Nearly 30 years since Quantum Leap aired its series finale, NBC has rebooted the sci-fi adventure series with a new cast. The broad strokes are the same: A scientist, clad in a white bodysuit, jumps into an experimental time-travel project, using himself as a human test subject and launching into the past to right what once went wrong. Though noble, the impetuousness of his first leap leaves him jumping across time, into different bodies to save various days, hoping each leap will be the leap home!
For five seasons, quantum physicist/noted genius Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) made these journeys guided by Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell), a U.S. Navy rear admiral who appears “in the form of hologram only Sam can see and hear.” After 97 episodes of derring-do, a caption onscreen during the finale informed audiences Sam never made it home.
The new Quantum Leap picks up in 2022, where the supercomputer Sam created, Ziggy, is back in action with a new team of scientists looking to correct that glitch that threw Sam’s leaps to the will of fate or God or what-have-you.
But how does this Quantum Leap reboot compare to the original? Let’s break it down.
Ben Song is the new Sam Beckett… And he sucks.
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC
Raymond Lee stars as physicist Dr. Ben Song, who — like Sam before him — leaps into the quantum accelerator without warning his team and is plunged into the past to set right an old wrong. In the premiere episode, titled “July 13th, 1985,” he’s an undercover cop tasked with saving the life of a restauranteur who’s dealing in bank robberies, bombings, and the theft of the Hope Diamond to pay for his under-insured wife’s expensive cancer treatment. Ben saves the day despite the amnesia that strikes after every leap (aka the “Swiss cheese effect,” as it was known in the original series), with the help of his own Al (aka Addison, who’ll we get to in a bit).
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While the show’s concepts are similar, the reboot’s creators forgot their hero should be fun to watch. Where Bakula brought a bewildered sitcom energy to his misadventures, Song is playing this as a straight TV drama. Bakula was willing to play the clown in this fish-out-of-water series, mugging for the camera and thereby bringing a verve to life-and-death stakes. Lee’s take is more Jason Bourne, without the muscle memory or bravado. He’s bewildered when he can’t land a punch properly, and regrettably Lee can’t land a punchline either. (Not that the script has any real zingers in there.)
Further flustering is that Ben’s leap is even more reckless and cruel than Sam’s, since this Quantum Leap establishes two major betrayals at its jump. First off, Ben bails on his engagement party to break into the top-secret lab with a mysterious outsider, upload some strange new coding, and make the leap without telling anyone on his team why — including his fiancée, Addison. Worse yet, Ben was never the one who was supposed to be the leaper. He was supposed to be the hologram, and he stole the spot from the very same Addison whom he ditched at their engagement party!
The new cast of characters has no idea why Ben would suddenly betray Addison in such a way, but they repeatedly declare he must have a good reason. He’s such a good guy, we’re assured. Well, unlike the original series, the audience isn’t privy to the inner workings of the leaper’s mind, because the winsome voiceover that let us into Sam’s vulnerabilities and doubts and deepest concerns doesn’t exist here. It’s all stony expressions and a lame sheen of grit that transforms the once-wondrous adventure series into a lifeless reboot that replaces Sam’s catchphrase “Oh, boy” with the cringe-worthy “Oh, shit.”
The new Al is a scorned woman who must play nice.
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC
Caitlin Bassett co-stars as Addison, who was supposed to be the leaper before her confounding fiancé stole her spot. Now, not only is she stuck in the holographic passenger seat, so to speak, as he goes on her missions, but his Swiss-cheesed brain doesn’t even remember her. Anyone familiar with the original series might remember that Sam had a wife he couldn’t remember, and that she accepted that, because falling for a woman or getting the girl was often part of his missions. This time, the wife figure will have to watch up close as her runaway fiancé seduces strangers across time, over and over again, with the added salt in the wound that it should have been her — and he doesn’t even recognize her!
While these changes amp up the drama from the start, they also make Ben harder to root for, because dude just seems like a withholding prick. Worse yet, this switcheroo puts Addison far from the field of play whereas Al got to crack jokes and pop up in loud but marvelous outfits and have all the fun of being a hologram who can walk through planes and lend a guiding hand to boxing blows. Instead, she’s trapped in this box of having to be patient and endlessly kind to her traitorous partner or else risk losing him to the infinite. There’s little room in that for the sparring camaraderie of Al and Sam. But couldn’t they at least have given her some fun fashion? Save for techie Ian (Mason Alexander Park, The Sandman), who wears bold make-up and flawless fits, the fashion on this show works like melatonin — I’m sleeping.
Quantum Leap reboot focuses more on the present.
