It’s been nearly 30 years since Scott Bakula’s Dr. Sam Beckett vanished into time (and from the airwaves), but Quantum Leap—a popular show during its five-season run—has since maintained a cult following. It’s no surprise NBC has dipped back into the time-travel well with a reboot, which premieres today.
This new Quantum Leap is actually a sequel in addition to being a reboot. Sam and his companion, Al (the late Dean Stockwell, to whom the premiere episode is dedicated), both get referenced by the new characters, and the reliably unreliable supercomputer that powers the show’s sci-fi tech is still named Ziggy. But Quantum Leap ‘22 is, at least at its outset, a more elaborate production. The cast, which includes a lab team toiling in the present day, is larger; the production values are as slick as what you’d expect to see from a 21st-century prime-time NBC series; and there’s also a background plot beyond the main character’s time-leaps poised to introduce amplified intrigue into the proceedings.
However, “July 13, 1985" is still the first episode of a new show, and therefore spends a lot of time explaining to viewers just what the heck is going on. Fans of the original series will recall episodes opened with a spoken intro explaining its concept as well as a title sequence showing scenes from Sam’s adventures—plus, Sam was given voice-overs to further explain how he was feeling (usually perplexed) as he tried to figure out a) who he had “leaped” into, b) where and when he was, and c) who he was supposed to help in that particular time period, which would trigger his next jaunt through space and time. He wasn’t totally alone—he had Al, a hologram who only Sam could see and hear, and who’d show up with his handheld gizmo that connected them to Ziggy’s vast repositories of historical knowledge—but he didn’t know how he was ever going to make it back home.
The new show is, well, it’s very similar once it gets past its own set-up. It begins with on-screen text that borrows from the original series’ opening: “In 1995, theorizing that one could time-travel within their own life, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished. After years of trying to bring him back home, the project was eventually abandoned... until now.” In short order, we meet Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee of Made for Love, Top Gun: Maverick, and Kevin Can F**k Himself) and his fiancée, Addison (Caitlin Bassett), who also happens to be his co-worker at a top-secret military lab staffed by time-travel nerds. Magic (Ghostbusters’ Ernie Hudson) is the benevolent boss, along with fellow eggheads Jenn (Nanrisa Lee) and Ian (Mason Alexander Park). They’re all pals and we first meet them at Ben and Addison’s engagement party, a joyous evening until Ben, who’s been receiving text messages from someone who insists they are “running out of time!” peaces out to... hop into the Quantum Leap accelerator, even though it’s not ready for anyone to use without running into some major glitches.
Naturally, this seemingly idiotic decision freaks everyone out, including Ben himself, who pops up in July 1985 with amnesia (a side effect of leaping), something that Addison—who’s able to follow him through time as a hologram, just like Al followed Sam—helps him cope with, though she doesn’t explain her personal relationship with him (she does, however, inform him that she was supposed to be the one doing the time-traveling). Thanks to glimpses of media—did any circa-1985 theater programmer ever decide to screen a double-feature of The Goonies and St. Elmo’s Fire? What would that audience even look like?—we soon learn he’s in Philadelphia and is a dude named “Nick” who’s about to serve as a getaway driver for an elaborate heist. With Ziggy’s help, Ben and Addison are able to piece together what’s going down; it involves a big explosion and the Hope Diamond, but—like the intricacies of the time-travel tech that got Ben there in the first place—the crime is really a MacGuffin. As in the original Quantum Leap, the real reason for “July 13, 1985" is so that Ben can help one specific person who’s been wronged by the timeline, and set things right.
If this sounds like a violation of everything you know about time travel, especially the part about not meddling with the past, lest you irrevocably alter the present—well, Quantum Leap has a different point of view. Going by this first episode, the new series will keep to the original show’s general take that fixing a wrong in the past can actually improve the future. We won’t spoil Ben’s first mission, but we will note that as far as leaps go, it’s a pretty easy one for him: Nick is around Ben’s age and seems to be a bit of a lone wolf, and a city circa 1985 isn’t too jarring of a setting. As Quantum Leap fans will remember, Sam often woke up in circumstances that required immediate quick thinking beyond “oh boy, who am I?”—including being a Black man in Los Angeles on the day of the Watts riots, a pregnant teenager, a horror author who meets the actual devil, a psychiatric patient receiving shock therapy, Lee Harvey Oswald, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Sam’s own Civil War-era great-grandfather, and a chimpanzee about to be sent into outer space.
It’s not yet apparent if Ben’s own journey will be quite so surprising, or whether it will pinball wildly between personas that offer the show a chance to dabble in both social commentary and outright goofballery. It’s also unclear how the show will handle things if Ben leaps into someone who already has a romantic partner, as Sam often did—and how Addison might react to that. In the first episode, at least, Ben doesn’t have any voice-overs, so we don’t get insight into his state of mind as he grapples with his strange new circumstances.
While there’s already a lot going on with Ben’s problem-solving plotline, Quantum Leap makes it obvious that the reason why he jumped before the machine was ready is going to become an important mystery. He left only a cryptic video message behind, and the time-traveling version of Ben has no memory of 2022, so he can’t offer any insight. With the project’s government overlords already anxiously sniffing around, the team he left behind must puzzle through his motivation, the secrecy around his actions, and ferret out a shadowy accomplice who’s surely going to come into sharper relief as the show progresses.
Taken as a whole, it would be a lot to absorb, especially if you weren’t already familiar with the classic series. But Ben is a likable hero who retains that Sam Beckett quality of being an affable, quick-thinking super-nerd who genuinely wants to help people. The pacing, amplified by rapid-fire editing and propulsive music, keeps things moving even through the avalanches of exposition. It remains to be seen if Quantum Leap will put its emphasis on Ben’s do-gooding travels through time, like the original series did, or if it will continue to divide its attention between past and present—though given the ensemble cast, especially with a star like Ernie Hudson in a key role, that does seem likely. Will the end result yield too much whiplash between storylines, or will the show branch out and bring Ben home at some point, allowing Addison and the others their chance to do some leaping? And will Dr. Sam Beckett himself make an appearance somewhere along the way? We’ll be turning in to find out... and also to see if Quantum Leap 2.0 can dare to top that chimpanzee episode.
Quantum Leap premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET and PT on NBC; it will stream the next day on Peacock.
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