“Quantum Leap” (1989-1993).
“Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator, and vanished. He woke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own, and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.”
That was the opening pre-credits narration and series’ mission statement of NBC’s “Quantum Leap”, as silkily read by co-producer Deborah Pratt. “Quantum Leap” was a series birthed into existence by producer Donald Bellisario (“Magnum P.I”, “Battlestar Galactica”). The fondly-remembered, time-traveling cult TV series ran from 1989 to 1993, and was sort of an all-American answer to BBC’s legendary “Doctor Who.”
Stars Scott Bakula (“Star Trek: Enterprise”) and the late Dean Stockwell played Dr. Sam Beckett and Admiral Albert “Al” Calavicci, respectively. Sam was the brilliant, corn-fed super-genius physicist who created the top secret time-travel project “Quantum Leap” in 1995. Al was a gaudily-dressed, former Vietnam POW, astronaut, and dedicated skirt-chaser who acted as amnesiac Sam’s life-experience coach during each new leap. The series ended on a bittersweet note, with Al’s own heartbroken history rewritten to leave him a contented family man, while Sam remained lost in time, never to return to his wife, Donna (the partial-amnesiac Sam was married).
Now the series returns, with an all-new team dedicated to learning Sam’s fate while continuing his work, adding a few new wrinkles of their own. As a longtime fan of the series, dating back to its 1989 premiere, I was instantly intrigued by the potential for its return…
Quantum Leap (2022), S1.1: “July 13th, 1985.”
Written by Steven Lilian and Bryan Wynbrandt, “July 13th, 1985” was directed by Thor Freudenthal. Opening with original co-producer Deborah Pratt voicing a familiar-yet-different narration, telling us Project Quantum Leap is beginning anew, after years of unsuccessfully trying to bring Dr. Sam Beckett home. We then see a young numbers-cruncher (Georgina Reilly) wearing a Navy ring, desperately compiling data before sending an urgent text message to Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee)…
Introverted genius Ben Song is currently attending an uncomfortable party with his fiancee Addison (Caitlin Bassett), and some of their work colleagues at Project Quantum Leap, including Project head Herb “Magic” Williams (Ernie Hudson), security coordinator Jenn Chou (Nanrisa Lee) and artificial-intelligence expert Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park), who’s currently squabbling with the party’s DJ over whether to play The Kinks. Forced by his boss to make a speech, reticent Ben thanks his colleagues with the usual pleasantries, before Addison suggests they split the party… right after she talks with some people. While she’s away, Ben receives the desperately cryptic text message from the mysterious ringed number-cruncher back at Project Quantum Leap Headquarters. Ben grimly accepts the urgency of her message, and quietly slips away from the party. Arriving at Project Quantum Leap, Ben dons a very familiar all-white unitard, and steps into the Quantum Leap accelerator…
Note: Project leader Herbert “Magic” Williams is same person that Dr. Sam Beckett leaped into during the episode “The Leap Home, Part 2”, which saw Sam trading lives with an uncannily intuitive African-American soldier (hence his nickname “Magic”) serving in the Vietnam War. Magic-Sam saved the life of Sam’s brother, but at the cost of freeing captured US Navy pilot, Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell), who would spend several more years in a Vietnamese POW camp. Magic adds a sprinkling of military vibe to the show previously seen in the character of Al–a nod to producer Don Bellisario’s own military service.
A disoriented, amnesiac Ben awakens in July 13th, 1985. The day of the historic Live Aid concert. Ben is at the wheel of a parked van, alongside deeply reluctant, would-be robber Ryan (Michael Welch). After Ryan leaves to help his crew pull off the job, Ben momentarily wanders outside, trying to get his bearings. Ben’s greeted by a shouting hologram of Addison, who manages to get his attention by using his name. She then tells Ben that he’s leaped into “Nick Rounder,” a getaway driver who’s about to take part in a dangerous heist of C-4 explosives. As his robber crew rush back to the van, Ben-Nick is forced to peel off and haul ass in order to avoid the cops. One little problem—Ben doesn’t drive stick-shift. With hologram-Addison guiding him through it, as well as provide an escape route to Ryan’s foreclosed restaurant hideaway, Ben-Nick manages to successfully evade the police. After parking the van in an alley behind the restaurant, hologram-Addison does her best to bring the confused Ben up to speed, but only telling him what she can, based on supercomputer Ziggy’s projections. Addison’s hologram cuts out, and contact between she and Ben is temporarily lost…
Note: The character of Addison Augustine, ably played by real-life US Army veteran Caitlin Bassett, is a fusion of the original series’ Al Calavicci and Donna Eleese, Sam’s wife, who also worked on the project. Eschewing the gaudy clothes and cigars of Al, while retaining some of his life experience, Addison has Donna’s deeper emotional connection to leaper Ben, and perhaps a bit of professional jealousy as well, since she was supposed to be the leaper in the revived project—not Ben.
