Topic: The odd self-awareness of Sliders: a mini-essay

Sliders is one of the most strangely self-aware shows I've come across. Strangely, because there's a lot of self-aware fiction out there, but you get the feeling that it's trying. I don't think Sliders was trying.

Season 3 is where the show starts to turn on itself, in multiple ways. I'll be the first to admit that that's when the show starts getting bad, but it's also when the magic starts, when it becomes most lucid. Suddenly this group of adventurers and friends starts breaking down, on-screen and off, though there's no narrative reason for it to happen on-screen; it's just that someone new has control of the scripts. The bonds between former friends become weaker and weaker as the creators fail to pay any attention to the characters, preferring drinking binges to thoughtful storywriting. And yet at the same time, the characters notice.

Wade notices.

"You know, when I first started sliding, all I saw was adventure. Now all I seem to see is death."

"You're not alone, you've got us." "Do I?"

"Everything's just so different, you know? ...I feel like I'm losing everything to her."

Episode by episode, Wade takes Quinn to task for what he's become - what he can't help becoming, at the hands of David Peckinpah and Jerry O'Connell. It's not, strictly, Quinn's fault. What's written isn't consistent with his character, and you'd think that if the writers noticed this enough to have Wade comment on it, they'd have noticed enough not to write him like that in the first place.

But they didn't. And so you have this odd mishmash of awareness and ignorance that really, more than anything, feels like Wade stepping outside the show to comment on its falling apart.

If this were any other show, I'd say Sabrina was just ad-libbing all her dialogue from mid-season 3 onwards. It's pointedly hostile towards all the changes that have been made: towards Maggie, towards Quinn's fickleness, towards the death of the Professor. At one point we're simply given a long, lingering, uncomfortable take of Wade screaming and crying, like something out of Candle Cove, a commentary on the beloved friendships the writers have abused and destroyed. It feels too real to be scripted.

Yet there's a problem. Sliders fandom has everything documented. There's no scandal, no bit of trivia that dedicated fans haven't uncovered, from drunken parties and hungover actors to actual on-set death. Something as daring as that would surely have been preserved, somehow, in Sliders history, and dutifully ferreted out by the fandom. We're forced to conclude that, even as the show imploded from bad writing, it maintained enough awareness to comment - scathingly, brutally - on everything it was doing wrong.

And it's fascinating for that. Sliders isn't just the story of four people travelling between parallel worlds; it's also the story of a show, with Wade as its prophet of doom, only able to watch helplessly as everything she once loved collapses around her. And then she's gone, and the rest of the show is like an afterthought, these ghosts of the characters (except Rembrandt, somehow, who miraculously always remains himself) plodding on, becoming increasingly poorly characterised to the point where they're unrecognisable. Quinn forgets her; Quinn in turn is forgotten, lost in the Mallory character. They bring Wade back, but it's not her; it's a ghost and a simulacrum like everything else, a sad echo of former times.

The show concludes its five-season run with the Sliders landing on a world where their exploits are fiction. Fans hold up signs proclaiming "Bring Back Wade"; Arturo is back on the show "by popular demand". Look what we were, the show's capstone seems to be saying, and look what we are now. A show within a show, commenting on itself. It's a fitting end, for a show that commented on itself more than people gave it credit for.

Re: The odd self-awareness of Sliders: a mini-essay

That was a nice mini-essay Intangirble. Though I'm not one to care much about the behind the scenes shenanigans of the shows I watch, this kind of thing I do find a little fascinating as it can have an actual impact on the show itself, as you have beautifully detailed here. Sliders definitely feels the most meta and self aware that I have come across, but there have been minor circumstances in other shows that jump to mind.

Charmed kinda goes without saying. The off-screen tension between Shannon Doherty and Alyssa Milano was clearly visibly even from day one, and (without knowing the details) it's hard not to believe that the tension between the on-screen siblings wasn't something that would have immediately wrapped up in the first season, but either the writers or higher-ups could spot the tension between the actresses and so played it up as much as they could, knowing that there was a spark there that simply couldn't be manufactured in any other normal circumstances. Honestly, they must have been running round the office in glee when they brought Alyssa on board after the pilot's actress didn't pan out. There was literally zero tension - manufactured or otherwise - there.

The Tribe has a really great instance of this, but with a bit more meta and self-awareness thrown in. The show began with a powerful position of not talking down to children and seriously tackling all manner of teen subjects, but by the jumping-the-shark 4th season, post-apocalyptic survival was suddenly thrown aside for technology, virtual reality, advanced laser weapons, and food manufacturing capabilities. In the blink of an eye, the audience were suddenly talked down to like babies in a way that hadn't been done before - full of insulting euphemisms and the like. Network interference had been forced on the show to make it more 'child friendly' and you could immediately see the impact. By the 5th season - after a lot of outcry on forums and the like - you got this amazing scene with the lead character ranting at the antagonist concerning the use of all the nonsense and euphemisms in telling her that the person she loved was dead:

"Say it. Go on, say it! 'Deleted', Bray. Killed. Murdered. Butchered. Destroyed. Assassinated. Graphic enough, for you?! Or should we stick to your quaint little euphemism?!"

It's hard to know whether the stance behind it was the writers saying 'yeah, yeah, we know we've been talking down to you' or whether it was the opposite form of 'does hearing the words make you feel like you're not watching a children's show?' It's really hard to say, because of all the behind the scenes and network agendas, but it was an excellent meta moment in the show.

There are some other instances, but those two pop first into my mind. It does begs the question, whether these inclusions were instigated by the writers wanting to mirror the off-screen tension in order to build a better performance for the actors, whether the writer unconsciously included it, whether the writers sneakily included these in without the higher-ups spotting, or if indeed it was a decision from the higher-ups to spark things a bit more.

