Quantum Leap Review – Revisiting Early ’90s Goes Meta

Considering that the reboot/rehash train has only sped up in recent years, it might be surprising that the mid-’80s to mid-’90s are a mine largely left unvisited. That is, unless you were there, and know that most series of the time were a special brand of cheesy that it’s tricky to say people ever exactly liked in the first place. While not the early-’80s hellfire of The A-Team or Knight Rider, it was still a world where the pure goofball antics of such things as Family Matters or Married… with Children reigned supreme-ish.

Quantum Leap was a product of the times as much as anything else, and though a somewhat elevated example of the “feel good” times, the premise itself is just a throwback to a different corny age of television and its, “here’s another fine mess,” mantra. It wasn’t a bad show by any means, but it’s locked in its time to an extent that makes a reboot something that, it would seem, requires so much reworking of tone and structure that it hardly makes sense. You could, for example, try to bring back Leave it to Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show, but what would you end up with by the time we tried to make work for today’s audience, and apart from character names what could you leave the same?

Surprisingly, the shift toward what is now quite a serious show (even if the computer jargon is nonsense and the science is covered by “dingelfy the quadro-whoozit”) requires only the replacement of Dean Stockwell’s constantly-mugging, holographic companion Al with our current time traveler’s fiance, Addison (Caitlin Bassett). Beyond that, and the fact that our latest victim of the quantum leap trap, Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee), threw himself into this predicament without warning anyone and can’t remember why, much actually remains the same.

Having restarted the program, for reasons that are unclear, our small team of geniuses, complete with a new version of the supercomputer, are closing in on the ability to travel in time, but Ben hijacks things and finds himself in the exact same “help the people you leap into so you can move on” dilemma.

Pictured: (l-r) Raymond Lee as Dr. Ben Song, Caitlin Bassett as Addison — (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

To its credit, the show kicks off with a bit of morally questionable help as Ben finds himself inside of someone who is about to participate in a robbery. The best part of Quantum Leap, and the part that let it rise ever so slightly above its own, era-standard schmaltz, was the curiosity of whatever cosmic forces had apparently been lassoed along with Sam Beckett and determined who required his help and why. That and the fact that every episode was an utterly unrelated adventure and a shot at someone completely new getting a decent mark on their CV.

The show’s most solid potential comes from Raymond Lee, who has the charisma to carry the thing, and unfortunately the requirement. The only truly good moments thus far come from his ability to appear lost and come to grips with his situation, and his inner struggle with the idea that the “him” who did this to him seems like rather a jerk. As episodes play out, that could be the only thing that keeps the show around long enough for it to really get its feet under it. As he goes through his first few leaps, the weight of not merely being lost in time, but being an amnesia-created, different person could be the anchor this needs.

Outside of its star, the show has some hurdles, and at least some of them are purposeful, translation decisions. Gone are the flippant, befuddled drop-ins by an Al character who was as likely to bash his computer remote as offer any aid. Ben’s touchstone is a character who ups the ante on wanting him back, because gravitas means you’re a real show. Addison, so far, isn’t exactly a bad character so much as one that, in the establishment, is syrupy for syrupy’s sake, and one that makes you wonder if there is any fun headed your way beyond each episode’s opening mirror shot of Ben.

The rest of the cast, and indeed the rest of the show, is so much time fodder for now. Narrative necessities we can turn back to once in a while when we need a break from Ben running toward or away from whatever. You imagine things will soon be different, but through the pilot the affair is nearly a crime. Mason Alexander Park is fantastic when given half a chance, but all he has here is directing various IT people who are all but off camera to quantilize the ether drive or somesuch blather, in a room that looks like the design notes were “what would clueless people think this room would look like?” It’s a “computer genius” world in which a “mad dash to fix a computer” involves really a lot of milling about the room. You half expect Chris O’Dowd to pop his head around a corner.

This is not even to mention Ernie Hudson, who is irritatingly wasted and mostly exists so that he can be in a scene where he obviously isn’t actually going to bring any of this to the attention of his superiors… or whatever.

Still, there’s no denying the show’s hook. So long as you fall in love with the star, and there’s no reason not to be taken in by the doubly-wounded fish out of water, tuning in to find out which particular candy conveyor belt is driving things this week is a satisfyingly easy decision. If the rest of it comes together into something with its own meaning, this could last at least as long as the original.

REVIEW OVERVIEW

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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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