people reading this recap will get. But it’ll make them happy, so what the hell.

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About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller, based in Los Angeles, is a writer for the screen and the web, her work including G4's Attack of the Show and the tech blog GigaOM. She also co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, contributes to the video curation site Here's Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank.

Posted on March 7, 2011, in All the Spoilers, TV and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. A quick correction?

    “There then proceeds to be forty-five minutes of oh-man-we-are-in-an-alternate-universe-and-we-have-problems. (I have just described for you the premise of every future Sliders episode ever, for the record.)”

    That’s not the premise of every episode. Only the good ones.

  2. this was the only show that I have ever seen where the so called “actors” ended the show because of egos. the actors were mismatched from the beginning of the series, but that was the shows strong point–they all had different ways of dealing with a situation-but when the character ‘Maggie’ slid her way into the show, it got the ruins. hit the fan and it was all over the walls.

    Some nimkompoop exec thought the show was about sex, it wasn’t, it was the adventure

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