Anyway, like I said, I'm not knowledgable about the behind the scene events of shows, and I tend to stay away from them in order to separate characters from the actors, but it is fascinating subject indeed.

Re: The odd self-awareness of Sliders: a mini-essay

Aside from episodes written by Marc Scott Zicree and Chris Black in Seasons 4 - 5, any behind the scenes implications are unintentional. Intangirble's remarks about Quinn are a welcome relief after years of "Quinn Mallory was never worth your time" and "Quinn Mallory is a bad person" and "Quinn clearly went insane."

It's interesting to look at SLIDERS' sister series, THE X-FILES, which occasionally jumped into the metatextual in Seasons 2 - 4, a little more often in Seasons 5, delivered a Season 6 & 7 full of comedy episodes, and had two comedy episodes across two years for Seasons 8 - 9. The comedy episodes were often metatextual, pointing out certain absurdities in THE X-FILES format such as Mulder and Scully having no personal lives and never solving any cases.

These funny episodes were often entirely unlike the serious show surrounding them; the reason was that show creator Chris Carter had a certain hands-off approach to editing his writers; he liked to let them develop their own versions of the characters and the show each week while still keeping his own in the mix.

This is an approach that might have served SLIDERS well where, a few times a season, there'd be a more deconstructive approach to the series. SLIDERS did this by accident and in a slapdash and self-imploding fashion; THE X-FILES did this purposefully and in a self-exploring manner.

[Self indulgent, semi-delusional rambling continues.]

It's also interesting to compare how SLIDERS and THE X-FILES both ended with a massive back catalog of unresolved plots revolving around an alien invasion plot that any in-continuity revival would need to address before getting on with the business of SLIDERS and X-FILES stories. Both shows returned, SLIDERS in 2015 and THE X-FILES in 2016. Both shows chose a very metatextually literate way of moving away from the mistakes of the past.

THE X-FILES returns with what is essentially Season 23 with Seasons 10 - 22 having taken place offscreen aside from a brief return for Season 15. The alien invasion teased for Seasons 1 - 9 and set for Season 19 apparently never took place. There was no invasion, and believer Fox Mulder concedes that his life has become "a punchline" and later receiving confirmation: the alien invasion conspiracy was, is and ever shall be a massive hoax. Later episodes have Mulder dis-spirited but then realizing that even without aliens, there's plenty of monsters of the week to investigate.

NEW MEXICO MEDICINE MAN: "You were never even close! Warring aliens lighting each other on fire and other such nonsense!" MULDER: "I was being cleverly manipulated." | MULDER: "A decade of my life in this office -- I was being led through a dark alley to a dead end, just as they planned." | MULDER: "Scully -- back in the day -- is today."

SLIDERS REBORN, aside from 2-minute webisode, is essentially Season 20 of the series and declares that all the resurrections and returns happened during the untelevised timegap of Seasons 6 - 19. When the alien invasion is brought up, the sliders rememeber it, but the world at large has no recollection of it at all. It was dealt with offscreen, it doesn't matter, what matters is that Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo are back. Little metatextual exchanges take place.

REMBRANDT: "When exactly did we become friends, Q-Ball? Was it when you left my car in an iceberg?! Was it when you sent me to an alien battlefield and told me I was home!? Was it when you left me sliding alone for a year!? You never even taught me how to recharge the timer!" (Wade and Arturo cast furious looks at Quinn, Quinn throws his hands in the air helplessly.)

Ultimately, both shows declare that the alien invasion plots that took a stranglehold on them in their latter years are not really what they're about and use metatextual writing to create a self-aware anti-climax. They proceed to declare that the best way to pay tribute to the past while moving forward is to focus on the characters, revealing who they are and what they're doing today.

Re: The odd self-awareness of Sliders: a mini-essay

intangirble, interesting thoughts on the show. It's cool to see a new light shined on the characters after all this time. smile

ireactions, I just have to say that I love that you talk about your Sliders scripts the way I talk about my Buffy scripts.

Re: The odd self-awareness of Sliders: a mini-essay

Funny how your link goes to dialogue written by SLIDERS' Marc Scott Zicree and brings us right back to SLIDERS.

Setting aside my choices -- the truth is that THE X-FILES and SLIDERS were early adopters of a TV format where the status quo is not static and unchanging, and they handled ongoing development in awkward, ham-fisted, clumsy ways that resulted in anomalies of metatextual commentary.

With THE X-FILES, it was as often accidental as it was deliberate. With SLIDERS, it was largely accidental with a few instances where it was deliberate. Both shows ended up in a position where they set up what Martin Izsak calls "narrative debts," where the audience is made to expect something the show fails to give. In both cases, that debt was a resolution to an alien invasion the various plots related to that issue.

When you build up to a payoff you can't deliver and then you have the chance to come back over a decade later, there aren't really that many options. With THE X-FILES and SLIDERS, you can only do one of two things.

You can either do the big climax 10 years too late -- or you can turn into the swerve. You can willfully present the anti-climax, acknowledging that it's not quite what one hoped for with self-aware dialogue that is essentially reaching out to the audience in an apologetic fashion. And then you move on.

Re: The odd self-awareness of Sliders: a mini-essay

Aye it's a shame. But probably the best method given how unworkable the other options would be in comparison. Plus it cuts through the Baggage to get to the Important Core of Characters and Setting Exploration that can be done by holding up a Mirror to our World and then looking at the AlternativeWorld and our Four Favourite Characters Doubles or Lack of on said World.

"It's only a matter of time. Were I in your shoes, I would spend my last earthly hours enjoying the world. Of course, if you wish, you can spend them fighting for a lost cause.... But you know that you've lost." -Kane-