On March 26, 1989, the science-fiction TV series Quantum Leap debuted on NBC. For five years the show ran as a sort of Trojan horse amidst sci-fi shows of the time. While the show was billed as a time travel series following Sam Beckett “leaping” into other peoples lives to “put right what once went wrong,” the series functioned more as a dramatic anthology. Each week Sam would leap in and, besides his hologram guide Al (played by Dean Stockwell), the show rarely showcased its science fiction elements. Sam would just be living in the past, trying to make life better for those he met along the way.
But that’s all about to change. Quantum Leap is returning to NBC, but not as a reboot! Instead it’s a sequel following a new leaper, Ben Song (Raymond Lee), that will feature many more scenes and plot lines set in the “future” with a team at Project Quantum Leap struggling to retrieve him.
This new status quo for the franchise isn’t a complete left turn but does draw on the lore that was lightly sprinkled through the original series. With that in mind, we’ve put together this guide to the episodes that look to have the most impact on the new series and may give a glimpse into what Quantum Leap fans can expect. (A great way to watch the series is on the blu-ray set, which we reviewed here.)
Season 1 Episodes 1-2: Genesis
Where it all began. This movie length opener lays out everything you need to know about the basics of how Quantum Leap works, both the show itself and the actual in universe “Quantum Leaping.” Basically, Sam “leaps” into another person in the past. We as the audience see Sam but all the other characters in the past see him as whoever he’s leapt into, confirmed in the famous mirror shot where Sam would see the person he’s leapt into that most episodes would have.
We’re also introduced to the hologram Al, who’s locked into Sam’s brainwaves and (more or less) broadcasts himself from the future to help Sam. ‘Genesis’ sets up the show really well, giving us an idea of how a typical episode will go while slowly giving out the more complicated sci-fi trappings. Some things will never make sense about the actual process of leaping (what if Sam is taller than the person he leaps into???) but “Genesis” wisely knows to keep all the technical stuff on the back burner and instead get us to love Sam and Al.
Season 3 Episode 2: The Leap Home Part 2 (Vietnam)
You’d think there would have been more “lore” episodes between the first and third seasons but again, Quantum Leap really tried to keep things grounded. This episode is no exception, the biggest hook being that Sam has leaped into the Vietnam war and his brothers unit. It had previously been established that Sam’s brother had died in the war so this was a chance for Sam to save his life, rewriting his personal history. It’s one of the shows standout dramatic entries that proves learning about Sam and his family was often more engaging than the sci-fi trappings.
The reason this is on the list is because it introduces someone who is set to be a main character in the new series. Sam leaps into Herbert “Magic” Williams, an officer serving with Sam’s brother who has a “sixth sense” and has saved him from danger in the past. In the new series the character will be portrayed by Ernie Hudson, who is said to be the head of Project Quantum Leap in the future. It’ll be fascinating to see how the new series addresses Magic being a previous leapee, something the original show never explored in-depth. Does Magic remember the leap? How did it impact his life? Why is he now running the Project?
Season 4 Episode 1: The Leap Back
Throughout Quantum Leap we’d been told that Sam came from our “future” and, barring a brief appearance in the pilot, this is our first full look at it. Everything is neon and gummy bear computers and so beautifully colorful. It also gives us our first look at a large majority of the people working at the Project which we’d only heard Al speak about previously. Since the new series will be spending a heavy amount of time at the Project, the sequences of this episode set there should prove highly influential. Sure, they’re only tantalizing glimpses but bigger franchises have been built from smaller pools of references.
“The Leap Back” also reveals that Sam has a wife, Donna, who he previously had no memory of. She’s been working to get him back but, despite a brief return, he’s soon lost in time once again. Her pain at his loss and determination to find him could inform the Project side of the story in the new series and the characters within it.
Season 5 Episode 5: Killin’ Time
Quantum Leap’s final season ramped up the lore and this entry gave us a look at the future outside the Project. It’s supposedly the mid to late ‘90s but that didn’t stop the show from going all in on the weird neon and bright colors for all things future. It wouldn’t surprise us if the new series moved away from that aesthetic (after all, time has moved on in universe) but come on, who needs colorless rooms with banks of monitors? Go full lego gummy bear block!
The episode also has a leapee escape the Project and he does not react well to the future. Since all the scenes at the Project can’t just be the team standing around computers looking for Ben, this episode could provide inspiration for plots those characters will need to deal with. (We also listed it as one of the top 10 episodes of Quantum Leap.)
Season 5 Episode 7: Deliver Us from Evil
While a sequel to a previous episode, the main draw of this entry is that it introduced the concept of the “Evil Leaper.” While Sam is out there putting right what once went wrong, there’s another leaper, Alia, changing history for the worse. This was without question the biggest addition to the lore of Quantum Leap, adding in a whole other Project and leaper that was in direct opposition to Sam.
We aren’t sure exactly how serialized the new series will be but it’s a confident guess to say that it won’t be as episodic as the original show was. Ben facing off against evil leapers is just too tantalizing and we expect them to make an appearance sooner rather than later.
Season 5 Episodes 16-17: Return of the Evil Leaper/Revenge of the Evil Leaper
A deeper exploration into the evil leapers, this time providing clues as to just how horrific it is working at the “evil” Project. It’s implied that the devil is behind it, as God was previously suggested to be behind Sam’s leaps. The show wisely never confirms these either way, but with so many dramas striving to have “lore” that fans can get invested in, it’s more than likely the new series will try to definitively answer the question of who (or what) was controlling the leaps.
It would also be fascinating to see if the new series played up the idea that a rival Project is out there changing history. Why? For what purpose? The “good” Project wasn’t trying to change history (for the most part), they were just trying to get Sam back home! What does the “evil” Project have to gain? Are they protected from the changes in history? How many leapers are out there?
Season 5 Episode 22: Mirror Image
The final episode of the original series was a hard pill to swallow for some fans. (Made even harder to take since the previous episode had Sam somewhat goofily leap into Elvis.) An intentionally mysterious outing, Sam leaps into himself for the first time but meets a bartender who has knowledge of all his adventures. It’s here where it’s (possibly) revealed that Sam has control over his own leaps and that, going forward, he’d be able to control where he’d leap to. He may even leap as himself! There’s even another “good” leaper he meets along the way.
This episode isn’t important just because it left the series on a cliffhanger of sorts, saying that Sam never got home, but because it leads into a central mystery of the new series. The team back at the Project will be investigating the mysteries behind the machine that leapt Sam in the first place. These mysteries will undoubtedly include why Sam never came home and may even lead to questions about how they try and get him back.
For some fans the new series will be worth it solely for the potential that finally, after 30-ish years, Sam could finally be brought back home. We have no idea if that’ll happen (Scott Bakula has not been confirmed to make an appearance) but it still provides some hope.
Either way, the new Quantum Leap is set to give fans more “lore” than the original ever did and hopefully these episodes will be the jumping off point for those working on it.
If you’re a new fan to the franchise and want some recommendations for some great episodes that aren’t just following the lore, we’ve got a guide for you.