I was reflecting on Tracy Torme's "Slide Effects" notes and decided to write up my thoughts. And, because I love pastiching my favourite writers, I wrote them up as though they were a review written by Darren Mooney of www.them0vieblog.com.
Earth 213: On a world where Darren Mooney obsessed over Sliders instead of The X-Files, Darren reviews "Slide Effects":
The Sliders screenplay, "Slide Effects," is a relatively lean beast.
Quinn wakes up to find himself home. It's 1994; sliding doesn't exist; Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo are alive and well. Only Quinn remembers sliding and the last five seasons and he thinks that he's losing his mind. The scenario is revealed as a Kromagg simulation, the Sliders escape and slide off to new adventures.
It is a direct and focused story, tightly plotted in a way Sliders so singularly wasn't throughout its run, and that focus is both to its credit and a major flaw.
Sliders always seemed to struggle to map out a clear direction or identity for itself. Threads like the FBI searching for the Sliders or the Professor's son never amounted to anything. This problem was most obvious in Season 4 as Marc Scott Zicree, Bill Dial and David Peckinpah rewrote the mythology from one story to the next.
All the elements introduced in "Genesis" with the Kromaggs setting a trap for Quinn were dismissed with a line of dialogue in "Mother and Child." Freeing Earth Prime was reduced to a footnote in "Revelations" and "Strangers and Comrades." Even "Requiem," a story presumably about the fate of Wade Welles, didn't commit to killing her off.
Six Hundred and Seventy Two
In contrast, "Slide Effects" has a very clear idea of where it is going and no room for distractions in its 46 pages of script. This is even more apparent when looking at the original version of "Slide Effects" which is a general yet defined set of 1996-era notes from series co-creator Tracy Torme and a total of 672 words sent to EarthPrime.com as part of the 2009 interview.
Tracy Torme wrote:
A Kromagg follow up.
But FOX doesn't want Kromagg show
Make it look like it isn't.
Title: Possible/Temporary Slide Effects/Slide Effects.
Start the episode: it looks like the Sliders got home.
Everything is exactly the way it was. It's still even 1994.
Wade's at Doppler, Rembrandt is working with his agent, the Professor is teaching.
Quinn is the only one that remembers sliding. He feels like he's losing his mind.
Ryan, Gillian, Sid, Logan, all familiar and important characters are here.
Quinn is relentlessly trying to prove to his friends that they actually went sliding.
Make it look like its not a Kromagg show. Then bring the Kromaggs back in the end.
From these generalities, Sliders fan writer Ibrahim Ng wrote a 46 page script that reflects the taut, trim plot of the series co-creator. There is no time for exploration or improvisation. Everything in the "Slide Effects" script serves a single purpose: resurrecting Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo and restoring the original premise of the show. This affords "Slide Effects" a purity and energy that was severely lacking in Seasons 3 - 5 as cast members and writers left or lost interest.
Notably, "Slide Effects" is specifically a tribute to Tracy Torme. As a follow-up to the Season 5 cliffhanger, "Slide Effects" noticeably doesn't in any way address the events of "The Seer." And yet, "Slide Effects" resolves everything — and nothing — by offering a bridge from the fifth season back to the second season, and back to the version of Sliders that Tracy Torme built and would want restored.
Every page of the script basks in this thrill of apparent canonicity, in the validation that comes from being a script that originated from the co-creator of the series. The title page of Ng's document declares that "Slide Effects" is "a story by Tracy Torme" and Ng buries his own writing credit in the summary. It's an overture urging fans to accept the subsequent pages as a step above fan fiction or media tie-in novels (not that Sliders has any novels).
"Slide Effects" declares itself canon to Sliders and counts on fans to accept it as such because the plot comes from the series creator and executes his wishes and intentions.
The 46 page script was written in 2011, a time of increasing appetite for legitimacy within fan communities, particularly as it related to licensed products. Perhaps owing to the ever-increasing importance of "the canon" in popular culture, fans expected significance and importance to their media tie-ins.
These expectations of canon come in all shapes and sizes, but they mostly tend to place an emphasis on the "worthiness" of the content for an adult audience. There had to be a sense of weight and heft to Doctor Who audioplays and Star Trek novels in order to justify the audience’s interest and expense, either through being decreed canonical or in being canon in lieu of any other options.
