The CW’s The Flash was a surprise hit of the TV season, but sadly there will be no new episodes for a few months. Though the network will be reairing the first season in its entirety on Tuesday nights this summer, The Flash fans may be looking for something else to fill the void. Do you already miss the casual trips into reality-warping wormholes? Do you crave the intellectual stimulation of mind-bending alternate timelines? Do you like watching fresh-faced cast members engage in romantic entanglements and action-oriented plots while being mentored by older veterans of the craft? Then Sliders is the cure for what ails you.
In a San Francisco basement…
Created by Robert K. Weiss and Tracy Tormé, Sliders was a sci-fi TV series that ran for five seasons from 1995 to 2000. Jerry O’Connell, in arguably his biggest role since his acting debut in Stand by Me, stars as physics genius graduate student Quinn Mallory, who has managed to discover and refine the technology that allows him to travel through wormholes to parallel universes, an action dubbed “sliding.” Joining him in these perilous adventures to alternate worlds are his lovestruck friend Wade Wells (Sabrina Lloyd), his mentor Professor Maximillian Arturo (the fantastic John Rhys-Davies), and a lounge singer who accidentally crosses their path, Rembrandt “Cryin’ Man” Brown (Cleavant Derricks).
The two-part pilot introduces audiences to the principal cast and also sets up the rules for sliding … along with the now-laughable special effects that accompany each trip into the void. The real hook of the show is in the changes the characters face as they hop from world to world, from the mundane (red lights mean ‘go’, Elvis is still alive) to the fundamentally different (the British were victorious in the Revolutionary War). The plot thickens when, during one slide, Quinn is forced to use his timer to prematurely open a wormhole in order to save his group, which throws their travel plans into chaos. They spend the rest of the series sliding at random, getting caught up in whatever turmoil the next alternate world has in store for them, and attempting to find their way home to Earth Prime.
A Tale of Five Seasons
Sliders had the potential to be a truly great sci-fi series that was free to explore theoretical worlds and alternate timelines, limited only by the writers’ imaginations. Unfortunately, this show was a textbook case of studio interference almost from day one. While the first two seasons saw the show stretch its legs by exploring parallel worlds and the changes present in each of them (along with the discovery of an antagonistic race of humanoids known as Kromaggs, who also happened to possess sliding technology), season three saw changes that would signal a drop in quality and the beginning of the end for the show.
Fox had been meddling with the episode order since the earliest of goings. This switch-up in the schedule was intended to position episodes for big ratings wins, a decision made at the expense of show continuity and clarity for fans. In season three, Fox Network made some drastic alterations, moving the production from Vancouver to L.A., upping the focus on the action in each episode rather than exploring philosophical questions, and pushing certain plots in order to capitalize on lucrative pop cultures events of the time (ie tornado- and dinosaur-themed episodes after Twister and Jurassic Park). With all the behind-the-scenes turmoil – which included departures from executives and cast members, the accidental death of an actor, and drastic changes to plot arcs – it’s little surprise that the network canceled the show after three seasons. The Sci Fi Channel picked up Sliders for its final two seasons, which were characterized by bizarre plots, character swaps, and poor special effects. Sliders ended with a cliffhanger in the season five finale.
Hulu to the Rescue
Twenty years after its debut, fans can now check out Sliders on Hulu. The first three seasons are currently available to stream (and if memory serves correctly, you’re not missing much in those last two seasons anyway). My only caveat is that Hulu is presenting the episodes in the order in which they originally aired, which is not the order in which they were written or intended to be shown. It’s in your best interest to refer to this episode guide if you want to check out Sliders while The Flash is on break. Three seasons should give you just enough episodes to watch until the Scarlet Speedster returns for his second season on The CW this Fall.
If you’d like to check out Sliders, click here to pick up the box set on Amazon.