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You Can Go Back Again
In which a TV studio miraculously does a fan favorite justice.
Quantum Leap premiered on TV in March of 1989. Until I looked up the date, I thought I watched that first episode "live." But I didn't return to the states until September of that year, so I must have seen a rerun somehow.
If you're not familiar with the show, the premise is simple: in the near future (the late 1990s) genius Sam Beckett invents a form of time travel that allows you to "leap" into the body of someone in the past. Beckett is under pressure from the government to show some results, so he leaps before the system is completely operational. This leaves him bouncing from person to person in the past. In order to leap out of the person he's currently occupying, he has to "fix" a wrong in the life of that person. So he keeps fixing things, hoping the next leap will take him home.
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Quantum Leap is sci-fi comfort food. It has a strong sense of right and wrong, and the good guys always win. The only backstory is whether Sam will ever make it home, but we know he can't because that would end the show. There's a handful of two-part episodes, but most of the stories wrap up in 45 minutes. Quantum Leap is a lot like the early Star Trek shows. (With the exception of the good one, Deep Space Nine.)
The show is often funny, often veering into good-natured Dad humor. (Although Dean Stockwell's character, Al Calavicci, is rather cringy in the first couple of seasons.)
The science fiction is light and dances on the edge of fantasy. Quantum Leap has allusions to a creator controlling where Sam leaps and what he has to "fix" before he leaps again. This also makes Sam taking over someone's body (!!) and changing their life (!!!) perfectly fine since he's, well, doing the creator's bidding.
But, Quantum Leap did what good science fiction does and took social issues head on, and didn't wait until it was established or popular to do so. It addressed sexism and discrimination right from the start by having Sam "leap" into women launching careers in the '60s, and African Americans caught up in the Deep South before and during the Civil Rights movement. Its handling of those issues seems tame by today's standards, but this was when shows like Murphy Brown were being criticized for taking similar stances.
The show ended after five seasons with (spoiler) Sam still stuck in the timestream.
But, Quantum Leap is back!
A new Quantum Leap jumped onto the small screen last fall and, to my delight, is a continuation of the original story. Instead of a reboot retelling the original story or, heaven help us, subverting our expectations, the show picks up where the original left off.
The new show is set 30 years later, and tells the story of a new project designed to reproduce Dr. Beckett's technology and help bring him home.
The first series worked because it had compelling scripts and talented leads with Scott Bakula as Sam and Dean Stockwell as Al. They were the only two characters that appeared in every episode, so they truly had to carry the show from story to story.
So far, the new series, which has already been renewed for a second season, is maintaining those production values. It's added more continuity between episodes, and expands the cast to five regulars, since it gives us a better picture of what's going on behind the leaps.
Raymond Lee plays Ben Song, the new stranded-in-time leaper. Caitlin Bassett is Addison, his holographic counterpart. They're both skilled actors, and their chemistry is different from Al's and Sam's, which adds a lot to the show. Sam Beckett knew how to do nearly everything, which often made Al purely comedy relief. In the new series Ben isn't quite as skilled, so Addison's role is more important.
Meanwhile, one of the behind the scenes characters is played by one of my favorite actors, Ernie Hudson. (Sergeant Albrecht!) For bonus points, he's playing someone Sam leapt into in the original series.
Quantum Leap subscribes to the Back to the Future theory of time travel: if you go back in time and change something, it changes your present. This goes against currently quantum mechanics theory, as I understand it. (Which is very little.) But, it makes for great stories because the stakes are immediate and obvious. It makes telling a 45 (or 90) minute tale that's rewarding for the viewer easy.
It's good story telling, and who doesn't like a little comfort food?