Real Stories versus Fake Stories
It seems likely that the increased attention paid to perceived legitimacy is an extension of this philosophy, insisting that media tie-in producers prove that their content is are worthy of attention and time by making them matter. That legitimacy is reflected in the way "Slide Effects" claims significance through its (passingly) direct involvement by a key figure from the franchise’s history. It is a way to delineate between what is perceived as "real" and what is "fake."
It is a stamp of approval, marking "Slide Effects" as vital to Sliders fans and tangibly essential regardless of its quality or artistic value, although in this case, it was the fan writer and not the creator who labelled "Slide Effects" so.
By Association or Authencity
To be fair, Ng may seek to declare canonicity through a paltry association, but he also makes tremendous effort to assert "Slide Effects" as important through the voices of the characters. The attention given to recreating a print approximation of performances from Jerry O'Connell, Sabrina Lloyd, Cleavant Derricks and John Rhys-Davies is astonishing, detailing the specific intonations and line deliveries of each actor with the script providing not just the words that the actors would speak, but the deliveries and the body language and the acting.
At points, Ng inserts double-hyphens and spaces into Quinn Mallory's dialogue to capture O'Connell's precise pausing and takes the time to describe a scar on the actor's face. The lyricism of Cleavant Derricks' voice is present in Rembrandt with a slight exaggeration that was never in the teleplays but certainly in the performance and it works well in the digital ink of a PDF document. John Rhys-Davies' booming voice can be heard in every line for Arturo. Interestingly, Ng expressed difficulty with writing dialogue for Wade Welles.
Ibrahim Ng wrote:
I watched "As Time Goes By" and "The Guardian" for Quinn's voice, I watched "The King is Back" to get Cleavant's intonations, I watched "Eggheads" for John's measured tone and also his annoyance. I wrote all the dialogue in the script with whatever sentiments and plot details were needed, then I went back and started rewriting each line for each actor, although I barely had to change anything for Quinn and Professor Arturo.
Rembrandt, I was careful with. I was worried that he might seem a racist caricature. I focused on trying to make him the most normal member of the group with a normal person's reactions to everything, filtered through Cleavant's comedic sensibilities.
But I couldn't get Wade's voice in my head; I couldn't quite identify what made her lines or line deliveries distinct. I needed more of Sabrina Lloyd's voice, so I ordered a DVD of her movie Universal Signs in which she's a lead, thinking I could listen to her voice with my eyes shut and then hear Wade through her. The DVD arrived and it was a silent movie with no spoken dialogue, so I had to go back to the drawing board. Eventually, I found the film Dopamine and identified that Sabrina had a certain open gentleness in her performance, but also an open defiance in crisis or conflict.
It was really important to get all the voices right because if you can read the dialogue and hear the actors saying it as you read it, the script seems genuine and real.
That is wise, because despite "Slide Effects" being a supposedly faithful adaptation of Tracy Torme's story idea, the "Slide Effects" screenplay makes a noticeable divergence from the creator's intentions. "Slide Effects" as a 46 page script is a story featuring the return of the original cast and clearing away the events of Seasons 3, 4 and 5. It does not seek to resolve the Kromagg/human war or liberate Earth Prime or split the Quinns, but those events are clearly central to "Slide Effects" devoting its pages to stepping back from these developments and declaring them to be "possible futures" that are not the actual future of the original Sliders.
It is a gratifying, earnest, emotional story that offers relief and comfort to the fans, but it is also clearly not what Tracy Torme conceived for this story.
Ng has given his own separate account of receiving the "Slide Effects" plot. Torme shared it with him in an informal online conversation via instant messaging in 2000, shortly after the cancellation of the series.
Ibrahim Ng wrote:
I asked him how he would resolve the cliffhanger of "The Seer." Torme said he preferred not even knowing what the cliffhanger was; he hadn't watched the show since Season 3 and didn't want to. Production sent him scripts for Seasons 4 and 5; he put them away and didn't even open the envelopes because he knew reading them would just make him angry. So — I asked him what he would do if he had one more episode of Sliders.
He said he'd open with Quinn waking up in his bedroom, time rewound to the Pilot. All the original Sliders are home, time's been reset to before sliding and only Quinn remembers it. The entire scenario turns out to be a Kromagg trick along with every episode after Torme left the show, so everything after "The Guardian" is erased.
"Slide Effects" doesn't actually wrap up the Season 3 - 5 plots and the reason why is clear: Tracy Torme had no idea what those plots were nor was he interested in finding out, nor could he have had advance knowledge of episodes from 1997 - 2000 when conceiving this outline in 1996. Torme's story was in no way designed to resurrect the Sliders from their deaths or reverse the Kromagg invasion of Earth or the merging of the Quinns.
Instead, Torme's plot was focused on creating a pitch for a second Kromagg episode that would not explicitly mention the Kromaggs when pitching it to the Kromagg-averse FOX Network. FOX would have refused to approve any Kromagg story. But they might have approved a pitch that asked: what if the Sliders find that time has been rewound to the Pilot? And what if only Quinn remembers sliding? Their approval would have allowed Torme to push the story into production with the Kromaggs revealed only at the end at which point FOX would have been obligated to air it.
Torme had no familiarity with the latter seasons, had no interest in watching them, and no version of "Slide Effects" scripted by Torme would have hinged upon confronting those latter seasons in any fashion.
As such, there is something quite endearing watching Ng struggle within a pre-existing plot to achieve aims for which it was never intended. In spite of its adulterated origins, there is a clarity to "Slide Effects" that resounds. There is no parallel Earth explored in this script: it's set on Earth Prime and the only parallel universe that features, a world where verbal communication was stigmatized against, is referred two only in a few lines of dialogue. Everything else is very consciously building towards the Kromagg explanation for Seasons 3 - 5 and how those episodes fit within the larger tapestry of Sliders continuity while ensuring that Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo are front and center.
At times, the story can feel truly overstuffed with the sheer quantity of plot content in "Slide Effects." It addresses the Kromagg invasion, the dead characters, the Kromagg Prime backstory and even throws in addressing the question of which Professor slid, none of which was ever intended by Torme's plot.
Three Visions, One Story
Compounding the issue, there is the simple fact that Sliders was effectively three radically different television shows during its five season run. The first two seasons were an anthology series akin to The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, albeit with a regular cast. The third season was a horror-action series. The fourth and fifth were a studio-bound cable action series. Any follow-up has to address these discontinuities and this is the biggest challenge that Ng faces with "Slide Effects."
Is the script to reconcile the different aspects of the show? Or will it put one above the others? When it comes to scripting a follow-up or sequel, how does one decide constitutes the "real" version of the show? It seems a fool’s errand to try to fashion them into a cohesive arc. As such, "Slide Effects" faces a considerable handicap.
In order to fit all of these details together, Ng offers an explanation with careful setup, so much so that it feels like his 46 pages exist to rewrite the series rather than expanding or continuing its story. The explanation is that Seasons 3 - 5 were the amalgamated experiences of 37 Quinn doubles, each with disparate and contradictory experiences in sliding, and with the the most traumatic experiences brought to the forefront. This is why Seasons 3 - 5 showed the Sliders dying one by one with any discrepancies declared to be the result of merging 37 lives into a single Quinn's story.
It is a very dismissive approach to a complicated mythology, separating Seasons 1 - 2 from 3 - 5 and declaring last three seasons to be other Sliders' problem and no business of the 'real' Sliders.
The emphasis on recategorizing the history of Sliders finds "Slide Effects" employing a sort of shorthand in its invocations towards the past. There are references to the Kromaggs and allusions to their shapeshifting, but no acknowledgement of how their appearances were revised for Season 4.
The script is careful to describe an "Invasion" era Kromagg with no further comment on the matter. There is no concern raised that the Rembrandt of the possible futures, the Rembrandt of "The Seer," remains without resolution in his arc. There is no direct acknowledgement of the Professor's terminal illness in "The Guardian" which this Professor could still develop.
In fact, the script for "Slide Effects" sharply diverges from the notes and Torme's wishes in two areas: the point at which the Kromagg simulation began is altered from "The Guardian" as intended to "As Time Goes By" in the script. The script also omits Logan St. Clair, a clear effort to avoid her and the Professor’s illness without even referring to either.
