Editor’s Note: Welcome to our TV Rewind column! The Paste writers are diving into the streaming catalogue to discuss some of our favorite classic series as well as great shows we’re watching for the first time. Come relive your TV past with us, or discover what should be your next binge watch below:
Although it may seem like it, the idea of a multiverse wasn’t created by Marvel.
Long before Loki fans watched Tom Hiddleston traipse through multiple dimensions while meeting horn-helmeted alligators, there were a plethora of other TV series that used the concept of multiverses. However, few have done it better than Sliders, which debuted in 1995 on FOX. The San Francisco-set series lasted five seasons (the final two of which aired on Sci Fi) and is currently available for streaming on Peacock.
The first season of Sliders stars a then 20-year-old Jerry O’Connell, aka Mr. Rebecca Romijn. Back in 1995 the future Bravo superfan and new co-host of The Talk was primarily known as the husky kid from Stand By Me, and for the cult TV series My Secret Identity. While O’Connell would go on to have other memorable roles, the character of Quinn Mallory would be an archetype he’d play for the rest of his career. A handsome boy-next-door that’s naturally likable and slightly goofy is an O’Connell staple and made him a perfect choice for Mallory, a hyper intelligent graduate student who creates a device that can open portals to alternate Earths.
Co-starring with O’Connell is veteran actor John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) as professor Maximillian Arturo, Mallory’s perpetually grouchy, yet endearing mentor. Of note, show creators Bob Weiss and Tracy Torme (the son of legendary crooner Mel Torme) considered Hector Elizondo, David Ogden Stiers, Ricardo Montalban, and James Coburn for the role before offering it to Rhys-Davies.
Rounding out the gang, Sabrina Lloyd portrays Wade Wells, Quinn’s longtime friend and will-they-or-won’t-they love interest. Rembrandt Brown, played by Tony winner Cleavant Derricks, is a singer looking to rejuvenate his flagging career when he’s inadvertently caught in a portal Mallory overamplifies.
The quartet, who call themselves Sliders because they slide through portals into different dimensions, don’t have the coordinates to their version of Earth (“Earth Prime”), so they have to keep sliding until they find home. Meanwhile, the group must deal with some of the most clever and thought-provoking situations ever conceived in a sci-fi TV series.
Prior to Sliders, there had been several films and TV series that had moved backward or forward in time, but rarely was the idea of time travel viewed as a tunnel that moved sideways. In this universe it’s always the present day, but travel is between parallel universes, which allows for some truly unique experiences.
Sometimes differences between Earths are subtle, like the Golden Gate Bridge being blue and called the Azure Gate Bridge instead. Other times, differences are significant. In one episode the Sliders visit an Earth where Britain won the Revolutionary War. In another they arrive in a place where intelligent people are superstars sponsored by Nike, and great athletes struggle to make a living.
A number of episodes tackle social issues. In Season 1, “The Weaker Sex” has an Earth where men are considered second class citizens, dealing with the discrimination women in our world have faced. Season 2’s “The Young and the Restless,” sees the Sliders land on an Earth where society is ruled by the young—a youth revolt by Howard Stern led to the voting age being lowered to 9 years old, and the mandatory retirement age moved to 30.
The series also features plenty of weird episodes. There’s a version where San Francisco is a dinosaur preserve, an Earth where legal disputes are settled on a TV game show, and in one dimension men bear children instead of women. But the most interesting episodes deal with alternate versions of the Sliders. Sometimes the group will run into versions of themselves that are heroic, but other times the doppelgänger is dangerous or a giant disappointment. Or, like in Season 3’s “Double Cross,” Quinn meets his double who is a woman named Logan St. Clair. They’re attracted to each other and even kiss. Gross!
Now at this point you’re probably thinking, “Hey, this Sliders show sounds fascinating, and I might have underestimated Jerry O’Connell because I let his role as Kush in Jerry Maguire cloud my opinion of him when he clearly couldn’t throw a football even though he’s playing an NFL quarterback.”
And you’d be right on all counts (and I say that as someone who’s had a man crush on O’Connell for more than 25 years). However, before you sign up for a free Peacock subscription, it’s important to tamper expectations a bit, as Sliders isn’t without flaws.
The series starts to lose its luster near the end of Season 3. Kari Wuhrer is added to the cast with a character clearly meant to boost sex appeal, and a plot starring Roger Daltrey as her evil military commander is ridiculous. In Season 4, the addition of Jerry O’Connell’s real-life brother Charlie, who would go on to be The Bachelor in 2005, isn’t nearly enough to overcome the departures of Sabrina Lloyd and John Rhys-Davies. The O’Connells would both leave after Season 4, and by Season 5, Sliders had jumped the shark so far even The Fonz would be embarrassed.
Now all that said, Sliders is still a great sci-fi series because of the natural charisma of Jerry O’Connell, the beautiful chemistry of the four original team members, and its brilliant premise. The possibility of meeting another version of yourself and the possibility of other Earths is one of the most fascinating aspects of the series. What would other versions of yourself be like? Would other versions of Earth be better than this one? Worse? Both? The mind boggles.
When the show is hitting on all cylinders, it’s addictive and thoughtful. Sliders is a series to enjoy for its potential and, viewed with that in mind, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
“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,” says Jerry O’Connell in a voice over in the opening title sequence. Jump into the portal and find out for yourself.
Watch on Peacock
Terry Terrones is a Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Association member, licensed drone pilot and aspiring hand model.
When he’s not professing his love for Jerry O’Connell, you can find him hiking in the mountains of Colorado or cursing at the Denver Broncos for not trading for a decent quarterback. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.
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