Could you ever imagine leaping from time period to time period into someone else’s body, living their life, and changing history? Well, therein lies the premise of the begotten but much beloved series Quantum Leap. A unique science fiction/fantasy show that put fourth central themes of drama of hope, second chances, and change.
It was a smart, provocative, imaginative series. And, oh boy, do we need more of it.
As an introductory voice-over overtly explains, Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) is a brilliant scientist who theorized that time travel is possible within a person’s own lifetime, and his first test of this theory sent his mind hurtling back to 1956 and inhabiting the body of another man. His only assistance comes from his best friend, Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell), who appears as a hologram only Sam can see or hear. Once Sam has leaped into someone else’s body, he can’t leap back until he corrects an injustice or as the show puts it… “sets right what once went wrong”.
Every episode begins with Sam leaping into someone and ends with him leaping out between the timeline of 1953 and the end of the 20th century. What happens during that hour of television varies in action, comedy, romance, murder mystery, horror, and everything in between; and never veering from its positivist message.
For a late 80’s, early 90’s drama, this show was damn good. Smartly using the vehicle of science fiction to do what SciFi stories do best, tell very human stories.
Take for example the episode “Jimmy“ (Season 2 Episode 8) where Sam leaps into a young intellectually disabled man and has to keep him out of an institution. A poignant episode challenging assumptions about people, poorly misjudging them on their outward appearance, and how everyone has a place in society.
Or the episode when Sam leaps into woman who has just been brutally violated by the town’s All-American boy, aptly titled “Rape” (season four, episode six). The experience was a daring and emotional hour of television about community slander, doubt, and the importance of believing victims.
Quantum Leap could be edgy or it could be pedantic, and certainly unabashedly idealistic. For fives seasons, the series covered everything from racism and discrimination to superstition and religion. But that only goes with the territory of the show’s premise, which is the hope that we can make this world a better place for everyone, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, mental abilities, or socio-economic class.
Some criticized the show for its staunch liberalism and impossibly altruistic hero. Everything seemed just a little too idealistic at times. Furthermore, considering the hero is a classic case of “white savior” complex a little too often, criticism makes sense.
However, the show endures one evident lesson that bears constant repeating. We cannot change the past, but we can learn to change the future with our present. That is the precious virtue of Quantum Leap, one that kept many fans watching.
The last episode of Quantum Leap — “Mirror Image” – aired May 5, 1993. Bittersweet and arguably disappointing. After all, the ending didn’t quite fit the premise. Despite the fact that the show persistently asked when Sam would leap back home, he decided never to stop leaping, to forever put right what was wrong. There was just too much darkness in the world. Feels a bit too much like an inconclusive cop-out.
This weak ending could still be righted, though. The Quantum Leap Accelerator, however, still exists and Sam Beckett is still (presumably) leaping around. The story can easily continue with a new leaper/companion.
Reboots, remakes, rehashes are nostalgia grabs that very rarely succeed. The ones that have better shots are revivals – continued stories that honor the previous established universe and pass the torch from legacy characters to new protagonists (I.E. The Rocky/Creed franchise, Star Wars, Blade Runner 2049). In that regard, a QL revival could and can work. Consider also how much has culturally changed since the show’s initial release. A revival could accomplish more than its predecessor ever did.
Given the social and political turbulence of today, tales of hope, reflection, and spiritual uplift is something we culturally need. Less we continue to confront history, expose ourselves to other perspectives, and understand the human experience we, ourselves, will forever be unable to leap forward.
And here us out…. Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll, Orange is the New Black) as Al. *Drops Mic*