While not without promise, NBC’s update/reboot of the early 90s fan favorite hasn’t yet mastered time.
The difficult thing about reviewing a reboot/reimagining/update/sequel of an older property with plenty of accumulated goodwill is taking the new series on its own merits. It may be tempting to simply declare, “it isn’t as good as the original!” and call it a day. However, that isn’t exactly playing it fair. And yet, the temptation is there.
So let’s just cut to the quick to get it out of the way. The new Quantum Leap series is not as good as the original Scott Bakula-starring endeavor at its best. That said, the late 80s/early 90s Quantum Leap wasn’t always at its best, either.
In this new version, the original Quantum Leap Project did occur. Sam Beckett (Bakula) leaped for the first time in 1995 (the series began in 1989 but was set in that far-flung future). Something went wrong and he never returned. Eventually, people stopped looking. In 2022—no future time for this series, for whatever reason—Ben Song (Raymond Lee), a genius polymath like his time-traveling predecessor, is heading a new version of the project for the U.S. government. Why is left unsaid, but several people mention they hope to find Sam even if that’s not the prime motivation.
In the premiere, something happens that makes the measured, cautious Ben ditch his engagement party. He uploads an entirely new program into the Project’s massive survey array and leaps. His fiancée Addison (Caitlin Bassett)—who was going to be the Leaper when the project was thoroughly tested and ready to run—has no idea why. Ben failed to inform anyone else on the team, including government liaison Herbert Williams (Ernie Hudson), fellow scientist Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park), and head of security Jenn (Nanrisa Lee), either. Worse than not knowing is the realization that his plan has gone awry.
Visually, the show doesn’t offer anything especially striking in its maiden voyage. The bulk of the present-day action takes place in a large nondescript lab that could look like a warehouse if you gave three movers an hour to clear out the equipment. The scenes in 1985, Ben’s first leap location, look pretty backlot-y. While the effects were not completed on the screener, it seems safe to declare Leap looks like most television dramas on which the network is willing to spend money. Given its pedigree, it will hopefully develop a more distinctive style with time.
After one episode, there’s reason to have some optimism, but there’s still a ways to go.
Given the underwhelming images, Quantum Leap has to sink, float, or soar on the back of its cast. In the opening, it manages to float but not much more. Lee is an appealing lead, but the almost total amnesia he experiences (his “swiss cheesing” feels more like block cheddar) undercuts him after the leap. As a result, the real chemistry test is back in the lab in the present day. There Hudson, Park, and Lee do well, giving their interactions a sense of history despite the brevity of those moments. Hudson and Lee, in particular, pull some impressive beats out of a pilot script that is moving fast to build the world and doesn’t seem especially interested in emotion.
If Quantum Leap is going to work, that’s where it needs to have its foundation. The leaping is what gets people in the proverbial door, of course, but if viewers don’t care about the players, finding out who Ben is in this week will get old fast. After one episode, there’s reason to have some optimism, but there’s still a ways to go.
Oh, and to swing back to the original again, Ben does get a version of Sam’s “oh, boy” catchphrase. It’s shit. Literally. So, you know, not your daddy’s Quantum Leap.
Quantum Leap begins to set right what once went wrong September 19th on NBC.