The Premise: When Quinn Mallory (Jerry O'Connell) refines vortex technology, allowing humans to "slide" between parallel universes, the budding physicist, along with his friend, Wade Wells (Sabrina Lloyd) and singer Rembrandt "Cryin' Man" Brown (Cleavant Derricks), as well as mentor, Professor Maximillian Arturo (John Rhys-Davies), are pulled into the subsequent wormhole - and stranded in an ongoing parade of alternate Earths (with drastically varying circumstances, terrains, and inhabitants). After each slide, the group must race against the clock to learn about a new variation of Earth and solve any obstacles that would prevent them from re-entering the vortex. Should they fail, they'll be stuck for 29.7 years in the new universe; should they succeed, they'll be one slide closer to (hopefully) returning to their Earth home.
Why Sliders is Great: Like Quantum Leap before it, the biggest strength of Sliders (in addition to a likable cast) was the show's ability to reflect aspects of modern culture - by heightening reality through science fiction scenarios (via parallel realities). While there were plenty of silly episodes, designed to highlight just how different Earth could be, given minor differences in the past that resulted in enormous ramifications on the future (dinosaurs avoided extinction or the British defeated America in the Revolutionary War), the show's most poignant installments managed to communicate universal truths about the human condition. To that end, some of the most engaging (and memorable) episodes of the series actually featured variations of Earth that were closely aligned with our reality - albeit a few key differences (men are considered the weaker sex and, as a result, Hillary Clinton was President in 1995 not Bill).
Life on Mars (BBC: 2006-2007 & ABC: 2008-2009)
The Premise: After being hit by a car in the present (2006/2009) lawman Sam Tyler awakens to find himself in the exact same spot over thirty years in the past - specifically 1973. While Tyler is aware of the abrupt shift in time, he awakens with a 1970s police badge, wearing period clothing, and driving a retro Chevrolet Chevelle. Unsure of what is actually happening to him (is he dead, a time traveler, or going crazy?), Tyler assumes the role of a police transfer and, in between solving cases, begins investigating his unexplainable situation.
Why Life on Mars is Great: While both the BBC and ABC Life on Mars TV series share a similar premise, there are some key differences: lead actor (John Simm/Jason O'Mara), location (Manchester/New York), present date (2006/2009), and the final explanation for Tyler's time hop, among others. Nevertheless, both series provided an interesting twist on the police procedural sub-genre - while, by their respective conclusions, toyed with heady sci-fi ideas (that had been supplanted into the mix from the very beginning). Most viewers agree that ABC's Life on Mars ultimately fell short with an unsatisfying explanation - despite success in executing the core 1970s procedural storyline; whereas, BBC managed to provide viewers with some genuinely brainy (and heartfelt) concepts to ponder in its finale. In fact, the BBC series was successful enough in blending drama and alternate reality rumination that the network greenlit a sequel series, Ashes to Ashes, which added further insight into the true nature of Tyler's circumstances.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009)
The Premise: Continuing where Terminator 2: Judgement Day left off, The Sarah Connor Chronicles follows the ongoing adventures of Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her future freed0m fighter son, John (Thomas Dekker), as they attempt to stay alive - in spite of a never-ending string of homicidal cyborgs sent back to kill them. Tracing the same lines as previous Terminator films, the Connors are joined in their fight by allies both human, Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green) and Terminator, Cameron (Summer Glau), among others - on a quest to survive and destroy a pre-SkyNet AI computer system.
Why Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is Great: While The Sarah Connor Chronicles doesn't outright feature multiple parallel universes, rewriting reality is (and has always been) the main plot of the franchise. To that end, The Sarah Connor Chronicles is no exception - taking Kyle Reese's original claim that "the future is not set. There is no fate but what we make" while presenting the Connors (and humanity's future) with bigger and more threatening dangers (especially in the form of Garret Dillahunt's T-888). Unfortunately, the series only lasted two seasons, and ended on an unresolved cliffhanger that (mostly) compromises the show's place in the larger Terminator continuity; still, thanks to some Battlestar Galactica-like twists (specifically Terminators hidden in plain sight), The Sarah Connor Chronicles provides an engaging standalone time-travel story as well as a worthwhile chapter in the larger tale of SkyNet attempting to re-write reality (via altering past events).
The Premise: Following the death of her partner (and lover), Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is recruited by the FBI's Fringe Division - charged with investigating (and studying) crimes that cannot be explained by conventional forensics. With the help of a genius (but often unstable) research scientist Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his son Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), Olivia is pulled into a world filled with monsters, biological weapons, alternate timelines, and parallel universes. Together, the Fringe Division team works toward eliminating threats to our Earth - be they terrestrial or from another dimension.
Why Fringe is Great: Initially Fringe started out its run as a relatively straightforward procedural - albeit one that relied heavily upon brainy science fiction ideas. Even as a straightforward show, with a case of the week, the series was an entertaining watch; however, the show's season 1 finale cracked the Fringe world wide open - when Olivia visits a parallel universe version of Manhattan (and eventually encounters alternate versions of the main cast). At times, the series' reach overextended its grasp but, over the course of several seasons, the show delivered genuinely fresh sci-fi ideas (and thoughtful drama) to primetime TV - painting the Fringe world(s) as a place of quirky characters and grey morality (much like the process of scientific discovery). Thanks to the parallel universe setup, along with its inhabitants, Fringe characters could look into the eyes of their doppelgänger to understand how past experiences and choices influenced the people they became (for better or worse).
The Premise: After LAPD detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) and his family are injured in a car accident, the detective awakens from a coma and is faced with two competing realities: one where his son survived the wreck (and his wife died); the other, where his wife lived (but his son was killed). However, due to the hyper-realistic nature of each world, Britten is unable to determine which one is real life and which is a dream. Every time he goes to sleep, he wakes up in the other reality; while counselors in each reality attempt to prove their side is the actual one, Britten becomes increasingly dependent on the shared existence - knowing that if he ever figures out what is real and what is a dream, he'll be forced into a final goodbye with either his son or his wife.
Why Awake is Great: Even though it received mostly positive praise, Awake was limited by the network to 13 episodes - which, thankfully, complete Britten's story. As a result, the show provides an engaging and heartfelt storyline that is easily digestible over a few days of binge watching. At times, the show struggled in its efforts to weave cop show storylines between both realities (where events in one led to revelations in the other); however, Awake succeeds in its chief endeavor: making smart use of its central premise while also delivering some genuinely impactful human drama. The show commits to its premise - forcing Britten to overcome unique obstacles in both realities (the loss of a child and the affect it has on a marriage in one, the loss of a partner and the challenges of single parenthood in the other). To that end, even when the procedural elements of the show are heavy-handed, Isaacs' portrayal of a man torn between two worlds (and loved ones) supplies an ambitious and sincere viewing experience.
There are plenty of TV shows filled with time travel and alternate realities but here are few more that we wanted to highlight:
- Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
- Day Break (2006)
- Primeval (2007-2011)
- Journeyman (2007-Present)
- Hindsight (2015-Present)
As mentioned, our list is not all-inclusive, and we're interested to hear which time travel/alternate reality TV shows are your favorites. Share your picks in the comments!
If you wish to experience Life is Strange (and its blend of satisfying, guilt-free cruelty and second chances) yourself, episode 1 and 2 of the game are available now for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Check out a trailer for the game below, and for more information head to its official website: