There's nothing like a spot of time travel. Especially when it's a vehicle for America to bare its tortured soul. Jasper Rees rides a wormhole to another dimension

TELEVISION Sliders
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The Independent Culture
When they'd finished making Sliders, the cupboard where the cliches are kept was bare. Two drably beautiful young things dabble in time travel. He's called Quinn, she's Wade, or maybe it's the other way round. Naturally, this being primetime time travel, a professor tags along in a bow tie. The professor, it goes without saying, has a name that sounds like he already comes from the dystopian sci-fi-scape he is about to journey to. In this case it's Futuro, Maximillian Futuro.

As the gang are about to slide through the wormhole into a different dimension (sorry, but there's no dignified way of rewording that phrase), an overdressed R&B singer gets sucked into the experiment. He's called Brown, Rembrandt Brown, as opposed to James, Errol, Jackson or Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. As played by Cleavant Derricks, this constitutes a possibly unique instance of a role named after a Dutch painter taken by an actor whose own Christian name is even more ridiculous.

When they all come through to the other side, the team say things like "this place gives me the creeps", a line you get at least once in every episode of Scooby Doo.

Plainly, this is a cartoon in which the characters happen not to be animated. (In any sense.) Somehow, though, Sliders is weirdly likeable. Giving full vent to all-American paranoia, each plot imagines an alternative present where enemies who in real life have been vanquished now reign triumphant. One forthcoming episode will find President Oliver North in the White House. In another, the team visit a disgracefully pacifist world where they have to invent the atomic bomb in order to save the human race.

In the opening story, a real peach, America is under the communist yoke. The greenback is now red, and McCarthyesque senators rail against free- marketeering subversives. The only thing that hasn't changed is the Russian cabbie who can't speak English.

The theatrical regalia of the Evil Empire have been faithfully reproduced, but there are some nicely nightmarish inventions, too. When he's arrested, Rembrandt is taken to a vast interview warehouse. It's dotted with suspects sitting on isolated chairs around which interrogators prowl.

With almost saintly modesty, the script does allow that something is moderately rotten in the state of America. When he's arrested, Rembrandt's show trial is on a trial show, plainly inspired by the prurient American model available on Court TV. And when the gang escape from Leninist San Francisco, they re-enter the present right next door to a dosser kipping down under a statue of Lincoln. To salve their conscience, and the programme's, they dump some greenbacks on his heaving chest. But hey, at least they're green.

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