This simplification is not necessarily a bad thing. Ng draws from the most iconic and recognisable elements of Sliders that haunt the show’s five season run. All the Season 3 - 5 regulars appear in "Slide Effects," but as imagery created by a Kromagg's telepathic powers creating illusions instead of in-character and in-person, which really helps to keep the story tight. Perhaps anything more would weigh the story down. This efficiency also helps to declutter the mythology somewhat. Seasons 3 - 5 were dominated by unresolved plots. "Slide Effects" is centered on the original cast, but it can seem somewhat self-serving.
Even as a potential Season 4 premiere, the plot alone is a way to for Torme to assert that only his tenure on the show is the 'real' version of Sliders and that any episodes aired during his departure are doubles and alternates. Ng's script pages magnify this with dialogue specifically to indicate those futures that aired on FOX and the Sci-Fi Channel could never happen to these versions of Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo, the one, true Sliders.
As self-flattering as that might be, there is still something endearingly open-minded in the grudging notion that Seasons 3 - 5 still remain valid with infinite versions of the Sliders out there, some of whom resemble or are the versions we saw in the last three years of the show.
A Tangled Web We Weave
As "Slide Effects" weaves through three years of Sliders continuity, it feels almost like continuity porn. At the halfway mark, Ng stops using Torme's "Slide Effects" plot to tell a story, but as a means to retroactively “tidy up” storylines that everyone (from broadcaster to viewer) would rather forget.
I’m a bit wishy-washy on the issue continuity – I don’t believe that basic continuity excludes an audience, but I don’t believe that it makes for a good story crutch. It’s nice to build on what came before, but exposition and elaboration over events that happened in the past are unnecessary at the best of times.
Including a throwaway line which explains that Arturo likes Jeopardy adds personality and doesn’t detract from the story at hand. On the other hand, devoting 23 pages of a 46 page script to explaining how every crazy event in the Sliders history was the result of a Kromagg plan kills momentum and would have likely confused viewers if this script as Ibrahim Ng writes it had ever been filmed.
I’ve argued before and I’ll argue again that this focus on specific minutia is damaging to science fiction television, playing to diehard fans and locking out a general audience.
If a kid asked me to recommend a Sliders episode and I had them read "Slide Effects," I can assure you that they’d probably never go near the show again again in their life. "Slide Effects" isn’t intended as an episode for new viewers. It’s for fans who know their episodes inside out and that is in stark contradiction to Tracy Torme's plot which made this story a season premiere, an introduction for new viewers by taking them back to the beginning of the show.
Television shows make mistakes. Frequently. Unlike with movie series featuring James Bond or Batman, TV writers generally can't just reboot after a mistake. They have to work around the mistake that they’ve made in order to steer the story in a worthwhile direction. Even in comic books, Batman's abrasive personality is revealed as a nervous breakdown and Green Lantern becoming a mass murderer is explained as his being possessed by a primordial fear demon.
However, I don’t see the benefit to anyone in dwelling on those mistakes or seeking to waste valuable time addressing gaps that nobody cares about. I’ll bet Sliders fans would have been glad to see the end of those particular storylines, and certainly didn’t want to see them again – and would have been just as happy if "Slide Effects" were the more character-oriented, introductory, general audience script that Tracy Torme would have wanted.
Killing Arturo was a mistake. Making Quinn a mythical chosen one in an interdimensional war was a poor choice. Dispatching Wade was a wrong turn. Feeling that Sliders was out-of-touch with an 18 - 25 audience, FOX tried to clean out the cast. They turned Quinn Mallory into a sociopathic action star, introduced Maggie Beckett and had the Sliders' frame of reference with the audience -- Earth Prime -- turned into a Kromagg outpost.
All of this could have been forgotten even and especially with a more faithful version of the "Slide Effects" plot, filmed and aired as a season premiere. It could have been implied that Seasons 3 - 5 were part of the Kromagg scenario without being overt. Those seasons were in the past, best forgotten about. After all, we don’t spend a few hours everyday remarking on how stupid parachute pants were – we just don’t wear them anymore. Life moves on.
