My preview screener for the first episode of the 2022 version of the beloved TV series “Quantum Leap” come with a caveat, but there are definitely some elements that cannot be corrected by air time today. Despite the step forward of featuring an East Asian American leading man, this episode is a step backward into boring.
It’s unusual to receive only one episode as a screener for a series and especially one that isn’t fully formatted into final air quality, but this is the warning I received:
Please note this isn’t final air quality and elements may change prior to broadcast. We ask that you kindly avoid any spoilers so fans are able to experience the episode without warning on major story reveals.
This version of “Quantum Leap” isn’t a reboot of the original series which ran from 1989-1993. This 2022 version fully acknowledges the existence of Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) and his best friend, Admiral Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell). The screener begins with a reference to Bakula’s character. The white letters on a black screen explain:
In 1995, theorizing one could time travel within their own lifetime, Doctor 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…
Someone is in a lab and sees the message on the screen: Window cancellation complete. She says: “That can’t be right.” And this mysterious woman uses her smartphone to contact Ben Song.
Ben is elsewhere, away from the lab, but with his lab crew. He’s hosting a large party at his spacious apartment to celebrate his engagement to Addison (Caitlin Bassett). His coworkers include the head of security, Jenn (Nanrisa Lee) whose date believes she works for a video game development company instead of a top secret time travel project; a beyond metrosexual man who is harassing the DJ because he has incredible musical taste, but has yet to make an algorithm for making the perfect play list, Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park) and the boss, Herbert “Magic” Williams (Ernie Hudson).
Ben hates small talk and public speaking, but he does describe how science defines romance:
Science is romance. Take the law of entanglement. Once to particles experience a shared state, they’re no longer separate entities. They exist as one even when separated by great distances.
This is real science:
At this point, Ben gets a text message on his smartphone:
Hey! Just go a readout. If we’re gonna do this, it has to be now.
Our window is closing, where are you?
Ben!! Call me!!!
Running out of time!!!
Just sent you the the projections via email
CALL ME ASAP!!
Then some how Ben is in a very big laboratory, suited up in a unitard and he wakes up looking at the leather-wrapped steering wheel in the driver’s seat of a van. The title tells us when: “July 13th, 1985.” Beside him is a White guy who wonders if they’re doing the right thing, but desperate times call for desperate measures. There are still telephone booths and people are using cassette tapes and Walkmans. There’s a double feature of “The Goonies” (7 June 1985) and “St. Elmo’s Fire” (28 June 1985).
Addison finds him, but Ben doesn’t know her; he has time-leap induced amnesia. If you’re familiar with the original series, this also happened to Sam Beckett during his initial leap (“Genesis: Part I“).
If you weren’t around in 1985, it was the year that Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term as President of the US and the charity single record “We Are the World” was recorded (written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian). “Amadeus” won Best Picture at the 57th Oscars. Studio Ghibli is founded in Tokyo. On July 13, Live Aid benefit concerts in London and Philadelphia raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. David Bowie performed and his “Let’s Dance” and “Rebel Rebel” are part of this show’s soundtrack.
In this time line, Ben Song via Addison discovers there will be an explosion in front of the Museum of Modern Art in Philly. The heist he has just participated as the driver took a large crate of C4 explosives. The person Ben is helping, Brian, has a wife who is sick and a young daughter. Their insurance dropped them and they mortgaged the restaurant. The bank foreclosed. He has lied to his wife, telling her that all their problems will be solved.
Instead of going into the personal story and giving us more time with the wife and child, and building an emotional connection, the plot goes into unlikely side stories which includes a Romanian diamond dealer, the Hope Diamond and a little Argentine tango. I can tell you from experience that even if you ask, you are unlikely to get a musical group or a DJ to play Argentine tango, even if the specific 1935 song, “Por una cabeza” has been used in numerous films (1992 “Scent of a Woman,” the 1993 “Schindler’s List” and the 1994 “True Lies” ) and even though two pop stars have released tangos (Shakira’s 2001 “Objection” tango and Jazmine Sullivan’s 2008 “Bust Your Windows”). My husband and I know this and have tested this out most recently at D23 Expo during the wait for the musical extravaganza.
The introduction of an Argentine tango seems like a silly trope as if all jewelry thieves, like all spies, can tango? The writers should ask themselves: Does the word “tango” have the same meaning in Spanish as it does in English (“interaction marked by a lack of straightforwardness“) or is that something linked to a negative Latino stereotype and is that appropriate for an episode that premieres during National Hispanic Heritage Month? And then, they might also ask themselves: What really is tango culture in itself?
