Reality Can Be Rewritten 4 (SLIDERS REBORN), Posted by: Elizabeth Sandifer
SLIDERS REBORN -- probably the single least readable thing I'll cover on this blog -- is an unlicensed series of screenplays by Ibrahim Ng published as a fan endeavor in 2015. Not unreadable due to content but size: it's 436 pages of script and also a 6,500 word novella. The provenance of it is interesting -- series co-creator Tracy Torme pitched a story (but not *this* story) to EarthPrime.com, to be published as a PDF format screenplay, but it was never completed.
Separately, the Canadian writer Ibrahim Ng pitched a story to the same website about Quinn Mallory in 2015, to be published as a PDF format screenplay, but couldn't complete it due to what Ng termed writer's block. However, the webmaster shared Torme's story ideas with Ng and Ng was inspired to complete Torme's story, but his adaptation process changed the material so much that it isn't at all Torme's story anymore.
Let's get one thing out of the way -- these are extremely dense scripts. On top of that, the plot elevates fanwank to a profound art, relying heavily not only on Seasons 1 - 2 but with heavy references to scads of continuity errors in Seasons 3 - 5. This is not in and of itself a problem, except that it seems to be the entire point of this story -- to try to fit absolutely as many existing pieces of SLIDERS together as is possible.
I'll attempt something resembling a summary of the plot. In 2015, all the sliders are alive and well and home on their Earth of origin which is uninvaded by Kromaggs. Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo are living normal lives. Quinn is still sliding. But when reality starts breaking down around a teenaged girl named Laurel, the gang reunite and slide off into the multiverse to investigate. They find that across three Earths, millions of digital clocks have been distributed, all identical and counting down in perfect sync to what many believe is doomsday.
The clocks turn out to be a plot from Smarter Quinn from the Pilot to collapse reality and create a new multiverse as this one is damaged due to the reality warping weapon that ended the Kromagg war between Season 5 and this story in which Quinn had to choose a single branching point as a starting position for new parallel worlds and chose the day of the first slide.
As a result, the current multiverse is damaged with the inability to split off and create new branching paths, something Quinn-2 intends to fix destructively Quinn-2 attempts to destroy the multiverse; the sliders try to stop him, the result is that the multiverse is saved but San Francisco is now merged with over 1,000 parallel versions of itself leading to another confrontation and Laurel is Quinn's daughter from "Love Gods" and what is this I don't even.
Despite this, underneath the hood is the thing that distinguished the Pilot episode from, say, clumsy knockoffs of the Pilot like David Peckinpah's "Genesis." For all the flaws, this is striving to be a story about characters. It's the final and definitive redemption of Quinn Mallory where Quinn earns a meaningful conclusion to otherwise aborted mess that is the SLIDERS saga. SLIDERS REBORN itself is an absolute mess, but it's a mess driven entirely by scene after scene after scene of Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo bantering, cracking wise, and bouncing off each other.
Let's look at the plot. It's absurdly over the top, yes. But nevertheless there is something irritatingly, compellingly... cool about it. I mean, look, I'd be lying if I didn't say that there was something kind of intriguingly awesome about the entire basic idea of this story. How could I possibly say otherwise?
I must be at least a half million words into a massive exegesis of everything involved in SLIDERS. Like I'm going to pretend taking SLIDERS apart and putting it back together stops being interesting or valid just because it has a plot.
One can't even easily mount the main distinction I've sought to make over the past in terms of continuity about the difference between a unitary SLIDERS explanation and playing around with possibilities. SLIDERS REBORN tries to lay down precisely why episodes aired in the wrong order on the FOX Network, why characters like Ryan and Henry disappeared, why the hotel set of Season 5 became such a fixture and how all the sliders can be alive.
REBORN resurrects the original cast and hits undo on much of Seasons 3 - 5, but it also goes out of its way to leave other stories, even Seasons 3 - 5, in place. This isn't some horrific land grab to collapse the possibilities of SLIDERS. It's the exact sort of thing that one opposes those land grabs in order to allow -- some fans expounding their pet theories. So is there any basis to object to this beyond being unreadable to any but the most SLIDERS-fixated?
One possibility, at least, is based on the contested nature of the epic. Epics, especially within sci-fi/fantasy, are a common trope that's been plaguing SLIDERS since "The Exodus Part 2." I'm certainly not going to criticize epics in the general case, but there is something troubling about the idea that they're the pinnacle of the genre. By their very nature they imply unity and singular vision. That infuriating belief in absolute, fixed truth.
