There’s a reason why the 1989-93 series Quantum Leap is so beloved; it had a great combination of heartfelt stories, humor, and great chemistry between its stars. It also kept things pretty simple; it was Scott Bakula, Dean Stockwell and a whole bunch of guest stars. A new remake of the series has a new set of characters, but does it have the formula that made the original a cult hit?
Opening Shot: An opening graphic mentions how in 1995, Sam Beckett, “theorizing that one could travel within their own lifetime, stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished. After years of trying to bring him home, the project was eventually abandoned…. until now.”
The Gist: As Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) and his fiancée Addison (Caitlin Bassett) celebrate their engagement at a party at their apartment — including all of their coworkers in the Quantum Leap project — Ben gets frantic texts saying that if he wants to test the Quantum Leap project he has to do so now. He leave without saying anything, goes into the device and disappears.
He reappears in a van as Live Aid is playing on a Watchman. He looks around and sees that he’s in Center City in Philadelphia but things aren’t quite right. Phone booths, funky clothes, The Goonies and St. Elmo’s Fire is playing at the movie theater. He doesn’t know it, because he has amnesia, but he’s completed his first leap, and it’s July 13, 1985. Apparently he’s the getaway driver for a gang of robbers. But he has no idea why he’s there; he doesn’t even recognize Addison when she shows up.
She’s actually in 2022, appearing to him as a hologram. They were all working to see if Beckett’s work on time travel could be completed to the point where someone who leaps can be brought home. Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park) is the lead engineer in charge of “Ziggy”, the AI that’s manages the leaps and informs the leaper of why he/she is there. Jenn Chou (Nanrisa Lee), head of security, is trying to figure out who helped Ben upload new code to the system, and the commander, Herbert ‘Magic’ Williams (Ernie Hudson), needs to figure out what to tell his military bosses. After Ben leaps, Ziggy goes down temporarily, leaving him and Addison in the dark about what he needs to do to leap out and come home.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Of course, this reminds us of the original Quantum Leap, the 1989-93 classic starring Scott Bakula and the late Dean Stockwell. Bakula won’t be involved in this series, despite Beckett being mentioned a lot in the pilot.
Our Take: The reason why the original series was so good was not just because of the chemistry between Bakula and Stockwell but because the stories Don Bellisario and his writers were able to craft personalities for Sam and Al that went beyond the leap at hand, as well as create affecting “leap of the week” stories for the two of them to manage. There was a lightheartedness to the storytelling that didn’t interfere with the high stakes Sam was usually deal with.
We’re not sure if Martin Gero (Kung Fu, Keep Breathing), Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt are going to be able to capture that balance, especially after a first episode that took itself far too seriously, got weighed down by clunky exposition and told a leaping story that didn’t really contain any compelling characters.
One of the big problems is that Ben will be leaping within his lifetime, which means that the flashbacks will be from the ’80s on forward. Sure, there was no internet or cell phones in the early part of Ben’s life, but the time period doesn’t lend itself to heavy period design. The clothes Ben wears, the cars he drives, the situations he’s in could be translated to 2022 and not much would change.
We’re also not sure whether we want to see Ben’s backstory, have Addison constantly hide their relationship from him, or even see any of the team that’s trying to get him home behind the scenes. There was a purity in the original version concentrating on the past, with Al and the old Ziggy being our only glimpses into the world he left.
Sure, we love to see Ernie Hudson in pretty much anything, and Park (who ironically looked more ’80s in the 2022 scenes than Ben did in the ’80s scenes) is an intriguing addition as the “Ziggy whisperer.” But those scenes feel more like one of Gero’s other shows, Blindspot, than Quantum Leap, and if all of that was cut out, the show would likely improve, because there would be more space to tell the leap of the week story.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: As the team finds an error in the code that prevents Ben from coming home, he leaps into an astronaut who just happens to be seconds away from being launched in the space shuttle.
Sleeper Star: Like we said, we are intrigued with Mason Alexander Park’s character Ian; we hope that they can get more lines than just “snarky nerd” quips, but they showed more than enough to hope their character gets more meaty stories going forward.
Most Pilot-y Line: After Ben realizes he can’t drive stick, he asks Addison, “What do I do?” The friend he’s supposed to save pops his head out a hatch and says, “What do you do? You’re the getaway man, so get us away, man!”
Our Call: SKIP IT. The new Quantum Leap could end up being decent, but it needs to elevate itself above being a standard dark NBC procedural and take itself a lot less seriously.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
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