Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sliding Into Mediocrity: The suck must flow

The episode "Paradise Lost" of the just-barely-above-basic-cable (back in the pre-Mad Men days) television show Sliders is usually considered the worst episode of the series by its still-active fanbase. While I think there are others that are worse (the vampire rock band episode and the Island of Dr. Moreau "homage" come to mind), it's really a question of degree. It is, however, undoubtedly an extremely bad hour of television, and because I'm watching it, that means you don't have to. Aren't I a nice person?

We open on a shot of some random dude making a call warning of seismic activity in the area. What area? Where are the eponymous Sliders? When are we going to get to the fireworks factory? At this point in the series run, they weren't even bothering with the alternate history anymore, unless "this world has a giant rubber monster in it, and Earth Prime does not" counts as alternate history. Some extras from the movie Tremors swoop in on the dude and throw him onto the beach, where he is eaten by the worm from Tremors.

Yes, that's right: the producers of this show thought it would be a good idea to write a Tremors tribute, with shades of Dune.

At this point, the Sliders finally show up, just in time (natch) to save a woman who is either hiding something or a really bad actress from one of the Tremors extras. She drives them to a town called Paradise, which you'd know is a bad sign even if the episode wasn't called "Paradise Lost." Has there ever been a fictional town named Paradise, or Heaven, or Idyll, that didn't turn out to have some horrible secret? People should really start reading their TV Tropes before they start barreling into small towns with peaceful names.

The Sliders need some cash, so of course it's up to the woman and the black guy to do menial food service work while the Professor and Quinn get to have real adventures. The bad actress (whose name I still don't know, even though I've rewound Hulu three times) is concerned about the man from the cold open, so Quinn volunteers to help her find him, no matter how long it takes. I don't think I personally would have gotten so chummy so fast with someone I didn't know, even if he did save me from a meth-head. Use your comically oversized 1990s cell phone to call for help, sure. But a multi-day search-and-rescue mission? Thanks for the offer, guy, but that's going far past the call of duty.

We cut to a crime scene of a dead body covered in blue ooze (foreshadowing!). A cop with feathered hair remarks that "she's getting hungrier" (foreshadowing!), and orders the collection of the ooze. The genius Professor just cops to the fact that there is nobody in the town over 30 (foreshadowing!) and that there are almost no recent deaths in the town cemetery (could it be... foreshadowing?!). At this point, you have every piece of information you need to put together the mystery. Unfortunately, there is still forty minutes left to go.

Wade follows the Paradisites to a creepy basement where she witnesses an occult ceremony right out of Lovecraftian horror... except it's totally lame. Now, reality check: the townsfolk don't want the "outsiders" to witness this ceremony, right? Yet they failed to lock the door; the only barrier to entrance was a "closed" sign, which is so ridiculous that I had to pause Hulu for a minute. And even if there weren't any known outsiders in town, wouldn't you lock it anyway on the off chance someone DID wander into town? Of course, I wouldn't be nitpicking these details if the episode was legitimately scary or good. So, note to writers: if you can't write an airtight plot, at least try to write WELL. And vice versa.

So anyway, there is this ceremony with candles and chants and the townsfolk eat the gunk that got spit up by the sandworm from Dune, which shows that the sandworm really got typecast and should have had a better agent. The spice gift grants its users long life, although at the expense of their common sense, since otherwise they would have locked the damn door. Meanwhile, the sandworm eats the Professor. I've since realized that Jonathan Rhys-Davies' uncharacteristically horrible acting in this episode is because this was the last episode before he was killed off for real. So I can't blame him for this awful scene; I only hope he got to steal a lot of office supplies before someone walked him out to his car.

The Sliders not yet written out of the show and Laurie (bad actress from the opening scenes--remember?) go to the sandworm's cave lair and it's all very anticlimactic. Rhys-Davies, a Shakespearean actor, is freed from a layer of literal Saran wrap, the sandworm's "suspended animation." The Sliders decide to blow up the cave and its inhabitant with the explosives they just have for some reason (seriously, I rewound to see if they provided an explanation for having several pounds of plastic explosives just sitting around... they did not), and there is some truly awful CGI footage of the sandworm eating the feathered-hair cop.

They just weren't trying.   
In closing, this is bad. So bad I can't believe I watched it again to recap it. In fact, I don't even know if I still stand by my assertion that this isn't as bad as the Dr. Moreau episode; it's probably worse. As stated, I can give Rhys-Davies a pass for his bad acting here, but that excuse doesn't hold for anyone else involved in the writing, production, or special effects for this episode. No more sandworm death-meth for you, writers of low-budget mid-1990s action/sci-fi shows. You've had too much of a good thing.


  1. i think i missed this episode. either that, or i completely blocked it out. o_O this sounds horrible. beyond horrible.

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