The Best of Both.
I’ve recently reviewed the pilot episode of the “Quantum Leap” (2022) soft-reboot in an earlier column, and even though the series hasn’t yet reached its midseason break (as of this writing), I feel it already warrants a closer look. I also hope to reach a few reluctant old-school ‘Leapers’, especially those who automatically assume that ‘reboot’ = ‘suck.’ While the series is streaming on Peacock.com, it’s also airing on regular old broadcast TV, via Peacock’s parent network of NBC. The reason I mention this is because science-fiction and network TV share a long and contentious relationship. Networks have this nasty habit of killing often promising sci-fi series (see: Fox with “Alien Nation” and “Firefly”). Yes, there have been occasional exceptions, such as the long-running “The X-Files,” but generally, most sci-fi series airing on broadcast network TV tend to die quick deaths.
Following the cult-stature of the original “Quantum Leap” (1989-1993), the new series picks up the long-dormant pieces of the titular project, a top-secret contemporary US government time travel operation that was shuttered nearly 30 years ago after failing to retrieve its originator, Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula). Sam was a genius physicist (and medical doctor, singer, etc) who disappeared four years after first stepping into his own ‘quantum leap accelerator.’ Before his disappearance, Dr. Beckett, with the aid of his holographic advisor Admiral ‘Al’ Calavicci (the late Dean Stockwell), intervened in many personal past histories, changing countless futures for the better, via ripple effects. Learning what became of the genius time traveler is just one of the mysteries left over from the original series…
Cut to 2022, and a new genius physicist, Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) has successfully revived the still-classified project, which is under the direct supervision of Admiral Herbert “Magic” Williams (Ernie Hudson). Magic has his own connection with the original project, as he was one of the many people whom Sam originally leaped into. For reasons not-yet-fully-understood, Ben secretly allies himself with mysterious rogue hacker, Janis Callivicci (Georgina Reilly), daughter of the recently deceased admiral, in order to bypass project safeguards and leap through time himself. Ben’s reasons for trusting Janis remain a mystery to his newly-amnesic self, and even to his fiancée, Addison Augustine (Caitlin Bassett). Addison was originally slated to be the new ‘leaper’ in the project before Ben decided to take his unauthorized plunge. Ben’s mysterious reasons for taking this deliberate course through spacetime adds a new element of intrigue to the series.
The new series format also includes B-plots involving the project’s support team, including genius AI programmer, Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park), and former hacker turned security coordinator, Jenn Chou (Nanrisa Lee), which gives the new series a scope beyond just the tales of Ben’s unscheduled time traveling.
The Episodes So Far.
With only one episode (“Stand By Ben”) remaining until the series’ mid-season break, here’s a look back at the seven episodes that have aired at the time of this writing. Each episode offers a time travel story, as well as a B-story dealing with the ongoing fallout surrounding Ben’s unsanctioned leaping back in time.
“July 13th, 1985”
The first aired episode offers a glimpse into the life of physicist Ben Song prior to his fateful decision to travel backward in time without authorization. Leaping into a gang of robbers on July 13th 1985, an amnesic Ben struggles to remember who he is and why he’s there, as he’s guided by his fiancée Addison. As mentioned earlier, I’d previously reviewed “July 13th, 1985” in-depth (via this link). Enjoy!
The second episode sees Ben leaping into astronaut David Tamara, aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in March of 1998 to deliver the first module of the International Space Station. US military veteran Addison advises reluctant astronaut Ben on how to behave around his astronaut colleagues as he struggles to prevent a horrific accident that killed all hands in the original history. The B-story back at project QL headquarters sees Magic and Jenn trying to locate the mysterious Janis Callivicci (daughter of the late Admiral “Al” Calavicci) by questioning her mother, Al’s widow, Beth (Susan Vanita Diol), whom Janis later drugs to elude capture. Ben finally saves the crew of the crippled space shuttle by solo spacewalking to the nearby Russian space station Mir for help.
Note: This otherwise exciting episode gets the history very wrong; the Russians delivered the first “Zarya” Control module of the ISS via a heavy-lift Proton rocket. The US space shuttle Endeavor (not Atlantis) later delivered the Unity module of the ISS in December of 1998, not March. Oh well. Maybe a future leap by Ben will change it back to our version of history somehow…?
“Someone Up There Likes Ben.”