To some extent, this is a conflict embedded in the very fabric of SLIDERS. SLIDERS' debut came in a period where America was coming to terms with the fact that post-Vietnam it was becoming a supporting player in global affairs instead of a superpower. In 1995 that was a difficult proposition, not least because America still had an awful lot of empire. But fundamentally, SLIDERS was science fiction coming from the perspective of a country that was giving up the idea that it had a singular vision of the world.
But that anti-imperialism, in SLIDERS, always contrasted interestingly with the fact that SLIDERS' central character was an obvious heir to the same Victorian tradition that oversaw the height of the British Empire. Quinn Mallory, as we've said before, is ultimately the Victorian inventor rebranded as the American whiz-kid. He is at once of the imperial past and rebelling against it, an attempt to salvage a secret history of the American era that provided a way forward.
This is a tradition that still exists in SLIDERS. The whole "the little people are the most important people" ethos that runs through "Gillian of the Spirits" and "The Young and the Relentless" comes directly from this aspect of the show's history. Quinn Mallory, to start at least, was interesting not because he was a pivotal figure in an interdimensional war but because he was a college kid who couldn't control his sliding machine. He was consciously designed as the opposite of the traditional "great man" of history -- indeed, under the Professor's tutelege, Quinn became a figure who had clearly chosen to rebel against greatness in favor of the mercurial.
And to some extent we can just set this up as a tension that plagues SLIDERS. It constantly gets pulled towards epics when what it does best is something else. No, more than that -- when its soul, its original concept, is a reaction against epics. It's worth looking, though, at the sort of epic that a SLIDERS epic tends to be.
SLIDERS' epics hinge on the fact that sliding, normally an exploratory, open concept, is curtailed to one sort of plot (a fugitive hunt or a war). It's a narrative collapse -- a story that appears to threaten the end of SLIDERS and REBORN is no different, threatening the end of the multiverse and of sliding. This is the first type of epic SLIDERS ever did. I mean, it faked and blustered its way to an epic with "Invasion," but its first real epic was "The Exodus" where the whole point turned out to be that taking SLIDERS and adding an epic chase after a psychopathic serial killer was absolutely horrible.
Put another way, SLIDERS epics can and do work, but when they work by threatening a narrative collapse. Or, as with "The Guardian," they work by wedding the epic structure (a new rebel facing his enemies) to something profoundly non-epic (the rebel is a bullied boy and his enemies are schoolchildren) -- and relishing in the tension this creates.
So what's the Ibrahim Ng epic? Let's look at him as a whole. One of his most steadfast assertions, which carries through virtually everything he says about or in SLIDERS -- and I’ve read virtually all of it -- is that he is not a science fiction person and doesn't like science fiction all that much. This claim must come off strangely to anybody who is not Ibrahim Ng, since reading his material it’s self-evident that he is, in fact, a science fiction person.
Surely only a science fiction person would ever come up with the premise of "Revelation," in which a rogue slider attempts to collapse all realities using a clock counting down to doomsday that's been mapped to 18 billion points in space-time across three parallel Earths. I mean, a merged San Francisco that's a bustling metropolis of overlapping parallel realities played as an infinite wonderland of boundless possibilities -- that's something only a sci-fi person could ever come up with.
Certainly his audience is overwhelmingly comprised of sci-fi people. I mean, this goes without saying, yes? Someone whose writing credits exist entirely in spin-off media of a sci-fi show (with one web series fanfic) is clearly and self-evidently a sci-fi person, right? Well, sort of right.
See, the real point Ng is making when he says he’s not a sci-fi person and SLIDERS isn’t a sci-fi show is that in his view SLIDERS is a actually a situation comedy series in the tradition of M*A*S*H, COMMUNITY and THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Which, again, he’s not wrong. The logic of SLIDERS is, as we’ve said before, is not that of a STAR TREK series that Seasons 4 -- 5 so lazily cloned. SLIDERS as conceived is really a traditional Rod Serling anthology of eccentric spaces and portals to other worlds.
That’s not the only tradition SLIDERS comes out of, of course -- it also owes a lot to STAR WARS and FLASH GORDON and any sci-fi property that features individuals in strange worlds revolting against the establishment. But in essence it’s always been science fiction with the attitude of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and the comedy of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.