A Wizard Did It
"Slide Effects" makes a valiant attempt to retroactively “fix” bad decisions. And, in fairness, the detailed replays of Season 3 - 5 episodes are the right maneuver to attempt something like that. "Slide Effects" writes off those seasons as not “really” being the Sliders adventures but the adventures of their doubles. If you’ve watched The Simpsons, you’ll recognise that he’s pretty much saying “a wizard did it” – which is just lazy writing.
However, that’s not the problem. The problem is that "Slide Effects" spends half its length explaining to us exactly which wizard did what. Quinn's out of character behaviour towards a captured Wade in "Mother and Child"? Quinn subconsciously didn't believe in the situation; any subsequent jerkiness was the result of his detaching from the Kromagg simulation. "I stopped believing in the life you gave me." Rembrandt suddenly having a Navy background? It came from the false Arturo's memories and was folded into Quinn's amalgamated timeline. "You got sloppy," says Quinn. "You combined my life in ways that didn't make sense."
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but it does bother me. It’s exactly the kind of insular continuity obsession that the alienates mainstream viewers from science fiction and fantasy television. Anyone reading my reviews of say, The X-Files, will know that I have enough problems with storylines dependent on contradictory references to past episodes to make sense. Here the storyline is dependent on fragments from three seasons of Sliders. I’m not interested in the the scheme of a master villain which exists in the form of a convoluted set of plots for a troubled TV show.
As much as "Slide Effects" feels tighter and focused than the three seasons that preceded it, it also feels like it sacrifices a lot of storytelling opportunities. In order to condense Torme's plot and addressing all the unresolved arcs down to 46 pages, Ng has to make a number of storytelling sacrifices and cut off a number of promising ideas at their root. There are any number of clever premises at work in "Slide Effects" that the script rushes past in order to get to that final confrontation between the Sliders and the Kromagg agent.
The most obvious of these forsaken premises is the very idea of Quinn remembering sliding where no one else does. The possibility of building a whole character arc around Quinn finding himself home and trying to rebuild sliding is intriguing. There is something dramatic and compelling about Quinn having to decide whether or not he might want to slide again and whether or not he should bring his friends with him on this second effort or leave them home and safe.
In addition, even within the first two seasons of Sliders, Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo had changed significantly. By resetting the clock back to the Pilot, "Slide Effects" invites them to contemplate whether or not their character development has been worth their nomadic and homeless situation in the multiverse. The script fails to delve into these questions, leaving the premise of the Sliders finding themselves home somewhat underexplored.
Rush to Reset
The abbreviated length of "Slide Effects" undercuts its own premise significantly. There is no sense of Quinn struggling with finding himself home only to lose it again. Earth Prime is established in a single page of script that exists primarily to have Quinn quote Mallory's final line from "The Seer" and realize that he is home. The confrontation between the Sliders and the Kromagg pays no mind to the characters' development between the Pilot and "As Time Goes By" and is strictly concerned with the traumas of Seasons 3, 4 and 5. "Slide Effects" never fully capitalises on the potential of its plot, rushing towards a reset instead of exploring the characters' mindsets.
There are other issues with this compressed pace. Most obviously, every Slider who isn't Quinn Mallory feels like something of a passenger across the arc. Wade's role is to send Quinn to a therapist; Rembrandt contributes nothing to the story beyond being part of the quartet and making numerous funny remarks. Both are granted little time to develop their own agendas or motivations. The Professor leads the charge in exposition, but aside from that, only Quinn Mallory seems to have any real agency.
No Soft Sell
In fact, there are a whole host of ideas that are broached and ignored. The Kromagg declares the Earth Prime illusion to be a gift of what the Sliders want most, their heart's desire — and the emotional cost of rejecting it is never discussed except in a joke from Rembrandt. In fact, the idea of a softer sell with the Kromagg tempting the Sliders with the choice to stay in the illusion in exchange for helping the Kromaggs invade the real Earth Prime never comes up at all, an odd lapse for these master manipulators.
The rationale behind the Kromagg deliberately forcing Quinn to endure the most traumatic experiences of 37 Quinn doubles is also strangely non-existent. The desired outcome is clear: "Slide Effects" seeks to acknowledge Seasons 3 - 5 but then write them away. But the Kromagg telepathically inflicting Seasons 3 - 5 on Quinn is in direct contradiction to the Kromagg's stated mission: to give Quinn and friends happy memories of Earth Prime to spur them to stop sliding randomly and find a way to locate their home coordinates so that their homecoming would be followed by a Kromagg invasion fleet.
It's at this point that Ibrahim Ng's effort to rework Tracy Torme's 672 word story idea into a resurrection for the original Sliders shows its greatest strain. The plot from Torme only highlighted the Earth Prime in 1994 scenario as part of the Kromagg simulation. Ng attempts to extend that to every Sliders episode after Season 2 and Torme's framework stretches at the seams with the effort to contain far more than it was ever meant to hold.
This is where Ng's attention to the post-Torme episodes begins to work against Torme's intentions. Likely, had Torme's "Slide Effects" aired as a Season 4 premiere, any dismissal of previous episodes would have been done without specific references to the past, a level of vagary that Ng's script cannot countenance in its wish for closure.
Bait and Switch
But despite seemingly offering closure, "Slide Effects"' final pages work against any sense of an ending, instead leaving off with an extension of the original status quo: Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo are still lost, still exploring the multiverse, still searching for a way back home — albeit without the threat of the Kromaggs or the Earth Prime invasion or Logan St. Clair pursuing them or the Professor dying from a fatal disease.
Readers could be forgiven for being surprised when "Slide Effects" declares itself to be a new beginning for a new run of Sliders episodes that will never be written. Sliders was not good at endings and even "Slide Effects" offers an amusing nod to this tendency.
In a very real way, "Slide Effects" might just be the most satisfying non-ending ending to Sliders ever written. There is a quick glimpse of episodes from Seasons 3 - 5 as as the Sliders peer across the myriad realities, but the story effectively ends with the original Sliders resurrected (having never been dead or separated). The trauma of Seasons 3 - 5 is vivid and compelling and the resolution to the emotions if not the plot points is cathartic and comforting. Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo are heralded as the true, core, original Sliders and presented with heartrending sincerity.
And three years of TV episodes are effectively erased, treated as more of the alternate realities that were so central to the larger mythology of Sliders, serving to offer a glimpse of a framework into which multiple versions of the canon might possibly be integrated.
One Step Forward, One Step Back
Meanwhile, the Sliders end the story with resuming their nomadic search for home, precisely where they were at the end of Season 2. No lasting harm has been done, but no progress has been made. It is certainly a kinder fate than what later seasons offered and, in contrast to those seasons, a stirring and joyful coda while in no way a conclusion.
To be fair, this seems to be the point. Ng seems to argue that the Sliders traveling endlessly on amazing adventures is the happiest way to leave them while ruefully observing that compared to death and body horror, interdimensional homelessness is merciful.
It is a wry and self-aware non-ending ending, one that acknowledges Sliders as a truncated and abbreviated TV series in its first two seasons that has been overshadowed by where the last three seasons chose to venture.
The Officially Hypothetical Series Finale
All of this makes "Slide Effects" rather unique in the context of Sliders. This is a fan fiction screenplay that is also a story from the original co-creator of the series. It exists exclusively for the purpose of wrapping up arcs that were left unfinished yet the only wrap-up it presumes to offer is sentiment, distance and reversal.
Ultimately, it serves as a version of Sliders that is what Tracy Torme would want. It presents a restoration that Torme may have contemplated but may not have settled upon. And even if Torme had chosen this route, no Torme script would have been as continuity-oriented as this screenplay.
"Slide Effects" is short and rushed and is less authentic than it presents itself in its conception and creation. These are serious issues.
However, the story is genuine and heartfelt and provides a convincing depiction of all four Sliders and presents their friendship as overcoming all odds. The narrative also feels a lot tighter and more constrained than the stories it seeks to resolve. These storytelling sacrifices allow "Slide Effects" to build both plotting and emotional momentum as it rushes towards the finish line and it leaves the reader's fondness for Sliders as redeemed and restored along with the Sliders themselves.
From this perspective, it feels like "Slide Effects" is the kind of story that many fans and critics would expect from an entry-level season premiere as it lays the previous season(s) to rest, reaffirms the concept of the show, and clears the slate for a new run of adventures.
In that respect, this 2011 screenplay adaptation of a 1996 story idea is a very modern type of Sliders story.