Just as Sam did in the original series, Ben leaps into a prize fighter. As Danny “Youngblood” Hill, Ben is tempted to take a dive during a championship fight in 1977 Las Vegas. Later on, Ben, Addison and the support team realize he’s actually there to help Danny’s traumatized Vietnam veteran brother Daryl seek help for his PTSD. The B-story sees holographic guide Addison suffering from extreme exhaustion, as she’s not slept since Ben leaped. Magic also receives a call from Beth Calavicci; Janis has taken several very important items from her late father’s possession, including an original Ziggy hand-link. After a brief hospital stay, Addison is back on her feet, and able to help coach her unwitting fiancé Ben into winning the fight, thus allowing him to save Daryl’s mental health. A rehabilitated Daryl later opens a clinic to help other veterans as well. The ripple effect in action…
Note: This was the first episode to establish that Ben’s new code for Quantum Leap allows him to leap beyond the limits of his own lifetime–in this case, nearly a decade before he was born. I also enjoyed the episode’s angle of war veterans struggling with PTSD; a far more worthy cause than Sam Beckett helping a nun to build a new church.
“A Decent Proposal.”
Ben leaps into his first woman, Eva Sandoval, a bounty hunter in Los Angeles of 1981. Eva works for her father, and is partnered with Jake (Justin Hartley), who is in love with her and proposes marriage. Not sure if accepting Jake’s proposal is the right path for Eva’s future, Ben’s shilly-shally answer to Jake’s proposal breaks his heart, but the two of them decide to put the mission first by locating Carla (Sofia Pernas), a wily drug cartel head who leads them both on a wild chase before her capture at L.A’s Union Station. The B-story sees Magic taking Ian aside and cluing them in as to his own very personal connection with project Quantum Leap. Ian and Magic gain a closer understanding afterward. The last few seconds of the story sees partial-amnesiac Ben suddenly remembering that Addison is his fiancée (a fact she was otherwise forbidden to tell him), just before he leaps into the Old West…
Note: The revelation of Magic’s own past history with Quantum Leap is no surprise to fans of the original series, of course, but the scene is invaluable for new viewers. Magic’s revelation to Ian also creates a greater rapport between the two, as Magic welcomes Ian into his classified orbit. The scene also uses flashback footage from the original episode (“The Leap Home,” Part 2), despite a great disparity between the actor playing the ‘mirror-image’ Magic of 1970 and actor Ernie Hudson.
“Salvation or Bust.”
Ben leaps into an aging Mexican-American gunslinger named Diego de la Cruz, who is shamed by his granddaughter Valentina (Natalia del Riego) into challenging a local gang leader to a duel in order to save their uniquely diverse community of “Salvation” from railroad developers. The B-story at QL headquarters sees a surprise visit from Congresswoman Kavita Adani (Farah Merani), who’s directly in charge of funding for Quantum Leap. Keeping Ben’s status and whereabouts a secret for fear of the project’s closure, the entire team is forced into verbal gymnastics to prevent Adani from learning the truth. When Adani threatens to shut down the project, Magic tells her that Ben’s leaping technology might be used to prevent a tragedy in her own past, which buys them time. The ending sees Ben utilizing the untapped skillsets of the town’s population in order to capture the gang and save their town. Ziggy also reveals that Salvation rests on a valuable copper vein, which will make the town valuable for future battery manufacturing. Just before he leaps, Ben is confronted by an anonymous saloon patron (Walter Perez) who calls Ben by his real name, before warning him to stop chasing him through time (!).
Note: The leap story’s plot is little more than Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” told with a straight face; a cliched western tale that feels about as ‘authentic’ as a cheap souvenir shop. That said, Ben’s final confrontation with “Leaper X” makes this otherwise lightweight Old West episode worth sitting through.
“What a Disaster.”
Ben leaps into Josh Harvey, a middle-aged man facing divorce from his wife Naomi (Jewel Staite), just before the massive Bay Area earthquake of 1989. In the ensuing chaos, Ben’s heroic actions save the lives of Josh’s son, Jason (Everett Andres) and later Naomi, which brings the family back together. Ziggy also reveals that Jason will grow up to become an architect who will specialize in earthquake-resistant building technologies, saving thousands of future lives. The B-story has Ian and Jenn learning the identity of the mysterious “Leaper X”, who is an immigrant US Army veteran named Richard Martinez (Walter Perez). Following questioning by Magic and Jenn, it’s clear that present-day Martinez has no idea what his interrogators seek. Ian then speculates that Ben is attempting to access the future with his slingshot leaps across time.