And yet something about Ng’s point rankles. Less because of the very savvy point that SLIDERS is not a straightforward science fiction show is somehow incorrect, but because of his claim that SLIDERS is not for sci-fi people but rather for situation comedy fans -- viewers who would want to see dorky genius Quinn oblivious to Wade's interest while labouring under the Professor's harsh tutelage and stumbling over Rembrandt who's there for no reason.
SLIDERS REBORN caters entirely to an audience that wants to see Professor Arturo struggling to eat seaweed salad and Rembrandt blundering through a spy story parody. Look through Ng's forum postings: you'll find endless ranting about his horror and exasperation with fanfic that resurrects each dead slider and resolves each unfinished plot point by point through science fiction means. Ng protests that the people are the point of SLIDERS, not the sci-fi. He also rails against fans who think these fanfics are a worthwhile starting point for a new TV series as the average viewer wouldn't understand them. But wait. We’re conflating two things here -- science fiction and sci-fi people.
At the heart of this is a complex interplay between the idea of science fiction as an iconography and as a genre. Because science fiction as a genre -- i.e. as a narrative structure with a given set of conventions -- is actually a relatively narrow thing that existed in the early-to-mid 20th century. And it’s a weird little beast based on problem-solving and manipulation of ideas. The only time SLIDERS really fixates on this is in the nadir of the series mythology in Season 4 with the Kromagg Prime arc.
As we’ve observed before, since STAR WARS, science fiction has really been a set of images and ideas. If it’s not too much to look ahead, let’s think about "As Time Goes By" especially as it’s the episode most similar to SLIDERS REBORN. One of the most interesting things about that episode was the way in which the three Earths in the story swung back and forth between being an emotional love story in sci-fi terms and being a series of chase scenes and action sequences, and the way in which these styles were used as a source of tension.
The latter is what sci-fi usually is these days. In contrast, sci-fi people think that sci-fi is about the particulars -- that the mark of a good sci-fi story is the nature of the idea. And that’s just not the way it works, except in marginal cult shows that cater to those sorts of people. (This hermeneutic also explains all the detailed contrivances that fans conceive to resurrect Colin from being unstuck and split Quinn from Mallory.)
And the thing is, for all that Ng rails against sci-fi people in favour of sitcom antics, Ng blatantly is a sci-fi person. In all of his work, it’s the sci-fi concepts that ultimately justify his ridiculous action sequences where the SLIDERS topple a dragon with aspirin in bulk and defeat killer robots with golf balls from Doppler Computers (which has become the Costco of SLIDERS). Which, fine. I mean, I’m not going to knock it, being, by any reasonable definition, a bit of a sci-fi person myself.
But it remains the case: Ibrahim Ng clearly cares about sci-fi and has no interest in *only* writing about four old friends hanging out. He often joked that SLIDERS should be rebooted with the sliders running a hamburger joint, a joke that's actually present in the final chapters. But in the end, Ng didn't write the sliders as a fast food workplace comedy; he dived straight into science fiction and depends on it totally to justify otherwise unjustifiable sitcom scenes. His dependency on sci-fi comes through in every review, every novel, everything.
So why does he declare that he doesn't like science fiction and isn't a sci-fi person? Well, mainly because he isn’t quite one. Yes, he’s got all the trappings, but he prefers situation comedy. What we have is a writer who acts like a sci-fi person in every significant sense, except that he happens to be really attracted to sitcom conversations *about* sci-fi situations. And he’s attracted to them in a very fundamental, abiding sense such that he builds vast metaphorical labyrinths (a city of sliders and infinite parallel worlds made up of SLIDERS stories!) to justify scenes where the Professor and Quinn sit in a shopping mall talking about doomsday scenarios.
This is, in a nutshell, what reading SLIDERS REBORN is like. It’s not that the scripts don’t have good ideas. The idea that the multiverse is dying because Quinn instinctively used a machine for rebuilding reality to save his friends at the expense of all else based on choosing one single decision point from which all other realities would unfold is… compelling. The means by which Quinn ultimately saves all reality has a certain crisp logic that would make a lawyer weep with joy. The way in which Ng incorporates the Season 3 monsters into the more scientific bent he prefers for SLIDERS is beautiful as is his open acknowledgement that the 'science' of SLIDERS is really the science of stories. All the little moments shine.
