For sci-fi fans of a certain age, Quantum Leap was required viewing. The adventures of Dr. Sam Beckett, a scientist who invents a machine with the ability to allow people to swap places with figures from the past, and then bounces around history putting right what once went wrong, offered a new take on the well-worn time travel trope, and leading man Scott Bakula’s chemistry with the late Dean Stockwell made for a winning on-screen partnership.
It’s hard to believe that science fiction was once the poor relation of genre TV, maligned by critics and viewers alike as the natural home of hammy acting, cardboard sets, and shoddy plots. The early 1990s changed all that, with a spate of high-quality shows providing fans with a glut of well-told stories that not only looked good but also aspired to a higher level of story-telling. Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, The X-Filesand seaQuest DSV all spoke to the lofty ambitions of a new generation of creators.
Quantum Leap fitted nicely into this trend, rapidly picking up viewers after an uneven first season, and growing a devoted fanbase until its 1993 finale garnered over 20 million viewers in the United States.
Behind the Scenes: Who Will Be Involved?
Now, the news that NBC has commissioned a reboot for the Peacock streaming service has been greeted with enthusiasm by fans. The makers of the world-under-the-world sci-fi show La BreaSteven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt, have been hired as writers.
Directing duties for the pilot have been handed to Helen Shaver, whose extensive experience directing sci-fi TV includes episodes of The Outer Limits, Stargate Universe, Orphan Blackand Westworldand was most recently seen at the helm for several episodes of hit HBO series Station Eleven.
Plot: What Will It Be About?
So far, so good. But what sort of tone will the new series strike? In recent years, the feel and atmosphere of reboots and re-imaginings of old media properties have been very much up for grabs. Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies were so successful precisely because they did what so many comic book fans spent their childhoods doing when reading Batman comics – treating the stories with utter seriousness. And while the Abrams-verse Star Trek films have continued to offer a dash of humor to reflect the tone of the franchise’s original film run, Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard have been noticeably more somber in tone.
In Quantum Leap‘s case, details of the new series are still sketchy, but it is believed that the premise will make the new series a continuation rather than a full reboot. Set in the same universe as the original, the new series will feature a new team of scientists resurrecting the Quantum Leap project, and attempting to find out what happened to Sam, whose fate was famously left up in the air by the original’s ambiguous finale.
Whether this formula will replicate the generally light-hearted tone of the original is uncertain. The laughs in Quantum Leap were a central part of the show’s appeal. Bakula’s deftness when it comes to portraying fish-out-of-water characters was given expression on a weekly basis, as he found himself transported into the bodies of (for example) one of a Las Vegas comedy double-act mid-routine, with no idea of the schtick or the punchline, or a pre-stardom Elvis Presley, promptly forgetting the words to his songs during a crucial audition. Meanwhile, Stockwell’s comedy chops also came to the fore as Bakula’s buddy Al Calavicci, whose obsession with women and sex managed the tricky task of coming across as laddish rather than creepy (though in a pre-MeToo era, the show trod a fine line at times).
True, there was also darker material. The two-part opening to the fifth season saw Sam leap into the body of Lee Harvey Oswald, and tussled with the possibility that he could stop John F. Kennedy’s assassination from taking place. The show never featured higher stakes, and the story was lauded by critics and audiences alike. And the show’s finest hour was undoubtedly “Trilogy,” the three-parter set in post-war Louisiana and the travails of a young girl who is accused of murder. Equal parts whodunit, supernatural thriller, and courtroom drama, and benefiting from excellent performances from guest stars James Whitmore Jr. (NCIS) and Melora Hardin (The Office), the story stands as an excellent 1990s example of southern gothic.
It goes without saying that neither story was big on laughs, but ensuring a good mix of drama and comedy distinguished Quantum Leap from its peers, and it will be interesting to see if the new series does the same.
Will Scott Bakula Return?
The final question, however, is one that we still lack answers to: will Scott Bakula be involved? Though nothing has been announced, the actor himself is on record as saying that ‘very significant conversations’ have been held regarding the possibility. Oh, boy!
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