TV review: ‘Quantum Leap’ shows potential in sincere revival

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From left, Raymond Lee, Caitlin Bassett and Michael Welch star in the series premiere of “Quantum Leap.” Photo courtesy of NBC

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 16 (UPI) — The initial idea for the new Quantum Leap revival, premiering Monday on NBC, left reasonable hope for Scott Bakula to appear at some point as Dr. Sam Beckett. Now that Bakula has confirmed he declined to be involved, the new show seems to be making do as the best continuation original fans can hope to get.

In the present day of 2022, Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) is part of the team that has relaunched the Quantum Leap project. Ben discovers a way he believes can allow him to return home — a return trip Sam never made.

Ben awakens in 1985 as a getaway driver in a bank heist. Ben has lost his memory, just like Sam did at the beginning of his show, so a hologram of his partner and present-day girlfriend Addison (Caitlin Bassett) guides him through his mission in the past.

The basic format of Quantum Leap is evergreen. A time traveler arrives in a different era each week and fixes something that went wrong in the past.

The bank heist is a fairly generic mission with which to begin the series, and looks noticeably like the Universal Studios backlot. Ben has to prevent his partner from getting caught and leaving his family in a lurch.

Those are the sorts of personal good deeds Sam did in the original series. He only occasionally leapt into major events like the Vietnam War, or infamous historical figures like Lee Harvey Oswald.

Sam was the heart of the original Quantum Leap, though, demonstrating values of goodness, fairness and equal rights. Although the concept would in theory allow any protagonist to be the time traveler, one hopes Ben will develop a similarly compassionate personality as the series continues.

They have plenty of time to reintroduce Ben as he recovers his memory through the series. This time, Quantum Leap shows his relationship with Addison a bit before he steps into the Quantum Leap Accelerator.

With the notion that Sam still is out there traveling through time, there was hope that Bakula could guest star in a very special episode in which Ben finds him. Bakula still could change his mind, but if he doesn’t, then Sam will remain a name Quantum Leap can only drop from time to time.

There are far more direct references to other characters from the original Quantum Leap. Ernie Hudson plays Herbert “Magic” Williams, a character from a single episode of the original series.

Characters also refer to the late Dean Stockwell’s character, Al. This suggests Quantum Leap can continue Al’s story via his descendants, giving the revival significant continuity.

That ensures that Quantum Leap is at least trying to be a sequel rather than a remake. Whatever Bakula’s reasons for declining, Quantum Leap is making more effort than they had to to continue the original story.

As a series pilot, Quantum Leap actually spends too much time in the present. The 1985 plot feels rushed and slight as a result.

Presumably, a major difference between this Quantum Leap and the original is that this one will tell parallel stories in the past and present. They’ve introduced three series regulars who cannot interact with the past — Hudson, Mason Alexander Park and Nanrissa Lee — so they’ll have to have something to do in every episode.

The series premiere has a lot of work to do, so there’s every reason to have faith Quantum Leap will settle into more of a balance. Ben’s leaps should remain the focus, but showing more direct reflections on the present is a worthwhile twist.

The best reason to do Quantum Leap again is that enough time has passed that telling stories set in the ’90s and ’00s will be period pieces now. 1985 could have still happened within the original series, but awaiting what the show has in store for other eras has potential.

Making Ben’s hologram not only a woman, but his romantic partner, suggests new dramatic complications, too. In the original series, Al was the comic relief, and he was an endearingly sleazy counterpart to Sam’s noble character.

It wasn’t an issue in his first leap, but if Ben ever leaps into someone with a romantic partner, that’s going to cause some issues with Addison. Just having a female perspective on any situation Ben may find himself in will lead, hopefully, to exciting new dynamics.

So, Quantum Leap is back, sort of. It’s not Sam Beckett, and probably never will be at this point, but it is a modern update attempting to build off of Sam’s story, which is better than a total remake.

Quantum Leap airs Mondays at 10 p.m. EDT/PDT on NBC.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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