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But even more damaging were the show's choices in creating long term goals for the main characters that they could actually accomplish. Where Doctor Who nourished and eventually thrived on the inexhaustible drives to explore and to make a heroic difference, which allowed it to produce 30+ seasons of sci-fi television over the last 45 years, Sliders starts off with Gilligan's Island Syndrome, where, should the characters achieve their aim of returning home, they would need new, fresh motivation to continue their slides and keep the show on the air. It was obvious that the writers would not allow the four Sliders to ever return home without that new motivation....
The main characters and the parallel universe concept are introduced at a leisurely pace in this story, which comes devoid of the usual title sequence and has a much quieter, more cinematic opening. These early scenes cram in a lot of useful information that will pay off later when parallel versions are encountered, but finding much point in it the first time through may be a struggle for the audience at first. Better scripting might have tightened some of the connecting logic and motivation, and provided a second, more immediate set of reasons for the camera to spend that much time on the things it does. But, perhaps in large part due to the chemistry of the cast and the half-satirical-comedy style of the show, the early sections of this story manage to be a tremendous amount of fun. Nice.
I loved Jerry O'Connell in his previous sci-fi comedy sitcom "My Secret Identity", and have come to appreciate him in "Stand By Me" as well. But "Sliders" is the show that proved he could be a serious, highly charismatic adult actor as well, and O'Connell does excellent work here in his first story. John Rhys-Davies has always excelled in any role I've ever seen him in, but this is the show that really won me over as a lifetime fan of him and his work. Arturo's character is spot on, all the way through, right from the start. Excellent.
This pilot story doesn't really define Wade Wells apart from her work and her ambiguous relationship with Quinn. Sabrina Lloyd makes the character endearing and sympathetic, despite some dodgy, over-enthusiastic dialogue from the script. Good stuff, and as the series went on, she and Quinn would have their characters and their relationship further refined.
A lot of great recurring supporting characters are off to a great start as well. Quinn's mother is most prominent, played here by Linda Henning in a manner that makes his brainy beginnings believable.
Bennish is also a fun character to see - especially after seeing what a transformation it is for actor Jason Gaffney who appeared with a completely opposite look in the X-Files episode "José Chung's From Outer Space".
And of course no Doctor Who fan will fail to recognize Yee Jee Tso playing Wing (another of Quinn's fellow students) from his appearance in "The Untitled Paul McGann Movie" (Doctor Who story no. 160) from 1995/1996. Here he gets just a few fun lines, but we'll be seeing more of him again soon....
Creators Tormé and Weiss seem to have brought with them from Star Trek: The Next Generation one of its composers to create music for their pilot. TV veteran Dennis McCarthy produces one of his typical scores, tasteful yet blandly forgettable, full of washes of orchestral instrument sounds and little punch or drive. Not much attempt seems to have been made to come up with any theme music for the series here either, which is quite bizarre.
Two of the earliest sequences receive extra marks from me by arriving in the correct order - switch to the In-Depth Analysis version of this review if you've seen the show and want to know exactly which portions I'm talking about. Metaphysically speaking, the order that we get of these sequences keeps Quinn in the proactive driver's seat, which makes for a better narrative.
We also get to see the manner in which the timer was designed to operate - having a functionality that actually benefits the Sliders. This is significantly different from the way it behaves during most of the series.... but I'll spoil no more here....
Cleavant Derricks makes a late entrance to this story, which helps to emphasize the amount of comedic brilliance his presence adds to the ensemble. Sweet. He can probably add another entire demographic to the audience for that alone. And he can do the requisite singing. But his qualities as an actor and a comedian are what make his character shine, and the pilot story gives him plenty of opportunity to go for the laughs. He is also the most perfect of the regular characters to fulfill the traditional role of the companion in the Doctor Who format: repeatedly asking the questions that the audience needs answers to until explanations have been drawn out of Quinn or Arturo or the guest characters in terms simple enough for any layman to understand.
The final climactic act of any story is worth scrutinizing. Sci-fi loves an adventurous hero as a main character, which would certainly work well in Sliders. Quinn is clearly the superior of the two geniuses, the inventor, and the instigator of the journey. He alone bears the responsibility for getting the quartet home, and he is, definitively, the main character of the show. How well is he allowed to be the hero of this first story, as would be ideal?
Well, since this is the "no-spoilers" version of my review, I'll not say. Get the DVD, watch the show, then come back and read the In-depth Analysis version of this review for a revealing metaphysical dissection of the action.
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