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC
In the classic show, the present from which Sam leaped was largely off-camera. This kept the audience bound to Sam and his feeling of being trapped and isolated. Plus, it made the appearances of Al almost magical in their abruptness, and in the color his outfits and attitude brought to each episode, which made him stand out whatever the setting. We weren’t left longing to know more about the present or office pain-in-the-ass Gooshie.
In the new Quantum Leapthe first sequence sets up a troupe of scientists, security guards, and military types, promising the present will have a much larger role in Ben’s adventures. The present is where his team tries to uncover what Ben was hiding by erasing the security footage and being so secretive about his uncharacteristic leap. It’s a vibe that feels more crime procedural, bringing in a team that can be quirky so the leads can be steely. (Snore.) While all of this crew is more lively than Addison and Ben, the escape sequences to be with them bleeds tension from the A plot of theft, bombings, and thwarting a merciless career criminal. However, deep-cut Quantum Leap fans might perk up when they realize Ernie Hudson’s “Magic” is a callback.
Quantum Leap‘s Magic is a link between reboot and original.
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC
A U.S. Navy Seal who mentions his time in Vietnam, Hudson’s Herbert “Magic” Williams is the same soldier that Sam leapt into in Season 3’s “The Leap Home, Part II (Vietnam).” In this memorable arc, Sam was tempted to go beyond the parameters of Ziggy’s mission to try to save the life of his brother Tom, who was in Magic’s unit. However, it was also this arc where Sam realizes too late that he saw a young Al being transported as a prisoner of war. Which is to say, Magic has a closer tie to the quantum leap project than any of his colleagues. Because whether or not he personally knows Al or Sam, Magic was in that off-camera waiting room.
There is no waiting room in this Quantum Leap.
In the original series, “the waiting room” is where the souls (for lack of a more specific scientific term) of those leapt into landed. Usually, they were of little help in cracking the mysteries of episodes, because from their perspective, one moment they were at a lunch counter or in a cockpit and the next they’re in a waiting room, being told it’s the future, and oh, yeah — they also have Swiss cheese brain.
In the new Quantum Leapthere is no mention of the waiting room. For Ben and Addison, this presumably raises the stakes since they can’t just ask the undercover cop what he’s up to. However, this also leaves viewers with the unsettling question: Where is Ben bumping these souls to while he invades their bodies? Perhaps a future episode will touch on this.
Another dangling question about this new conceit: Can Ben only travel within his own lifespan? That was a limitation put on Sam; he couldn’t got further back than the mid-1950s. If the reboot keeps this constraint, the time-travel adventures of Ben might only go back to the ’80s. And aside from a bunch of classic jams, the show hasn’t made much spectacle out of the nostalgia-thick era so far.
Sam and Al are just the backstory in the Quantum Leap reboot.
Neither Scott Bakula nor Dean Stockwell are involved in this project. The latter, who was long remembered for the bombastic charisma he brought to Al, died in 2021. As for Bakula, he was informed of the reboot, but according to a thread on Twitter, decided to pass on it.
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Images of Sam and Al appear in exposition dumps intended to refresh audience’s memory (or give them a first time rundown) about the show’s general conceit. In the plotline, Sam is still lost and Al has passed away. In the reboot, the biggest tie to them is Al’s daughter, the mysterious coder who has aided Ben in his leap. To what end, we don’t know. But in a fascinating throwback to the original Quantum Leap’s finale, this daughter wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for Sam’s intervention.
In “Mirror Image,” Sam breaks protocol to tell Al’s wife Beth that he was not KIA in Vietnam, assuring her Al will come home. With a wife to come back to, the heartbroken womanizer we’d seen winge about love and sex for all those years gets a happy ending title card that Beth never remarried, she and Al were still together, and they’d had four daughters.
The Quantum Leap reboot delivers a new hook.
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC
The classic hook of Quantum Leap was ending each episode with a tantalizing cliffhanger to the next. Sam leaps from a happy ending into a new story, where he is a Black man at a whites-only lunch counter, or a pregnant teen facing ostracization, or an armed detective with a bullet-riddled corpse at his feet. In each instance, the viewer was enticed to tune in week after week. And now, with all these episode on Peacock(opens in a new tab)binge-watching the original is dangerously addictive.
In the new show, they keep this device, plopping a victorious Ben down in a space shuttle. (“Oh, shit!”) But it seems the reboot’s runners don’t have faith that this is enough to keep modern audiences coming back. So, in comes the mystery of why Ben leapt and the deal with Al’s daughter. After a premiere episode that, despite its changes, feels like flimsy retread of the original concept, will audiences keep coming back? I mean, I won’t. Did I mention the originals are on Peacock?(opens in a new tab)
Quantum Leap airs on NBC Mondays at 10 pm EST. (opens in a new tab)