Back at Project HQ, things have gone a little ‘caca,’ to quote the late Al. The project’s powerful supercomputer “Ziggy” temporarily goes offline, as Ian scrambles to bring it back into service. Meanwhile, Jenn frantically tries to understand how Ben bypassed multiple security protocols in order to leap back in time by himself. A dejected Addison returns from the holographic imaging chamber, saddened that Ben didn’t even recognize her. Ian offers her comfort, saying that amnesia was a predicted side-effect of leaping. Meanwhile, Project Leader Magic tries to keep his crew focused in working the problem.
Note: I liked seeing more inner workings of Project Quantum Leap itself; something rarely shown in the original series, save for a handful of episodes (“Pilot,” “The Leap Back, Parts 1 &2,” “Oswald,” “Mirror Image”). In that way, the newer series brings to mind the original series’ inspiration; the 1966 Irwin Allen series, “The Time Tunnel,” which saw a massive, multi-billion dollar government time-travel operation, with two volunteers (James Darren, Robert Colbert) who became lost in time as well. Even the new clunkier look of “Ziggy”, with its myriad banks of massive, labyrinthine servers, has a bit more of a ‘Manhattan Project’-vibe.
Alone in the men’s room of Ryan’s restaurant, Ben-Nick takes a moment to see his changed reflection in a mirror (Dax Campbell) while he gets more information from hologram-Addison, who’s managed to reestablish contact. Still having no idea who she is, or how/why he leaped back in time, Ben does learn of Ryan’s reasons for committing the robbery, which include the recent foreclosure of the restaurant, as well as his wife’s need for a new kidney, which cost them their medical insurance; not to mention he’s raising a young daughter as well. Ben also learns that he leaped without telling anyone why, and for reasons that he can’t remember now. Hologram-Addison also tells Ben that she was supposed to leap back in time, not Ben—something she stresses with understandable bitterness. Ryan then checks in on Ben-Nick in the restroom, and asks why he was talking to himself. Thinking on his feet, Ben-Nick says he was just giving himself a pep talk.
Note: This part of the pilot felt so familiar, with the differing mirror image (a low-tech gag created through careful camera placement and partly-fogged glass) as well as the private bathroom ‘briefing’ between leaper and hologram. We even have the obligatory character overhearing the leaper talk to themself. The middle act of the pilot feels more like a lost episode of the original series, and was clearly made with love for the source material.
It’s at Ryan’s restaurant that “driver” Ben-Nick is formally introduced to his fellow thieves, including its distrusting ringleader Cole (Michael Malarkey) and weapons girl, Charlie (Enajite Esegine). While Cole and Charlie express their lack in trust in Ben-Nick, Ryan staunchly defends the last-minute replacement, whom he’s come to trust. Glancing into their stolen case, Ben-Nick spots a massive amount of C-4 explosive, which the crew are using as a diversion toward their theft of the Hope diamond itself, which is on display at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.
Note: The Hope diamond is one of the most valued precious gems in the world, with a current estimated worth of around $300 million. It was transferred to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C in 1958, where it’s been kept ever since.
With Addison’s hologram reestablishing a link to Ben, she is able to act as his unseen observer once again. Ben-Nick and the crew are meeting with a shady pawn shop jeweler named Horace (Dan Istrate) who is creating a perfect forgery of the Hope diamond, which Cole’s team will swap out for the genuine article once their massive C-4 explosion outside diverts the on-site security guards away from the (very) precious gem. Ben-Nick is curiously able to understand the jeweler’s native Romanian, as hologram-Addison informs Ben that he speaks several languages (another factoid he and we learn about him). Ben-Nick’s unexpected savvy with the jeweler makes Cole’s crew even less trustful of this mysterious jack-of-all-trades driver, who just happened to fall into their oh-so lucky laps…
Note: Now, before anyone accuses Ben of being a Mary Sue character, fans of the original series will remember that genius MIT physicist Sam Beckett also spoke multiple languages, knew advanced martial arts, and could even sing and play the guitar (with degrees in music and theater from Julliard, no less). If Ben has other such tricks up his sleeve, it would only be in keeping with the series’ original concept. Besides, who else but a super-genius could so closely follow in the path of another super-genius?
Back at Ryan’s restaurant, the crew begin to suspect that Ben-Nick is an undercover cop. When Ben asks hologram-Addison for advice sotto voce, Charlie becomes suspicious. She checks him for a wire, but finds none. Nevertheless, Cole’s crew still suspects Ben-Nick’s a cop. Ben-Nick smartly points out that if he were a cop, killing him would only paint targets on all of their backs. Ben-Nick is then taken to the restaurant’s storeroom, where he’s cable-tied to a shelving bay. Hologram-Addison tells the ‘genius’ physicist to cinch the binding even tighter, thus using its increased tension to simply break the plastic. Ben is freed, thanks once again to the quick thinking of hologram-Addison.
