When I was in high school I used to watch TV with my parents a lot, and they absolutely loved science fiction. A short list of what we watched together looks like this: Star Trek, Star Trek: the Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The X Files, SeaQuest, Quantum Leap. and Sliders. It’s easy to understand why I didn’t have a lot of friends at the time. Well, a few months ago I started watching streaming video from Netflix, and found out they offer the complete series (is serieses a word? Is there an English professor around?) of Sliders, SeaQuest, and Quantum Leap. I started with Sliders, and I haven’t been disappointed. I think it’s my new favorite old show. In the first episode Quinn Mallory (Jerry O’Connell), a San Francisco physics student, is testing an invention that he thinks will allow him to cross through a portal into another dimension. When he decides to go through himself, he finds a world almost exactly like his own, save a few details (I think this is the one where red means go). When he gets back he gets his favorite professor (John Rhys-Davies) and a friend from work to show them what he’s found. Through an accident best classified as “user error”, a passerby gets sucked into the portal as well. When they all arrive in the next dimension it’s completely uninhabitable, and quite dangerous. In order to escape with their lives, Quinn has to open the portal early, which means they can’t control where they go, or how long they stay there. And so begins the journey. There is an unlimited number of dimensions, all different from each other, though some startlingly similar. Each week they slide into a new one and try to navigate it’s pitfalls as best they can before sliding out again. What makes this show great isn’t the premise, and it isn’t the special effects (think Hercules: the Legendary Journeys). Every week these characters have their entire worldview challenged. They find themselves in an Earth they don’t recognize. Always in California, and always in the late 90s, but never home. In one world the US is controlled by communist Russia. In another there are only 500 million people on earth, and a strange lottery that pays you to play. In yet another technological advances were banned in the mid-50s. Each episode takes a surprisingly lucid look at one or several of our cultural mores and turns it on it’s head for 45 minutes. How often have we considered the trade-offs we make for technological advances? What about the nature of freedom in a republic versus a benevolent monarchy? Or the sheer luck in the discovery of something so pivotal as penicillin? There are some that are a bit after-school PSA-ish, like one in which nerdy boys who were picked on grow up to wreak havoc on a seemingly helpless public. But those are totally worth it for the one where the entire southwest is Texas, and negotiations and lawsuits are decided by duel. Many of us spend too much time protecting our worldview from bumps and bruises. We need to be exposed to some other ideas and possibilities, and Sliders has been quite adept at raising some interesting questions. As Alan pointed out in the context of video game morality, we need to look at other worldviews and understand how they differ from the Truth, and how they would be affected by it. I sometimes wonder how the outcome would be affected if just one of the travelers was a believer, or if they encountered some genuine (and well written) Christians on another Earth. Television has the potential to raise our level of thinking, but usually we have to give it a bit of a boost. Offering our perspectives up for examination is one way to do that. Sliders is no Gattaca, but it’s up to the task.
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