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Star Raymond Lee expertly navigates the serious and the silly
Quantum Leap has always seemed primed for some sort of revival. Not just because Donald P. Bellisario's original 1989-1993 sci-fi series, led by Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell, remains a beloved classic. Not just because its infamous, rushed series finale, which left viewers with a title card informing us that our big-hearted leaper Dr. Sam Beckett (Bakula) never returned to his own time, could use a little closure (they don't even spell his last name correctly! The man deserved better!). But also because the show's format is simply ripe for broadcast TV. Each week physicist Sam would leap into the body of someone new somewhere (somewhen?) within his own timeline, and with the help of another member of the Quantum Leap team, Al Calavicci (Stockwell), who appeared to him as a hologram through the use of the imaging machine back at the lab, they would have to correct something in the leapee's life in order to change history for the better — and then Sam would leap into someone else in some other time. There were some serialized elements — and the friendship that grew between Sam and Al was the foundation of the series — but mostly it was a time travel procedural of sorts. A lot of fun can be had with a format like that (please see also: Timeless).
So a Quantum Leap revival feels like it was inevitable. Surely, there will be fans of the original out there who would like the series to remain untouched (all five seasons are available on Peacock, for those who want to relive that magic), and although critics were only given one episode to review ahead of the premiere, what felt abundantly clear while watching the pilot was that the team behind this new series respects the source material. This 2022 Quantum Leap stays true to the overall vibe of the 1989 version — there is heart! There is hope! — and it does this while also building out the story around it a bit more, which should work in its favor as it differentiates itself from what came before.
Quantum Leap Showrunner Says You Don't Need to Watch the Original Series to Enjoy the Reboot
Quantum Leap is built as a sequel to the original. Thirty years after Sam Beckett's disappearance, there's a new team working on the project, attempting to correct it so that people can time travel without disappearing forever (and maybe, just maybe they can locate Sam now). What a concept! It seems, however, that history will be repeating itself. The pilot kicks off with lead physicist Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) mysteriously hopping into the quantum accelerator without telling anyone on his team and leaping through time. While that part sounds familiar, the new series makes some smart changes.
Quantum Leap quickly sets up several interesting dilemmas. First, there's the question of why Ben jumped and how on earth they're going to figure that out, since Ben, like Sam before him, suffers from some time-leaping amnesia. He can't remember why he lied to everyone around him and did this very risky thing, but it must be important. It gives the show a mystery to parse out and some connective tissue as Ben finds himself in new stories each week.
More intriguing however, is the choice to make Addison (Caitlin Bassett), who takes on the Al's helpful hologram role, not just Ben's colleague, but his fiancée — his fiancée whom he doesn't remember anymore. It's a clever change that not only adds emotional heft to their interactions but also signals that this new Quantum Leap is in no way trying to re-create the special friendship at the center of the original. This twist on the leaper/hologram partnership is an entirely new beast that should prove emotionally fruitful down the line. Plus, it doesn't hurt that Lee and Bassett have an immediate, compelling chemistry.
Speaking of Lee, he is easily the best part of this revival. His performance is charming, he believably navigates the serious and the silly, and he is instantly someone you want to root for. This type of leading man charisma will be important because, unfortunately, the plot Ben finds himself in once he leaps is the weakest component of the episode. The original Quantum Leap excelled at making you care about the new characters Sam met with each jump, but this storyline is full of clichés and one-dimensional characters. Adding to the problem is the fact that a lot of the sets have a distracting artificiality to them. Of course, critics have only seen one episode so far, and this is a fixable problem. In fact, the precarious situation we see Ben leap into at the end of the pilot gives me some hope that the creative team behind the show is willing to have fun with its premise. Still, if the leaps-of-the-week don't sharpen up, it could become quite tedious.
Aside from Ben and Addison, Quantum Leap also introduces us to the rest of the team back at the lab. There's program leader and Vietnam vet Herbert "Magic" Williams (Ernie Hudson), who has a tie to the original run; Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park), the lead tech on the A.I. system, Ziggy (yup, you read right: Ziggy's baaaaack); and Jenn Chou (Nanrisa Lee), head of security. In this episode, they are all mostly relegated to delivering some clunky exposition because pilots are hard, baby. Still, the trio certainly holds promise, and the choice to spend more time in the lab should open up the Quantum Leap story in a new way. A series like this, which seems clear in its intent to showcase heart and earnestness, is only stronger when there are more characters to care about.
That earnestness can be a double-edge sword, of course, and at times Quantum Leap can veer into the cheesy territory, but that cheese is mostly kept in check thanks to the main cast. Plus, a little cheese now and then never hurt anyone, did it? Getting this balance down is perhaps something that will work itself out as the season progresses, but only time will tell. Get it, time? Yeah, that's a time travel joke, and you're all welcome.
Premieres: Monday, Sept. 19 at 10/9c on NBC
Who's in it: Raymond Lee, Caitlin Bassett, Ernie Hudson, Mason Alexander Park, Nanrisa Lee
Who's behind it: Blindspot creator Martin Gero (showrunner)
For fans of: Quantum Leap, Timeless
How many episodes we watched: 1