Note: Though the 1989 Loma Prieta quake is depicted a bit more dramatically than it actually unfolded, some 63 were nevertheless killed in the horrific 6.5 magnitude quake. I still vividly remember the 6.7 magnitude earthquake in 1994 Northridge that killed 57 people (my then-upstairs apartment rolled back and forth as if it were on wheels). The episode also reveals Ben’s traumatic childhood when his own mother passed away not long after the family emigrated to the United States from South Korea; this might offer another possible clue to the motivate behind his leaps…
“O Ye of Little Faith.”
On Halloween night of 1934, Ben leaps into a priest who’s called by a wealthy family to perform an exorcism on 18-year old Daisy Gray (Kerri Medders), a would-be heiress who stands to gain a substantial sum from the family’s aging matriarch Tessa (Amanda Carlin), who is later killed; seemingly by the demon allegedly possessing the young woman. Thanks to a conveniently timed hallucination of Addison, Ben comes to realize the unearthly manifestations of demonic possession he’s seeing are from hallucinogens placed in his drink, as well as in Daisy’s soup. Tessa’s murder and Daisy’s poisoning were arranged by Daisy’s own mother, Lola (Elyse Levesque), and her lover, Percival (Josh Gray). Ben’s revelation leads to Lola and Percival’s arrests. The B-story sees the QL team dealing with spooky malfunctions in the imaging chamber, which prevent Addison from helping Ben during most of the leap.
Note: What began as an homage to “The Exorcist” winds up being more closely related to Sherlock Holmes, or even the board game “Clue,” as Ben uses encyclopedias and science to save the day, not superstition—a left turn from the original series, which was more Judeo-Christian in its outlook. The original series also had a few goofy horror leaps, featuring mummies and vampires. The best (and creepiest) of these was the 1991 episode titled “The Boogieman,” where Sam leaps into a pulp horror novelist who is confronted by Ol’ Scratch himself. Sam even meets a teenaged Stephen King, as well (!). That episode was set on Halloween night of 1964; thirty years after Ben’s own Halloween leap in this episode.
“Stand By Ben” (airing soon).
Next week’s episode sees Ben leaping into a same-named teenager who, along with some of his leapee’s friends, manages to steal a van and escape from a 1980s summer camp (shades of ’80s coming-of-age movies, like “Meatballs,” and “Stand By Me”). After that, the series will go on a holiday season break (bummer), though it will return to wrap up its first season in 2023. Since each new leap uncovers a clue relating to Ben’s unscheduled time traveling, I’m guessing this episode might finally shed some light on the mysterious, morally ambiguous partnership between Ben and the mysterious Janis Calavicci…
Unlike the original “Quantum Leap”, which focused mainly on the duo of Sam and Al, the new series broadens the format by creating colorful new characters based at the project’s new headquarters in Los Angeles (formerly New Mexico). And unlike the original’s largely unseen “Gooshie” and “Tina,” the new Project QL support team have backstories that are arguably as interesting as those of Ben and Addison. In fact, I could easily imagine Magic, Ian or Jenn carrying an episode.
Magic, of course, is a legacy character from the original series. Sam leaped into Magic’s life during his 1970 tour as a US Navy SEAL in the Vietnam War. Magic can’t recall exactly what happened while Sam temporarily displaced him in time, as the amnesia experienced by leapers works on the subject of their leaps as well. What Magic does know is that he owes the missing Dr. Beckett his life, as well as the lives of his platoon. Magic is not above bending the rules every now and then for the sake of the project and his people. Of course, actor Ernie Hudson wasn’t in the original series episode (“The Leap Home,” Part 2), which featured a younger Magic only seen as leaper-Sam’s reflection in a mirror. However, Hudson’s about the right age to be a credible Vietnam veteran. His presence also adds a certain soothing, paternal vibe for the younger members of his team.
The computer wizard in charge of “Ziggy” (the project’s 1990s-era artificial intelligence) is Ian Wright, played by Mason Alexander Park. Both Ian Wright and actor Mason Park are nonbinary; an aspect of their persona that is effortlessly integrated into the series. Ian is a genius in their field. They are in charge of interfacing and programming the temperamental ‘Ziggy’, as well as trying to suss out exactly where and when Ben leaps every week. Actor Park gives their character a wry humor, a bit of snark, and a genuine warmth that makes them the project’s heart. Ian is the person who will stop their considerable multitasking for a moment to ask how a colleague is doing, or to see if they just need a sympathetic ear. Perhaps it’s Ian’s natural empathy that make them such a great fit to work with the temperamental Ziggy. Ian is an easy character to like, and while some of that is in the writing, much of of it comes from the actor as well.