Tango dancing is very specialized in practice and in attempted practice. Tango dance parties are called “milongas.” Argentine tango is different from International and American ballroom styles as is Finnish tango and Taiwanese tango. Tango is not a slot dance and in all forms follows a line of dance (which is different from line dancing).
I also didn’t understand how this specific song, “For una cabeza” tied in with the plot or are we pretending that some of the viewers have no knowledge of Spanish or no idea what a famous song means? There is another segment when a foreign language is used (Romanian), but I have no experience or knowledge of that language so I can’t comment on that.
The plotting here in the new “Quantum Leap” is plodding, dragged down to a slow pace by needless exposition. We spend more time back at the Quantum Leap Accelerator lab in the first episode than in the first two episodes of the original series where things were gradually revealed. In TOS first episode, “Genesis: Part I” which originally aired on 26 March 1989, Sam is sent back to 1956 and the audience spends time with Sam and Peg, the wife of the US Air Force test pilot Tom whose body he inhabits. She’s very pregnant and if Sam isn’t successful she’ll become a widow. That will doubtlessly change the life of Tom and Peg’s young son Mikey. As Sam’s memory slowly comes back to him, he thinks of his father who has, in his time, already passed away. He remembers they lived on a farm in Elk Ridge, Indiana, but he can’t remember his last name.
In the TOS second episode, “Genesis: Part II,” Sam completes his mission in 1956 only to leap into 1968 as a baseball player. For him, no time has passed, but at the Quantum Leap project six days have passed. Sam’s father died in 1974; he’s still alive in 1968. When Al tells him his last name, Sam makes an emotional phone call to his father. That’s a beautiful moment, one that is foreshadowed in the first episode and gives us some insight into Sam. In “Genesis: Part II,” there is a pensive surprise snippet of a song made famous by Doris Day in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” That song, “Que Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” fit in well with the arc of the story, but I’m guessing that not that much thought was put into the choice of the tango song, “Por una cabeza.”
I don’t know where Episode 2 will take Ben Song, but I hope that the writing improves and we spend less time admiring set design of the Quantum Leap project and the advanced computer named Ziggy and more time with the people and even explore Ben Song as a person. The plotting is so hurried that we spend little time with Ben’s crew of gangsters and don’t even explore the potential of the famed Hope Diamond which is supposedly cursed and has some significant unusual features. As far as heists go, this diamond heist is brutally executed, with none of the finesse we’d love to see from shows like “Leverage” and the word “leverage” is used during the heist. The Hope Diamond is 45.52 carats, VS1 with whitish graining and a fancy dark grayish-blue. The pendant is surrounded by 16 white diamonds in pear and cushion cuts and the necklace chain contains 45 white diamonds. According to the Smithsonian, “The Hope Diamond phosphoresces a strong red color, which will last for several seconds after exposure to short wave ultra-violet light. The diamond’s blue coloration is attributed to trace amounts of boron in the stone.” So little time is spent on what makes this gemstone legendary that it seems like little more than name-dropping. So much more could have been made of its history and I’ve been to special showings of rare diamonds. The security has been much more intense.
At the end of the episode “July 13th, 1985,” we do learn the identity of Sam’s secret co-hort, she’s Al’s daughter. Al died the year before. Dean Stockwell did actually die last year (1936-2021) and the episode is dedicated to him.
Writing credit has been given to TOS creator Donald P. Bellisario, Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt (“La Brea,” “Gotham” and “Hawaii Five-0”). The end of the first episode has Ian trying to extract Ben Song before he leaps again only to have the message on this screen: Internal Syntax Error. At the apartment, Addison finds Ben’s smartphone and plays a recorded message he left:
This is something bigger than us. Bigger than anything you can imagine. I’m doing this because I think it’s worth it because I think it has to be done. I’ll find my way home to you, and then we can spend the rest of our lives together. I promise.
As “Quantum Leap” leaves Ben Song suited up as an astronaut being launched into space, and we know that Scott Bakula will not be appearing in this version of “Quantum Leap,” I hope that the expository dialogue on the Quantum Leap project decreases and the human stories of the people around the person Ben inhabits increases. Perhaps more will be revealed about the romance between Ben and Addison and we’ll learn more about the fates of Al and Sam through Ben’s co-conspirator, Al’s daughter.
Episodes of TOS “Quantum Leap” are available on Roku channel.