Sliding Sideways In A Parallel Time Trip
March 22,1995, pp B72.
By Diane Werts

THE CREATORS of the new Fox fantasy hour "Sliders" (premiering tonight at 8 on WNYW/5 with its two-hour movie pilot) keep objecting in interviews to critics' comparing their baby to NBC's late and much-beloved cult hour "Quantum Leap." They always insist they never even saw that time-tripping fave of five years ago.

Well, so what? Take a compliment where you can. Nobody's saying you copied a thing, only that you share that lively series' verve, whimsical wit and gee-whiz / what-if exploration of the choices that get made in life by individuals and society.

Choice implies alternatives, and "Sliders" doggedly pursues the various possibilities offered at crossroads both personal and global. The device making that possible is the basement physics project of techno-head collegian Quinn Mallory (Jerry O'Connell of "Stand by Me"), whose science isn't quite accomplished enough to ensure the antigravity results he'd intended.

Instead, he ends up "sliding" sideways through a sort of time wormhole. Like "Quantum Leap's" Sam Beckett, Mallory has his chance to alter things. Unlike Beckett, however, who journeyed back to previous years of his life, Mallory is always in the present day. He just encounters parallel versions of our world - like the pilot movie's theoretical United States that lost the Cold War instead of winning it and is consequently run by a bunch of Commie brutes.

But what's a solo journey, especially if you don't have a holographic Al to keep you company? So Mallory rather contrivedly invites along his arrogant physics prof (blustering John Rhys-Davies from the "Indiana Jones" films) and a pert computer-store colleague (Sabrina Lloyd), then accidentally sucks in a passerby, too, who just happens to be a has-been soul singer (Cleavant Derricks, trapped in an eye-rolling cliche).

Together, this fickle foursome outsmart the Commies, bicker among themselves, and dance through the ether of cultural crises like teens on a carefree joyride. "Sliders" is no heavy-duty dose of social analysis; it doesn't even have the psychological aspirations of its fellow Fox fantasy "VR.5," and certainly not the deep-down ghoul goals of "The X-Files."

This series makes its own alternative choice, going for the slick and silly rather than the breathtaking or thought-provoking. It takes a lighthearted action-adventure path that makes it a breezy diversion, employing history and culture for colorful plot background. The pilot's got Judge Wapner doing a Commie version of his "People's Court," and creators Robert K. Weiss and Tracy Torme plan more stunt cameos like that.

Unlike some of its sci-fi brethren, "Sliders" is unabashedly a tube-generation TV show, just challenging enough to make it different and yet predictably familiar enough to make it go down smooth. You don't have to work hard watching it. And in today's prime-time climate, lots of viewers may very well find that a blessed relief.

1996, Newsday Inc. nd32295

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