Nanrisa Lee plays Jenn Long; a former hacker who is redeeming her checkered past by acting as security director for the top-secret project. In the pilot, we saw a guilt-ridden Jenn offering her resignation over the security breach in the labyrinthine system which Ben and Janis Callivicci exploited for his unauthorized trip back in time. Magic denied her resignation, which was a smart move, as Jenn later determined the breach was from Janis Calivicci, the estranged daughter of the late Al Calivicci. Unlike Ben or Ian, Jenn’s field has little to do with temporal mechanics, but her knack for security does share a certain affinity for logic and observation. Jenn has also recently become closer friends with Addison, as we see the beginnings of a sisterly bond forming.
One of the beauties of this series is that it offers comfort-food standalone storytelling like its predecessor, while still managing to solve, or add, new pieces to the series’ ongoing mythology, as well. This mythology adds just the right amount of spice and intrigue to what might’ve otherwise been a rote remake of the original–a creative mistake this series wisely avoids.
Janis Callivicci (Georgina Reilly) is the mysterious coding/hacking genius who worked with Ben in secret to send him back (and potentially forward) in time for a very important, and frustratingly unknown reason. Janis’ tactics are ruthless (even slipping her own mother a roofie to avoid capture), but as the mystery slowly begins to unfold, evidence suggests Jenn might not be the heavy in all of this. In fact, it was Ben who tapped her for the job of breaking into his own project to assist with his unauthorized time travel. As daughter of the late Al Calivicci, one might assume Janis’ motives are good, especially since our hero Ben worked with her. Ben even kept this mysterious collaboration a secret from his loving fiancee, Addison, who was the original designated leaper. Given Ben’s heartfelt video apology left to Addison on his phone (“July 13th, 1985”), he feels genuine remorse for stealing Addison’s shot at time travel. Whatever Janis and Ben’s secret is, they gambled their futures (and personal lives) to do it.
In the recent episodes “Salvation or Bust” and “What a Disaster” we are introduced to a new leaper; a young immigrant US soldier named Richard Martinez (Walter Perez), who appears to have traveled back in time as well. Like Addison, Martinez can also see Ben’s true appearance, no matter what body he leaps into. Ian refers to Martinez as “Leaper X” until his identity is verified by a photo taken from the project’s imagining chamber. When questioned by Jenn and Magic, present-day Martinez is honestly oblivious.
The original QL was less successful with its own attempts at backstage intrigue, as we saw with the “Evil Leaper” Alia (Renee Coleman) and her own ‘evil’ holographic observer, Zoey (a delightfully camp Carolyn Seymour—the only bright spot of the Evil Leaper stories). The Evil Leaper episodes of the original series were not among its best, and seem embarrassingly misogynistic today. The new series wisely avoids any mention of the Evil Leaper, just as it avoids the original series’ too-easy reliance on God as the entity controlling the leaps. New Quantum Leap is a bit more secular in its outlook. Even the recent homage to “The Exorcist” (“O Ye of Little Faith”) solved its apparent theological dilemma with a Sherlock Holmes-style explanation of drugged soup and drinks.
Rather than relying on deities, Ian soon learns that pre-amnesic Ben apparently mapped the entire route for his mysterious temporal journey, using time itself to slingshot him further into the past (or into the future) to reach one specific point in the past—a point which the support team aren’t able to decode. This new code Ben added to Ziggy’s mainframe bests the work done by Sam Beckett, as it allows him to target a specific point; but only by taking the long way around—changing one life at a time for the better, before Ben can leap to the next, and the next, etc. Perhaps Quantum Leap’s requirement of righting past wrongs was something that Sam himself worked into the original project matrix as an admission for the privilege of traveling through time (?).
As far as soft sci-fi reboots go, “Quantum Leap” 2022 is just about on a par with Paramount+’s “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.” With a low-but-steady viewership, and a healthy order of 18 episodes for season one, NBC’s commitment to this young series is certainly promising. Here’s hoping that this series breaks the ancient curse of doomed network TV sci-fi shows. If it can’t sustain viewers on NBC, I’d hope to see the series streamed exclusively on Peacock.
The original Quantum Leap was never top-tier science fiction, but it was certainly entertaining and engaging; qualities that its progeny shares as well. Quantum Leap 2022 is worth a viewer’s ‘time.’
Where To Watch.
The new “Quantum Leap” can be seen on NBC network in the US, and is available to stream on both Peacock.com and NBC.com. The classic series is also also available to stream on Peacock.com and is available on DVD from Amazon.com (prices vary by seller).