Note: Minor continuity nit; when Ben is cable-tied to the storage shelves, you can see the ties are cinched at different lengths during various shots—going from tight to loose and then tight again; something that is physically impossible to do with cable ties. That I noticed this on a first (eager) viewing meant it was exceptionally noticeable.
Back at Project Quantum Leap, the super-computer Ziggy comes back online, much to the delight of its on-site expert, Ian, who’s grateful to see the decades-old machine roar back to life. Soon, old Ziggy is back to crunching stacks of potential scenarios that would allow Ben to leap out of his current time.
Note: There are many interesting possibilities for the character of Ian Wright, as played by actor Mason Alexander Park. While some viewers might assume the nonbinary actor and character were added solely to fill some sort of LGBTQ+ quota, I see a more vital, in-universe reason. Given the number of times original series’ character Sam found himself living as a woman throughout the course of the original series, Ian’s more fluid insights into gender and identity could make them potentially useful to Ben, as he finds himself leaping into other lives and other perspectives. I see the inclusion of the nonbinary Ian as a means of expanding the Quantum Leap team’s overall experience base.
Project security chief Jenn, feeling guilty over the security breach that allowed Ben to send himself back in time without safeguards, submits her resignation to her boss, Magic. He refuses her resignation, preferring to focus on the issues at hand, rather than play blame games over what’s happened. Later on in the story, Magic’s faith in Jenn is paid off when she learns about the mysterious woman wearing a unique US Navy ring—a ring given to only a handful of US Naval personnel, including one Admiral “Al” Calavicci, after his long tour in Vietnam. The mysterious sender of the text (who presumably disabled the security protocols which allowed Ben’s unauthorized access) is revealed to be none other than Janis Calavicci, the late admiral’s daughter. The plot thickens…
Note: Janis Calavicci presumably came into existence after a leaping Sam Beckett convinced Al’s grieving ‘widow’ Beth to have faith that her husband Al was alive, and would return from the war, as seen at the end of the original series finale, “Mirror Image–August 8th, 1953.” The death of actor Dean Stockwell is worked in too, as Jenn notes that Admiral Calavicci passed away in 2021.
Back in 1985, a freed Ben dons a tuxedo in preparation for a swank gala at the Smithsonian that evening. Once there, he locates Ryan to make another appeal to his better nature, and succeeds. With Ryan as an ally, Ben-Nick is told the C-4 is in a vehicle parked outside. He then spots Charlie, one of Cole’s crew, on the dance floor, dressed to the nines. Ben-Nick then grabs her for an impromptu tango, which smartly avoids the armed woman killing him outright before so many witnesses. However, Charlie quickly grows tired of playing games with Ben-Nick and pulls the pistol out from her dress anyway—firing it into the ceiling, and sending the wealthy attendees into a panic. This accelerates Cole’s plans for the Hope diamond switch, and risks security being mobilized ahead of the planned detonation-distraction. In the ensuing chaos, security is alerted, as Ben-Nick and Ryan make their way to the car with the C-4 bomb inside its trunk…
Note: The famous tango tune, “Por Una Cabeza” (“By a Head”) by Carlos Gardel & Alfredo La Pera, is one of those songs a causal viewer will easily recognize, if not by name. It has long been used as a ‘frenemy’ dance in movies, no doubt due to the deep underlying tension from its accompanying strings. I remember its contrasted use between 1993 and 1994 in Steven Spielberg’s holocaust drama “Schindler’s List,” and in James Cameron’s spy-action spoof, “True Lies.” The piece’s use in “Quantum Leap” is much closer to Cameron’s lighter, campier intent than Spielberg’s more melancholy application.
Opening the trunk, Ben realizes the detonator is about to go off; with no time left to disarm the device, hologram-Addison suggests they open a nearby sewer access, and drop the bomb into it, allowing it to explode safely underground, instead. The plan works. Hologram-Addison then relates from Ziggy that Cole’s crew will be rounded up, and Ryan will be exonerated for his role in helping the police (undercover cop Nick) prevent the Hope diamond theft, as well as his part in safely detonating the bomb. Ryan’s wife’s medical costs are covered, and he’s even allowed to keep his restaurant business in gratitude for helping to thwart Cole’s crew. Ben asks hologram-Addison what happens now. She replies, “You leap.”
Note: Like most other carryovers from the original series, the leaping effect–where the disappearing leaper is absorbed in a blue glow amid swirling electrons–isn’t changed very much. It’s a bit updated, of course, but overall… it’s still looks like a leap.
