Quantum Leap: A Retrospective

Perpetual Man

Tim James
Jun 13, 2006
As stated in the What Boxset Are You Watching Thread?, I'm currently working my way through the Quantum Leap boxsets.

Although I would not say it was my favourite show of all time - I find that some episodes are distinctly average, although rarely poor, but when it hits the right note it is spot on producing some of the best television of its time.

This is a thread that will reference some of those stand out episodes as I make my way through the series.

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.

This opening (from the third season onwards) pretty much sets the scene and tells you all you need to know about the setup of the show. The two main characters were played by Scott Bakula (Sam) and Dean Stockwell (Al).

For Bakula it was his first major television leading role and one he seemed born to fill. Not only was he Sam Beckett, he was also game for anything, allowing him to stretch the situations that Sam found himself in. He is one of the few actors that has not been associated with one major TV role, having played Captain Archer in the Star Trek spin off Enterprise, a major recurring character in Chuck and most recently in Desperate Housewives.

Stockwell was the opposite a seasoned Hollywood actor, who had been a recognisable face since he was a child, starring in such classics as Kim. According to Stockwell himself, when he announced to his good friend Dennis Hopper that he had just accepted one of the leads in a new television series, Hopper told him he had just ended his career. Stockwell went onto say that it was one of the most enjoyable times of his life, introduced him to one of his best friends (Bakula) and that he has not been out of work since. Most notably for SF fans as one of the Cylons in the new Battlestar Galactica.

Part of the success of QL were the two leads, and according to season creator Donald Bellisario the second he knew he had Stockwell Al was cast, and although he liked Bakula as an actor it was the moment he and Stockwell were put together and the chemistry came alive he knew he had his leads.

So, everything was in place, but would it work on television.
I thoroughly enjoyed QL. I've not seen all of them, by any means, and as the series (plural -- serieses?) progressed I got a bit annoyed with the overt theology Satan had his own time-jumpers trying to do evil so I watched fewer of them. But many of the earlier episodes I loved, eg the Vietnam ones. Stockwell was perfect as Al, and his timing with comic asides was spot on. I'm looking forward to your reviews!
Season One

Thanks TJ, I'll try not to muck it up.

The first season of Quantum Leap aired in 1989.

It was pretty much a mid-season entry into that years television season, and it was not even a full half season of episodes. Depending how you look at it, 7 or 8 episodes (The first episode is feature length).

More than anything it is a new show setting out its store, showing the audience just what is going on and what you are generally going to get.

The first episode, The Pilot episode (Quite funny as it's about a pilot), shows Sam make the leap and the consequences of it - that he has lost control, that he leaps into someone else's body, his face looks like theirs, he has to put something right that they are ideally situated for; he has amnesia so cannot remember all the details of his own life; only he can see and hear Al, the holographic observer who exists in his own time.

It also sets out the point that there seems to be someone or something leaping him through time, and no matter how much the people in the future might try, Sam won't be going home any time soon.

As a whole the episodes are incredibly watchable thanks to the immediate rapport between Bakula and Stockwell but there are no stand out episodes, except one.

The others see Sam solving basic problems.

Sam does manage to save a relationship of his own that once failed, at the price of causing Watergate; gives Buddy Holly the words for Peggy Sue and teaches Michael Jackson to moonwalk. The problems are all personal issues, but there is one episode that stands out, the first where Quantum Leap really excels and shows what it is capable of.
Season One: The Color of Truth

Sam leaps into the body of elderly Jesse Tyler.

As it became adept at doing QL played the Leap itself really well, seeing Sam in a hot diner, standing at the counter with business going on all around him. Almost by instinct he sits down, and it is then that everyone in the Diner turns to look at him, shock and horror to outrage and anger on their faces.

It is then he turns to look at his reflection in the mirror and sees an elderly black man looking back at him. He has arrived on August 8th 1955 (Sam's birthday ironically) in the American Deep South and prejudice, intolerance and bigotry run wild.

In many ways this was a watershed moment, it showed just what QL could do, the issues is could address, all wrapped up in a 45 minute drama. We get to see the full goody-goody nature of Sam come to the fore. He struggles with the whole idea of intolerance and has to be held back by Al as he rages against the world, wanting to put right the larger issues, rather than what he is there for - to save the life of a young woman, and that of his sometime employer, the elderly, set in her ways Miz Melny Trafford.

It is Al who has to keep reminding Sam that change will come, that all he will do by pushing things is agitate the locals, stir up more trouble. All the same he does force the issue on a number of occasions, perhaps most importantly to save the life of Nell a young black woman who is victimised because of Jesse's actions, when he forces a white's only hospital to treat her.

But ultimately he (with a bit of help from Al) manages to save the two lives, but the leap only comes when the episode finishes where it started in the Diner where Miz Melny, in front of the whole town asks him to join her for a meal.

A small victory perhaps, but the smallest steps have to lead somewhere


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