The Times They Are A-Shifting
March 21, 1995
San Jose Mercury News, p 1C
By Ron Miller

8-10 p.m. Wednesday, CH2, CH35

NOT long after the start of Fox's new action/adventure series "Sliders" Wednesday night, the show's youthful hero falls down a "wormhole" that drops him into an alternate universe where green means stop, red means go and Elvis is not only alive, but playing Las Vegas.

As if that weren't enough to befuddle young Quinn Mallory (Jerry O'Connell), he also discovers CDs are being replaced by records in the alternate 1995, that the Mexicans are complaining about all those Americans crossing the border to look for
jobs and that his widowed mom is happily married to -- and pregnant by -- Jake, the family gardener.

Though Quinn is mighty glad to get back to his familiar universe a few minutes later, I'm not so sure he lives in the same one we do. For one thing, the Giants are playing at Candlestick Park, so, like, where's the baseball strike?

Anyway, right universe or not, it looks like spending an hour with Quinn each week -- two hours just for Wednesday night -- as he slides around in the "multi-dimensional space/time continuum" is going to be lots of fun if you're not too persnickety.

''Sliders" replaces "Party of Five," which has completed its run for the season, for the next 13 weeks. If the sci-fi series does well in its regular 9-10 p.m. time slot, following "Beverly Hills, 90210," it may earn a spot on Fox's fall lineup and might even convince the network it really doesn't need the low-rated "Party" anymore.

That would be regrettable. "Party of Five" is a fine show and, though "Sliders" is fun, it also has its share of dumb moments and a concept that may wear out its welcome a lot sooner than its creators think.

Here's the short version of that concept: Quinn Mallory is a brilliant physics student who accidentally opens a door to parallel universes while trying to build an "anti-gravity" device in the basement of the San Francisco house where he lives with his mom. While demonstrating the device to his arrogant and egotistical physics professor, Maximillian Arturo (John Rhys- Davies) and girlfriend Wade Wells (Sabrina Lloyd), all three decide to go "sliding" together and wind up in a San Francisco that's experiencing nuclear winter.

As for the dumb moments, I'd say most of them concern what happens when Quinn boosts the power on his device, the "wormhole" emerges from his basement, rolls down the street and sucks up rhythm-and-blues singer Rembrandt "Crying Man" Brown (Cleavant Derricks), along with his pink Caddy convertible, while he's heading for Candlestick to sing the national anthem at a Giants game.

Obviously, we're not talking Moliere here. That should be no surprise once you learn that the show's creators, Tracy Torme and Robert K. Weiss, come from the orbit of "Saturday Night Live" and the "Naked Gun" movies.

Still, the show does have its moments. One of them comes when Quinn meets his exact duplicate -- an experienced "slider" who has popped into Quinn's dimension and wreaked considerable havoc by letting everybody think he's Quinn, which, technically, I guess he is.

''I've been to a world where the Cubs have won three consecutive World Series," says the other Quinn, who's trying to convince our Quinn that "sliding" is the all-time trip.

But our Quinn is more concerned about the fact the other Quinn has just gotten him fired from his job at a computer store by insulting his boss.

''I did you a favor," says the other Quinn. "That guy's a putz on every world I've been to so far."

Torme and Weiss have concocted their own set of rules that govern the physics of "Sliders." Quinn's gizmo has a timer on it that sets how long he and his travel mates will be in any one of the parallel universes. They're not going back or forward in time either, like Scott Bakula did on "Quantum Leap," but essentially are staying in endlessly different editions of 1995.

''I think part of the fun of the series is transplanting cultural icons from our world, putting some spin on them and seeing them in these other worlds in a different context," says Weiss.

Weiss and Torme, who previously was on the writing staff of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," both were fans of the 1960s sci-fi show "The Time Tunnel," which probably inspired the design of the elaborate wormhole the "sliders" use as their conduit to the next universe.

''Sort of simultaneously, Tracy and I came up with the idea to do 'Time Tunnel,' only sideways," says Weiss. "What if it was always 1995, but circumstances were different?"

Torme stumbled on one classic example of what Weiss is talking about while researching a Revolutionary War project. He learned that eight enemy sharpshooters once took aim at George Washington as he was leading his army on horseback -- and all missed.

''The only thing holding the army together at that time was Washington," says Torme. "So, if any of those eight guys is any kind of decent shot, Washington's killed, the revolution is over, none of us are here and there is no United States."

Torme's brainstorm led to an upcoming episode in which the adventurers slide into a parallel 1995 where America is still a British colony.

Personally, I'm hoping there's a parallel universe where "Party of Five" and "Sliders" can co-exist, along with "My So-Called Life," "Under Suspicion" and maybe even "The Paper Chase." With my luck, though, probably nobody would have invented color TV yet.

Knight-Ridder; sjmn32195


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