Both Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell were seen in the pilot episode for NBC’s reboot of the cult classic time travel television series.
The original “Quantum Leap” was an unexpected hit for NBC, becoming a part of the cultural conversation as Scott Bakula’s Dr. Sam Beckett found himself involved in key moments in history as the series progressed, including the assassination of JFK.
It remains to be seen if this sequel series will enjoy the same zeitgeist as even though it’s playing in the same sandbox that Donald P. Bellisario created and introduced to the world in 1989, this is a very different type of series, if this pilot is any indication.
For the majority of its run, the orignal “Quantum Leap” had only two stars. Bakula’s Sam would start each episode leaping into a new body at some point within his own lifetime. He was “lost” in time and had to make something right in this person’s life before he could leap again.
The only other regular cast member viewers saw was Dean Stockwell as Admiral Al Calavicci, Sam’s best friend who could appear to him as a hologram connected to super-computer Ziggy in the future/present timeline Sam was from. Al served as his guide to help him “make right what once went wrong” so he could leap.
Their hope was that eventually he would leap home, or they could make that happen. What made the show unique was that Sam had lost most of his memories, so he was largely in the dark about the Quantum Leap project — and therefore, so was the audience.
Viewers were given information about the project and the future/present in bits and pieces as Sam was told (there were concerns about telling him too much), and so the episodes focused on the various lives Sam intersected with far more than the bigger picture.
For this sequel series, set in the actual present of 2022, there appears to be a plan to focus more on both sides of the leaping, to mixed results so far. The new leaper is Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) and his hologram is Addison Augustine (Caitlin Bassett).
But before we even see a single leap, we meet not only Ben and Addison — at their engagement party! — we meet the rest of the core team that’s running the revived Quantum Leap project. We may not know all of what they’re up to just yet, so there are still mysteries to be solved, but it’s definitely a different approach to see the research being done rather than just having the hologram share the intel with the leaper.
At least in this pilot episode, the divide isn’t working as well as the writers and producers might have liked. By trying to feed us so much information about the rest of the Quantum Leap team while at the same time digging into the 1985 world Ben is trapped in, it’s all just a bit too much.
We’re not sure why we couldn’t have taken a similar starting approach to the original series. Focus on Ben’s experience at first as a leaper and introduce us to Addison as his hologram. We even enjoyed the reveal that she was supposed to be the leaper and him the hologram, but he stepped into it unauthorized. That’s a compelling mystery, and one that we are exploring.
What could have been saved for a later reveal is the fact that they’re engaged. Bassett’s performance could have sold that Ben clearly means a lot to Addison without revealing everything. Keeping the focus in this pilot on Ben would have been a better way to pull us into this journey that he’s on.
Instead, it felt like Ben’s story was actually secondary to what was going on at the Project, which was mostly the team trying to keep track of Ben, reboot Ziggy, which is still running the program, figure out what Ben uploaded into Ziggy before he leaped, keep the Pentagon from finding out what’s going on so they don’t get shut down and have awkward conversations that don’t at all feel earned.
So far, Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park) is the most cloying character on the show. His temporary emotional breakdown because Ben leaped before they were ready to do so was annoying and almost unbelievable.
But even that moment wasn’t as terrible as when head of security Jenn (Nanrisa Lee) presented a finding about the person Ben was working with when he uploaded that data and then tried to have the man in charge, Ernie Hudson’s Herbert “Magic” Williams fire her. For a moment, she thought a public firing for the higher-ups might give her an opportunity to dig deeper off the books, which would have been interesting. But it was apparently being played straight, which fell completely flat.
At this point, we don’t know any of these characters, and we’re just not buying these moments. We know they’re being played straight and earnestly, but it’s just not working. That’s another argument to stick with Ben (and Addison) and the leaps as our primary focus. If we have to check in on the rest of the team, they should be a smaller part of the hour.
That said, they did grab our attention in the final moments. We’d seen Dr. Beckett earlier in a hologram that Addison showed Ben to help him understand what was happening to him, with the detail that long-time fans already know being that Sam never made it home.
At the end, it’s discovered that the ring seen in security footage actually belonged to Admiral Calavicci (and we get to see a pic of him as part of that file). In a nod to the actual death of Stockwell in 2021, Al also died last year, so the assumption is that his daughter now has his ring and somehow got involved with what Ben was doing.
Magic tells Addison that she wanted to join the project but was rejected because of her emotional ties to both Sam and Al. The new focus of the project is to perfect the process so someone can leap once through time and then leap back home. Probably she would be more interested in finding Sam and bringing him home.
Scott Bakula already indicated he’s not interested in being involved with this series by saying he’d passed on it after reading this script. It’s a little clunky in places, so we can kind of understand because the original “QL” had very strong scripts and beautiful storytelling. This feels like other recent clunky genre shows like “Manifest” and “La Brea.” The ideas are there, but the execution just seems a little cheap and cheesy.
Still, Lee noted that he hopes Bakula reconsiders and opts to get involved. They’re certainly setting the stage for that possibility. If nothing else, they’re playing in his world. Fans would probably love a little more closure on what happened with Sam, as his fate was left up in the air when the show had the plug pulled after five seasons.
For now, this new “Quantum Leap” needs to calm down a little bit with its high concept and trying to force these awkward emotional moments with its supporting cast. Let them emerge slowly with time as fully-rounded characters and put the focus on the heart of any “QL” series, which should be the stories in the past as one man tries to make a positive difference.
In his second leap, Ben landed in an astronaut as a rocket ship was poised to take off, and he uttered a nod to Dr. Beckett’s signature “Oh boy!” Sam said it at the start of each new adventure (and the end of each episode), while Ben modernized it with an “Oh sh–!” before the takeoff. Here’s hoping that’s a one-off nod, as the original had a certain innocent charm to it. This doesn’t.
The new “Quantum Leap” continues its travels through time in the cushy post-“Voice” slot, Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.