Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas is a time for nitpicking TV shows

Well, Christmas is almost upon us. I really don't get the logic behind holding a festive holiday in the worst season, and as such I'm not a big fan of Christmas. Nevertheless, I did a little bit of decorating, picking up a bright pink tree at Target, which led the cashier to ask "what are you going to use this crappy little tree for, I mean look at this thing!" "Um, it's going to be my Christmas tree." She was incredulous, saying "oh no, honey, you want a BIG tree." But one of our cats likes to crawl up big Christmas trees, and anyway, they are a pain to set up and tear down. So, crappy little tree it is! (And yes, said cat has still managed to knock it over like five times, which is partially why there are no ornaments on it.)

I also attempted to make a gingerbread house, which was foiled when I managed to break the roof, and dinosaur-shaped sugar cookies, which I managed not to break, but did manage to eat within 24 hours after baking. I am not at all domestic, but Christmas can kind of be a way to pretend that I am.

Thanks to the magic of Hulu, I was also able to get into the holiday spirit this year by watching the Christmas episode of Sliders, a television show I appreciate both ironically and non-ironically (most of my TV watching is ironic, by the way). I don't think I've seen this episode since it originally aired. So anyway, inspired by Chris Sims' recaps of holiday episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess and Walker, Texas Ranger, I present the following recap of "Season's Greedings," the Sliders Christmas episode.

For those unfamiliar with the show--which I'm going to assume is almost everyone reading this blog--it follows four adventurers as they travel to alternate dimensions where small changes in history can lead to worlds either very similar to or very different from our own on "Earth Prime." In the first two seasons, this meant largely alternate history stories that were generally well done. In the third and later seasons, however, the alt-history pretense was dropped and it became just another CGI-laden adventure show which had a tendency to kill off characters for absolutely no reason.

The Christmas episode is near the beginning of the third season, which means that it's only alt-history in the flimsiest sense ("what if... everyone lived in a mall... in the SKY?!"), but is not as horrible as the episodes that come after a certain character, Prof. Maximillian Arturo, is killed off. That character is played by John Rhys-Davies, a classically-trained scene-chewer better known by most nerds (neeeerrdss!!) for playing Gimli the dwarf in Lord of the Rings. I don't really remember his part since I slept through most of Lord of the Rings.

ANYWAY. This episode is Arturo-centric, which means that already it was destined to be at least a moderately entertaining episode. After escaping a world of jealous "pygmies" (their word, not mine), the Sliders decide to give thanks at a denominational chapel, where they arrive just in time to help a woman abandon her baby. The Professor ignores his own Prime Directive and vows to find the mother, and takes the gang to a mall suspended on a cloud in the sky. Now, you'd think that a civilization which has learned to defeat gravity would do more with this technology than stick malls into the sky for absolutely no reason, but perhaps I'm expecting too much realism from a show about interdimensional wormholes.

At the mall, the Sliders bemoan this world's consumerism, which actually doesn't seem much more brash than our consumerism. The alt-mall is not really that much more flashy or decadent than any real mall around the holidays, and as it was filmed in a real mall, there's a fair amount of product placement, making the complaints about consumerism (and later, subliminal advertising) a little hypocritical.

You can't pay for housing or food with cash on Debit Card World, so the team gets hired to work at the mall by Wade's (the cute, petite lady Slider who you shouldn't get too attached to, because yeah...) alt-sister Kelly, whose hairstyle and shoulder pads are imported from alt-1987 (unless part of the alternate history here is that Dallas never went off the air). On an exposition walk-and-talk, the mall manager describes the debt-slave setup of the mall, where you can be fired and kicked out of your mall-provided housing for not spending enough money. This is illustrated by a scene where someone is reprimanded for saving money, which again, doesn't seem all that outrageous if you know anything about the history of company towns. Or maybe it's supposed to be an obvious parallel?

More outrage over this world's rejection of the true meaning of Christmas in favor of rampant consumerism follows, as Arturo (playing Santa Claus) bores the greedy children of Debit Card World with morality tales, until he spots Carol (oh, brother), the baby-dumping woman from the first scene. She, however, manages to fend him off with a janitor's cart pushed strategically in his path. Arturo then decries this as one of the worst worlds they've landed on, which seems a little rash considering they have already landed on a world that's a giant prison, and a world run by J. Edgar Hoover. But that doesn't hold a candle to forgetting the true meaning of Christmas.

The conspiracy B-plot deepens, as Quinn (for the newbs, he's the boy genius who invented sliding) and Arturo find out that Carol is a debt-slave, and Rembrandt (comic relief/everyman character) becomes addicted to shopping through subliminal advertising. Quinn then preaches to alt-Kelly about the artificiality of Debit Card World's Christmas. Case in point: they don't even use real Christmas trees! Of course, I don't know anyone who DOES use a real Christmas tree, and it wouldn't make any sense to use a real tree in a mall anyway. But I guess this is supposed to demonstrate Earth Prime's moral superiority over other dimensions, with our subtle, understated celebration of Jesus' birthday.

We're then treated with more first-class acting by Rhys-Davies, who tries to guilt Carol (oh, brother) into taking back her baby by recounting his mother's death in the blitzkrieg, and the terrible abandonment fears he now has, which is ironic if you remember that he abandoned his own son. Or maybe the writers just forgot that bit of character history. This is the third season, they just didn't care. The C-plot, involving Wade and her alt-family, chugs along. That plot isn't very interesting.

The crux of the mass consumerism and debt slavery is revealed to be the subliminal advertising in the commercials, which isn't really subliminal advertising since the messages are on the screen long enough for you to see/read them consciously, and anyway, subliminal advertising doesn't work and especially wouldn't work on a large scale. Again, I'm nitpicking at a show about interdimensional travel. But it's a lot easier to get me to suspend belief over something that just doesn't exist than to believe in something that's been proven NOT to exist.

Anyway, it's Sliders to the rescue, as Carol (oh, brother), Quinn, and Wade break into the mall president's office and randomly pound on his computer keyboard, which as we all know from 1990s sci-fi, will get you into any computer security system, no matter how guarded. Meanwhile, Arturo continues to indoctrinate the children of Debit Card World with his tales of the real meaning of Christmas. He self-righteously tells the mall president that his reign of consumerism is over now that children have been instructed about “true values,” showing that Arturo has perhaps too high an opinion of most children's attention spans. Seriously, these kids aren't going to remember being told a Christmas story by John Rhys-Davies, no matter how classy his voice is.

Finally, there is a confrontation between alt-Kelly, Quinn, and the mall president, and Quinn socks the president in the jaw, since pretty much every season three episode had to end with some kind of fight or chase (there is also a short chase). Everyone convenes at Wade's alt-family's house for sappy songs and recollections.

Preachiness aside, this is a decent episode, especially considering that it's in the third season. If I do more of these sarcastic Sliders episode recaps, I'll have to pick a really awful episode like the Dune or Island of Dr. Moreau homages.

Anyway, happy holidays, readers!

9 comments:

  1. I LOVED SLIDERS SO MUCH when it was on the first time around ... until people started getting killed off. :C you're inspiring me to rewatch it now.

    i enjoyed this post very much and i hope you have further installments! :3

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  2. The first two seasons actually hold up pretty well, I was surprised. And the few episodes I've seen from late in the series (after they'd already killed Wade and Arturo) weren't horrible, basically they were Star Trek: TNG level quality. It was only during this "what movie should we rip off this week?" season that the show was unwatchable. Definitely watch at least the first two seasons on Hulu!

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  3. oh sweet, they're on hulu? guess that means i don't have to waste any of my allotted monthly netflix rentals on them!

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