Sci-Fi Wannabe 'Sliders' Takes Liberties With Logic
March 20, 1995
The Wichita Eagle By Bob Curtright

Imagine zapping over to San Francisco and arriving in a howling blizzard. You see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, but the bay has frozen solid and there's nary a cable car in sight among the snowdrifts norany people, for that matter.

Houses and familiar landmark buildings are all in place but through some ecological nightmare, the city has become a huge mausoleum. It's not a question of being in the right place at the wrong time but of being in the wrong dimension in Fox's new "Sliders," a science-fiction wannabe geared to a young audience.

The San Francisco in question is roughly 1995, it just happens to be in a parallel universe tapped into when an inquisitive computer nerd named Quinn (Jerry O'Connell) creates a time-travel portal from what appears to be a remote control plus a few electronic odds and ends.

The portal, which looks like the business end of a tornado, sucks Quinn through a series of roller-coaster tunnels (wormholes in time and space, perhaps?) that let him zip from one dimension to the next. Each has evolved slightly differently.

Some are only subtle changes, such as a world where red lights mean go and green lights mean stop, or where the "new" invention of vinyl has won out over CDs. That's a pretty easy thing for Quinn to cope with once he discovers the difference.

Some are a little more obviously and humorously different, such as a country where John F. Kennedy is running for his umpteenth term as president with first lady Marilyn (as in Monroe) at his side. It's the same never-never- land world where a creaky, graying Elvis is still packing 'em in in Vegas.

But others are more complicated and much more complex, such as a United States that went communist back in the 1950s after losing the Korean War. Everything looks pretty much like today except for statues of Lenin rather than Lincoln on the Berkeley campus (which is a high-security prison rather than a university) and an overabundance of red decor.

Quinn discovers that everybody has a twin in each universe but that they, too, have evolved differently. In one place, his widowed mother is a pregnant housewife married to the guy he knows as the family gardner. In another, a female co-worker he thinks of as just one of the guys turns out to be his wife (really!). Until he interacts with them, he can't tell how they are different. Quinn is clever enough to put himself on a timer so that he can return to the universe he calls home along with his widowed mother and cat and a small circle of people who matter to him. There are his brilliant, no-nonsense math and science professor (John Rhys-Davies) and his co-worker at a computer store (Sabrina Lloyd) who secretly wants their friendship to blossom into something more intimate.

When he finally decides to show his invention to those two in his basement, he cranks up the power to take them all on a "slide" to another universe. But he overdoes the power, causing a surge that engulfs a stranger driving by outside, a bluesman named Rembrandt "Crying Man" Brown (Cleavant Derricks), who was on his way to sing the national anthem to start a ball game at Candlestick Park. All four of them end up in the frozen San Francisco on a five-hour timer. When the elements prove to be too deadly, Quinn messes with the timer to transport them sooner and throws them all into a sort of free fall in which they can bounce from universe to universe, never being sure when or if they'll ever get back to their own.

The series, then, is their adventures in the various parallel planes while they try to find their way home. Sound familiar, Dorothy? Maybe they should be looking for some ruby slippers.

O'Connell, who has been a familiar kid actor in "My Secret Identity" and "Camp Wilder," has matured into a likable young actor sort of on the threshhold of being a sex symbol. He plays Quinn as a bookworm and a brain but one who is also aware of social and cultural changes. He's not the isolated, alienated nerd who typically makes such major discoveries.

Veteran British actor Rhys-Davis, whose booming voice and stout (literally) presence can play swashbuckling adventure as well as historical drama, plays Quinn's professor as a genial curmudgeon. He's impatient but concerned.

Lloyd as Quinn's sidekick and potential girlfriend is sort of token in this show. She's engaging and lively but nothing special so far. Neither is Derricks as the hapless musician zapped out of his only paying gig. He's there for contrast and, perhaps to throw a non-intellectual monkey wrench into the works, but he seems only to be a comic relief gimmick.

The plot lines (so far, anyway, from the pilot and previews of upcoming shows) play fast and loose with logic. The given is that the travelers the sliders of the title apparently aren't bound by restrictions of time travel. If they change something in a parallel universe, it stays changed and contributes to future evolution.

And Quinn can meet himself or, rather, his twin from another universe face to face without exploding or imploding or any such silliness. He and each of his countless twins aren't matter and anti-matter; they are more like clones with minds of their own.

The series strikes me as being more in league with "seaQuest" and "Earth 2" for youngsters rather than something more sophisticated, say Fox's new "VR.5" or "The X-Files," geared more toward adults.

1995 Knight-Ridder; we32095

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