For a TV show whose premise is supposedly all about “putting right what once went wrong,” NBC’s new Quantum Leap reboot seems curiously uninterested in fixing any of the weaknesses or failures of the original series it’s based on. Ultimately, the show is exactly what I expected it to be from the ads. Unfortunately, I expected it to be awful.
Don’t get me wrong, I watched the hell out of Quantum Leap for most of its original run from 1989 to 1993, and to be honest, I’m not sure that this version is really worse than that, in an objective sense. However, television has come a very long way since then, and this feels like a throwback in all the wrong ways.
|Episode:||1.01 – July 13, 1985|
|Release Date:||Sept. 19, 2022|
As much as I enjoyed it at the time, the original Quantum Leap was, at best, comfort viewing. The show never made a damn bit of sense, but you could overlook that given that general dearth of decent science fiction on TV in those days. It had a germ of an interesting idea and the characters were likeable, which was all it took to carry the show for five seasons. That’s just not the case anymore. Our expectations have risen exponentially since then.
Featuring no cast from the original, the new series is very much a reboot. At the same time, it’s also framed as a direct sequel that makes repeated references to the characters and events from the old show, including a photo of Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett. It does this enough to lead any viewer to the natural assumption that Bakula will eventually have to pop in for a cameo. However, the actor posted on social media that he has “no connection with the new show, either in front of the camera or behind it.” This seems like it’s setting up the audience for unavoidable disappointment. Why not just remake the story outright, retelling it from the beginning without dragging Bakula into it at all?
Instead, the reboot is set in the modern day, three decades since Sam Beckett was lost in the past and never heard from again. The Quantum Leap project was shut down for years, but is now being revived under the direction of Herbert “Magic” Williams (Ernie Hudson), who has some unspecified connection to the Pentagon but is never addressed with a military rank. Publicity for the show has played up the connection that the Magic character first appeared as a “leapee” that Sam jumped into in a season 3 episode of the old show, but the premiere of the new one makes no mention of that.
The chief scientist for the new project is Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee from AMC’s Kevin Can F*** Himself), a super-smart and super-nice physicist with an equally super-brilliant and wonderful fiancee named Addison (Caitlin Bassett) and every reason in the world to stay exactly where he is and not do anything foolish – like, oh I don’t know, sneak into the lab late at night without telling anyone and use himself as an unplanned test subject for the new Quantum Accelerator. Naturally, that’s exactly what he does, for reasons that are meant to be mysterious.
As per the premise of the old show, Ben finds himself thrust into the past, where he takes over the consciousness of a random stranger and is forced to live that person’s life until such point that he can fix some egregious wrong that happened to or by them, at which time he will leap away into another person in another year. A big hindrance to this mission is that the initial leap caused Ben to develop amnesia, so he has no idea where he is or what he’s supposed to do. Fortunately, a friend from 2022 can help out by appearing as a magic hologram that only Ben can see or hear, providing him with relevant backstory and instructions. In this case, it’s Addison, who desperately wants Ben to come home to her, even though he doesn’t remember why she’s important to him.
The first leap takes Ben to 1985, into the body of a guy named Nick, whom he quickly learns is the getaway driver for a heist crew planning to steal the Hope Diamond on the day of the Live Aid concert. It turns out that Ben needs to save the life of Nick’s crime buddy Ryan (Michael Welch), who’s actually a really nice guy just trying to make some money to pay for his sick wife’s cancer treatment. Some complications and plot twists follow, but it’s difficult to care about any of the episode-specific characters knowing that we’ll never see them again.
In a big departure from the original Quantum Leap, the new one spends a considerable amount of time in the present day with the rest of the team trying to bring Ben home. This allows the show excuse to add a pointedly diverse cast of young and attractive (and comically unconvincing) supporting characters. The most ridiculous of them is Ian (Mason Alexander Park), played as a twenty-something gender ambiguous TikTok fashion and makeup influencer who we’re supposed to believe is somehow a chief scientist at a Top Secret military research project. Right. Okay. Sure. Whatever you say. I’m not enough of an asshole to go on a rant dragging in whatever stupid political culture war buzzwords are trending at the moment. I thought Park fit in just fine among the casts of Netflix’s recent Cowboy Bebop and The Sandman, but nothing about the Ian character here is believable from a story perspective.
Despite some blather about quantum entanglement that I’m sure is being used incorrectly, the “science” in the show is pure nonsense. The visual effects are also exceedingly cheesy. Even just from a basic design standpoint, why is the accelerator room so huge and spacious? His first leap scene looks like Ben is standing in the middle of an enormous empty warehouse. Stuff like that was forgivable, even endearing in 1989, but is much less so now. The episode plotting is also fairly dumb, and the characters are too thinly written to care about.
In short, the new Quantum Leap is network television at its most formulaic and, frankly, unnecessary. Beyond exploiting some nostalgia for a different era in TV programming, what is the point of this show? Why does it need to exist? As a sequel, what does it add to the old Quantum Leap? A smart reboot could potentially have improved upon the weakest aspects of the original, but it seems that wasn’t on anybody’s agenda to try.
At a time when cable and streaming outlets are spending untold amounts of money on high-concept (and often high-quality, both in production value and writing) sci-fi and fantasy series, many of which are similarly adapted from famous older properties, what audience is going to give a damn about a show this flimsily conceived and made? Not me, that’s for sure. Some things are best left in the past.