The ending sees Addison returning to the home she shared with Ben. Looking on the kitchen counter, she sees Ben’s phone and accesses it. There’s a video message left for her. She plays the message, and Ben appears, telling her he’s sorry that he left so abruptly, but that it was for a very important reason—a reason bigger than the both of them, but one he can’t yet share (another mystery kicked down the road…). Ben then tells Addison he loves her, and promises to return to her, so that they can spend the rest of their lives together. Addison breaks down in tears.
We then see a panicked Ben leaping into the helmeted face of an astronaut, as he’s blasted off from Cape Canaveral aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, in the coda/teaser for the next episode; another carryover from the classic series’ episodic format.
The episode is dedicated to the memory of Dean Stockwell, 1936-2021.
Something Borrowed, Something New…
This first episode of new “Quantum Leap” really has something for everyone, including a rare Asian-American lead actor in Raymond Lee, which I noticed got a lot of positive buzz in social media from various groups and persons seeking better Pan-Asian representation in media. It’s also worth noting that the newly diverse characters of “Quantum Leap” smartly avoid using cliches typically associated with their backgrounds. More of this, please.
Raymond Lee (“Top Gun: Maverick”) is well-cast as the instantly sympathetic Dr. Ben Song, the brilliant but introverted genius who quietly leaves his own party and leaps into the untested accelerator after receiving a cryptic text message. We see his devotion to his fiancée Addison Augustine (Caitlin Bassett), which sets up a new mystery as to exactly why the now-amnesic Ben decided to recklessly test his updates to Quantum Leap on himself. Another mystery set up in the pilot involves learning the fate of Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), who, ironically, appears as a hologram projected from Addison’s Ziggy hand-link (I see what you did there…). Whether or not Scott Bakula will actually return–even in a cameo–remains to be seen. Lee certainly shares Bakula’s knack for comic vulnerability and healthy self-doubt. In the very first episode, we see the newfound leaper comically struggling with a standard stick shift. Ben also gets the first episode’s best line, “I should’ve gone into teaching…”
Kudos to (real-life Army veteran) Caitlin Bassett as Addison Augustine as well, whose character combines aspects of the holographic guide Al with the little-known character of Sam’s wife, Donna, who was only seen in a couple of episodes during the original series’ run. Combining the two characters into one creates a unique situation of two lovers separated by both time and Ben’s own amnesia. Will guide Addison be able to let leaper Ben do the sorts of things that Sam did, such as falling in love with the subject of a leap? Having Addison act as guide also provides a more realistic feminine perspective, rather than the pulp romance-novel stories seen in some of the original show’s weaker installments. Another added wrinkle comes when Addison reveals that she was supposed to be the new leaper, not its guide; this usurping of her intended role is another consequence of Ben’s mysterious, seemingly reckless decision to time-travel alone.
While QL22 maintains the classic series’ structure, it also offers a deeper look behind the curtains of Project Quantum Leap itself, with several new, refreshingly diverse regular characters based in the present day. Here’s hoping we see more of them throughout the series’ run, as well. Functioning as a straightforward continuation of the original, QL22 also avoids the common mistake many sequels/reboots make by trying to distance themselves too much from their predecessors. In that way, QL22 reminds me of the recent “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”, which similarly went back to Star Trek’s episodic roots, but only after a few missteps with the franchise’s other shows. QL22 smartly avoids that painful learning curve.
As reboots/revivals go, QL22 has potential to be one of the better ones. The new series offers the best of both worlds; a continuation/updating of the original, without a memory-purging reboot. I’m curious and invested to see where this smartly-crafted continuation leaps next…
Where To Watch.
The new “Quantum Leap” can be seen on NBC network in the US, while both classic “Quantum Leap” are available to stream on Peacock.com. The classic series is also also available on DVD from Amazon.com (prices vary by seller).
8 Comments Add yours
I’m still salty that Sam Beckett never made it home…
LOL (“salty”… Love it!)
And yes, so am I, however, given that Scott Bakula is still alive and well? I wouldn’t be surprised if he does manage to make the leap home somehow…
The ambiguous endings to sci-fi series finales can be all the more memorable. I’ve now come to appreciate that much even more. I think that it was the TV ending to Sapphire & Steel that I chiefly had to thank for that.
It’s good that the new Quantum Leap can finally refresh the time travel genre as the original had back in 1989.
I think the new version will, if it succeeds, have its own share of the fandom, just like Star Trek TNG vs Star Trek TOS; both are parts of the same franchise, but with different, equally vocal, cheering sections.
Agreed. Same with Doctor Who. It always depends on our individual preferences.
Beginning with my next column, I’ll be including a link to my all-new Patreon page; my goal is that if I get enough Patreons (min. $3 a month), I will do one monthly column per Patreon vote, as well as shoutouts to my “Geek-Enablers.”
If you can? Great.
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