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Putting Right What Once Went Wrong: Revisiting Quantum Leap

I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy rewatching Quantum Leap. Frankly, I wasn’t sure I ever actually watched it in the first place. The show seemed to exist in my memory as a pervasive set piece, always playing somewhere in the background. Ubiquitous in the same way McDonald's, Nintendo, and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were for my preteen self. Yet as soon as the theme song began to play, I knew I’d somehow forgotten a basic truth of my life: I love Quantum Leap.

From the first notes of the epic arrangement—as flying shots the sky intersperse with Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula) initiating his infamous first leap—chills ran up and down my spine. When we hit the midway change, into what I think of as the “adventurous” part of the theme, my hair stood on end. Even as hokey imagery flying across the screen made me snicker, there was some hidden brilliance to the entire affair. The song, composed by Mike Post, may as well have been featured on the soundtrack to my childhood. Why they ever changed the theme for the fifth season, I’ll never understand.

All this nostalgia, all these wonderful memories, and I hadn’t even started watching the first episode.

Quantum Leap debuted as a mid-season replacement in March of 1989, and although it has since attained cult status, the show initially took time to gain an audience. Though, if one were to dig through old reviews, they’d find them generally positive, if not glowing.

As for myself, the occasional plot holes and sometimes pushy moralism did nothing to stain my giddy enjoyment. There’s a lot to love here, even as the science fiction elements give way to something more akin to Highway to Heaven than Star Trek.

Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the quantum leap accelerator and vanished. He awoke 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. -Quantum Leap opening narration

Some notable elements that somehow slipped my mind over the years pertain mostly to characterization and back story. For instance, I remembered Al (Sam’s holographic partner played to perfection by Dean Stockwell) being pretty good comic relief, but I had no idea how perverted he was. Like, seriously, creepily, perverted. Most episodes will be sure to note his many wives or sexual exploits, but it’s also not uncommon to find him peeping on women in the shower or changing their clothes. Always smoking a cigar, wearing retrofuturism-inspired clothing, and sporting a sly look.

Or how, at some point, for some reason, both Al and Sam decide that God has taken control of Sam’s leaps through time, putting him where he needs to be to do the most good. The reason for this determination (at least in the first two seasons) is not clear. Further, I noted how in the first seasons, and especially those all-important first episodes, there’s no reason given as to why Sam Beckett decided to “leap” early and unprepared. It isn’t until the season two opening voice over that they clarify he did this to prove the experiment worked and so they would not lose funding for the project.

Another interesting lapse in the internal logic of the show is the notion that Sam’s body remained in his own time. When he leaps, just as his consciousness takes over the body of another person, that other person’s consciousness takes over Sam’s body in the present. They essentially swap places. While watching the first season, you’d be justified in thinking Sam (body and all) had disappeared.

It also isn’t until the second season when the viewers are made aware of another little road bump: the people Sam takes over might not always be happy with his meddling. There’s one episode in particular where Sam leaps into the body of a criminal. Without spoiling the episode, it’s clear the incoming consciousness won’t be pleased with the outcome facilitated by Sam.

Despite my nitpicks, I have enjoyed every single episode of Quantum Leap thus far, and I can’t wait to finish the series. Although I don’t think there’s going to be a satisfying ending, I’m heartened to know that a reboot of the show may eventually shed new light on the mysteries of Quantum Leap. I only wish Scott Bakula were involved, and that Dean Stockwell was still alive to contribute his immense talents.

They were, arguably, the best part of the show.


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