What the New Quantum Leap Does Better Than the Original Series
Though Quantum Leap is a TV classic, its latest NBC reboot improves upon it in a couple of ways.
This article contains Quantum Leap spoilers through episode 8.
2022 is the year of the reboot. Dozens of television shows are finding their way back to the small screen through networks and streaming services. From Beavis and Butt-Head to Frasier, Fraggle Rock, and Law and Order, producers and writers leave no stone unturned in the search for that next show that (re)captures the attention and love of viewers.
While some reboots, revivals, and revamps dust off poorly, others hit the ground running. The Quantum Leap sequel premiered on Sept. 19, 2022 (Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC and streaming on Peacock and NBC.com the next day) and ran a robust eight-episode, mini marathon up to the fall finale “Stand by Ben” on Nov. 7. When Quantum Leap returns on Jan. 2, 2023, there will be eighteen more episodes that have already been greenlit by NBC and hope runs strong for the confirmation of a second season.
The original Quantum Leap touts a solid fan base to this day and is an ideal breeding ground for a new generation of fans. As beloved as the 1990s version remains, the reboot does two, really important things far better than the OG.
1. Character Development
A stellar cast carries the new line-up of characters while not striving in the least to fill-the-shoes of original series’ leads, Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) and Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell). Sam and Al are among the most treasured duos in television history, but they are also two-dimensional. Sam, the handsome Boy Scout whose heart is always in the right place, especially when he takes his shirt off, never makes terrible mistakes and he always leaps. The season finale of the show confirmed that Sam didn’t make it back home but kept on leaping in an inspired quest for Good. Al, the partying playboy with a flair for fashion and hearts of gold, always gets the girl or gets heartbroken, and he never fails to arrive just-in-time to help Sam out of the worst pickles. Sam and Al never changed. They may have switched bodies, swapped places and been possessed by evil entities, but the original characters were caricatures, albeit of everything good, fun and intriguing.
The new characters are their own people with their own shoes and their own crises, decisions and risks to navigate. Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) and Addison Augustine (Caitlin Bassett) make-up the spacetime mingling duo in the revival of Quantum Leap. Ben leaps into other people’s bodies throughout time (even time beyond his own lifespan) and Addison offers assistance and support as both hologram helper and Ben’s fiancé. The power couple finds themselves discombobulated much of the time, after all, it’s Addison and her military prowess who was intended to enter the Quantum Accelerator…not Ben.
Some interesting moments in the new series happen after Ben remembers that he is engaged to Addison, and they begin to reconnect in every way but physically. Addison falls ever more deeply in love with Ben because of his vulnerability and openness as he leaps. It seems Ben forgets easily how stoic and silent he used to be, especially about his past. Another positive side-effect of Ben’s Swiss-cheese brain, he can’t remember why he rogue-leaped…and this reason is the very thing that may either save or end their relationship.
Herbert “Magic” Williams (Ernie Hudson) expertly supervises the team in the present as an all-around-best-boss and the father-you-always-wanted. He’s also willing to do and say anything to protect the project and his people—it’s Magic’s neck on the line when the government wants to shut them down, and he lays it down with the zeal of a saint. In episode 7 “O Ye of Little Faith,” one fan-favorite character, Jenn Chou (Nanrisa Lee), is revealed to be as close to Magic’s own daughter as she can get without an amended birth certificate. Jenn impresses with her quick wit, style and keen security intelligence and often tag-teams some of the best scenes with Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park), who leads the team in loyalty and gift-worthy ad libs.
The new Quantum Leap provides characters that have potential for imperfection and transformation. After these first eight episodes, nothing is predictable…and that goes for the story arcs too.
2. Rule Breaking
Like all reboots, some of that old dust gets in viewers’ eyes. Those that are familiar enough with the original series to remember the rules of quantum travel will recall lifespan leaping only to the past, the waiting room and a more reliable and talkative Ziggy. None of these original rules can be taken for granted in the new series.
Ben travels back to the late 1800s in “Salvation or Bust” and it’s there that he meets another leaper who warns Ben to stop following him. It’s fitting that the episode that breaks the lifespan rule should also be the one where another, potentially evil, leaper appears. The original series waited until season five to go there.
Back at the new project in the present, Ian and Jenn reveal that Ben is not jumping deep into the past, but that his rogue code is planning a slingshot, spacetime travel trajectory that will result in Ben’s landing somewhere in the future. Not only that, but the other leaper may also be using Ziggy and the project’s own accelerator to leap through time, accessing the team’s equipment from some point…in the future. All time and any time are quite possible in this new iteration.
Personally, I’ve never been a fan of Quantum Leap’s waiting room. It all seemed too easy, too wrapped up tightly in a bow. I don’t miss it. And then it came back! In episode 7, when Ben is fighting a demon and a murderer at the same time, he looks in a mirror and has a “conversation” with the man whose body Ben possesses. Whether or not this is a new expression of quantum entanglement theory, the reflection has agency as he waits on the other side of the mirror and stands in the same room as Ben does—trippy stuff.
Ziggy is having a rough go of it with the new team and is on the fritz often. Addison’s hand link to Ziggy is underwhelming too, at least compared to Al’s “gummy bear” version. Ziggy has a bug that Ian and Jenn can’t get rid of, and Addison and Ben have to rely on their own intuitions and…more than once in eight episodes…on paper maps. In the present, websites and the disappearance of the old outcome’s news story allow Ian to track Ben’s progress when Ziggy can’t. Ziggy is a character in Quantum Leap as much as any flesh and blood human, and the new Ziggy is not as reliable as the old one. Ziggy has changed too. Anyways, why would Artificial Intelligence do the job that a Google search and the internet can cover? Ziggy may be more vulnerable now, but she is also adaptable, willing to delegate and silent…so far.
A lot of reboots turn into target practice…are they nailing this or missing that? Quantum Leap turns that table upside down as it bowls three strikes in a row through the old and shows that it can run well on its own two feet.
Quantum Leap season 1 returns Monday, Jan. 2, 2023 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.