And this, in the end, is the problem with SLIDERS REBORN. It's not an epic; it's a series of little moments, sketches with the sliders, welded to an epic plot. And so SLIDERS REBORN isn't falling into either epic shape. It's a story of little scenes, not big ones, that tries to explain everything. And it has a certain arrogance: even as REBORN goes out of its way not to erase any other stories, it still tacitly demands that it be allowed to serve as the key that interprets them. It's exactly the sort of sci-fi epic that SLIDERS resists.
The theory SLIDERS REBORN advances is ultimately not about SLIDERS at all and entirely about *the* sliders, the four characters as played by four actors whom Ng clearly loves (despite his frustration with Jerry O'Connell, the rendition of Quinn is flattering). Paradoxically, the conclusion culminates in a sea of computer generated monsters attacking a city -- a story that ultimately goes against the aesthetics of SLIDERS while admittedly retaining the ethics of SLIDERS. And, of course, it’s unfilmable.
Ng has fallen into the trap of believing that CGI is free, and so writes a script with jaw-dropping visual excesses that are almost as bad as "Dinoslide" infamously knocking the back end of Season 3 badly off budget. And the plot is SLIDERS by Numbers in a way that not even David Peckinpah scripts usually manage. But the biggest problem isn’t any of that. It’s that there’s nothing to it beyond the characters bantering.
Ibrahim Ng, by all appearances, seems to think that the heart and soul of SLIDERS is nothing more Wade sniping at Arturo, Rembrandt's pratfalls, Quinn's incompetent brilliance and a vaguely anti-authoritarian bent. There are no character arcs here. Ng’s script ultimately thinks having chatter is sufficient, and doesn’t care about piddly little things like drama.
And the result is a vision of SLIDERS that is simply inaccessible and unreadable to anyone who isn't already a massive fan of SLIDERS, a startling failure given Ng's persistent claims that SLIDERS' return must be an entry-level, ground floor product. It's a very strange situation that despite this, SLIDERS REBORN is actually inaccessible not only to a casual audience, but to many fans who may not have a detailed recall of every episode.
And so it’s tempting to throw Ng onto the same pile as far too many people on message boards who genuinely believe that the secret to SLIDERS’ future success is to somehow film a direct follow-up to "The Seer" with an onscreen resolution to every unfinished plot in Seasons 1 -5. Because SLIDERS REBORN is really no different in its desires; despite Ng protesting endlessly that it would be absurd to complete the Colin spy plot in 2015, he's done precisely that except he's done it with a throwaway joke and a comedy voiceover from Charlie O'Connell and had the sense to let those resolutions happen 'off camera.' Ng's focus ensures that nearly every scene features Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo front and center and he pushes his obvious continuity fixation into wisecracks rather than an all-consuming focus.
SLIDERS REBORN is a project I have more than a small measure of sympathy for. One that was not so much misguided as too weird and too difficult to work with for massive success. This doesn’t erase its value -- the fact of the matter is SLIDERS REBORN is a delightfully niche product and a lovely read. So is "Slide Effects" and his rewrite of "Net Worth" and his attempt at a 2013 reboot. Really, you’re cheating yourself if you don’t read his stuff -- I can’t imagine many people who like SLIDERS who wouldn’t love Ng’s work.
And this is where we’ll leave him -- if only because he's concluded his SLIDERS writing. He doesn’t want to be part of SLIDERS’ story anymore, having resigned from the REWATCH PODCAST and chosen to end his run on SLIDERS with the REBORN finale. So we’ll leave him out of it from here. But let’s be clear. We are not leaving him in any sort of failure or ignominy. No, no.
Ibrahim Ng gets the proper send-off; the farewell to one of SLIDERS’ oddest minds. Because he had a vision of SLIDERS that still fascinates, even if it does not consistently appeal. Because there was never anyone like him before, and will never be again. Because, in his own way, he seemed to love all aspects of SLIDERS from Henry the Dog to the super-intelligent snakes well beyond anyone else who ever wrote for SLIDERS. And because even though he’s staggeringly, epically incapable of presenting a vision of SLIDERS that would appeal to a 21st century audience, even in his inability, he remains impeccably fascinating.
So farewell, Ibrahim Ng. You were SLIDERS’ greatest crazy person.