22 January 2009

Quantum Leap: Season One

Groundbreaking Quantum Leap Still Potent
By Kristin Battestella

Quantum Leap - The Complete First Season I remember seeing the 1989 premiere of the neo classic science fiction series Quantum Leap. It’s the type of sf I love: mind boggling in its causes, scientifically sound, witty and humorous, yet carrying something more. This was one of the few shows that my whole family watched together, even my sister the anti sci-fi! The extra charm of Quantum Leap is still silencing time travel nay sayers and giving relevant commentary about the 20th century.

“Theorizing that one could time-travel within his own lifetime…Dr. Sam Beckett prematurely stepped into the Quantum Accelerator, and vanished. …”

The opening sequence of Quantum Leap sets up each episode and provides everything you need. The first few moments re-establish the science of Sam’s leaps through time, his desire to help others, and his wish to simply return home. Each episode then follows a similar, but forgivable, sentimental pattern. Sam leaps into his next seemingly disastrous case, then receives future advice from a hologram named Al and an advanced computer named Ziggy. The person he has switched with is held in an empty chamber in the future, and we always get a creative mirror shot or reflection of who Sam’s host is. Is the science or the science fiction that important in Quantum Leap? Actually, no. Should we accept nothing but greatness from television genius Donald P. ‘Battlestar Galactica Airwolf Magnum PI Jag NCIS’ Bellisario? Yes.

For years before his return to sf television for Star Trek: Enterprise, Scott Bakula was synonymous with Dr. Sam Beckett. While I loved Enterprise, my mom would complain that Bakula just didn’t look right as anything but Sam. Dr. Beckett is highly intelligent, but his random journey, humility, and belief that his leaps have a higher purpose carry over to the viewer. Bakula’s easy acting style and Capra everyman instantly make Sam likeable, along with the peculiar situations in each episode. Whether its an angry, serious, dramatic turn or a singing body switcheroo played for the laughs, Bakula excels at the changes needed for each episode while keeping Sam’s motivations at heart.

Likewise Golden Globe winner and television veteran Dean Stockwell is up to the task as womanizer and oft married Admiral Al Calavicci. His wise cracks and wayward analysis of the past, present, and future add a real life flair to the leap of the faith the viewer is asked to take. Despite his humor, Al is a serious soul at heart, the lone support and connection Sam has to his proper time and place. Al is the only friend, father, and support Sam has. Truly it is the pair that makes Quantum Leap. Can we pull out the buddy cop clich├ęs? Why not!

Today some may find Quantum Leap’s obvious use of science fiction as a vehicle to create social commentary a bit heavy handed or over the top. How many times will Sam leap into an African American or a woman? We get it! Particularly in later seasons, Leap stretches its premise by having Sam leap too close to or even into famous historical figures. The pilot and six episodes of Season One were, however, shocking and brand new at the time Quantum Leap premiered on NBC. It was before grunge, Nirvana, The X-Files, and conspiracies theories; we were coming off Wall Street and the first George Bush. Before the first Gulf War, people were still yuppies and had money and big hair. It was a time when things were relatively good (or at least glossy), and Back to the Future was as heavy as science fiction got. Then along comes Quantum Leap with all its reflections on race relations, homosexuality, Vietnam, abuse, mental illness, women’s rights, and faith. Topics that, believe it or not, were still relatively taboo at the time. Thankfully, audiences and critics took notice, and in 1990 Quantum Leap earned Emmy nominations for Best Drama, Lead Actor, and Supporting Actor- acknowledgements unheard of for a quote genre or science fiction series.

Although Season One is perhaps not the best the series has to offer, it is a fine and proper place to begin. The two hour pilot establishes the premise of the Quantum Leap project and the format of the show. With only eight hours here, one can easily plunge into Quantum Leap guilt free. Teri Hatcher fans will enjoy her fine guest performance in the second episode ‘Star Crossed’. They may be obvious now, but the homages and hints of history were fun touches back in the day. Season One gives us shades of Watergate and Buddy Holly, along with Driving Miss Daisy race relations in ‘The Color of Truth.’ Maybe these themes aren’t a big deal to the young folks, but boomers will appreciate the Bogart-esque finale ‘Play It Again, Seymour.’

Quantum Leap has little effects to speak of, which is probably why the masses were tricked into such acclaim. Beyond the opening and closing fancy blue leaps, the obligatory mirror shot, and Al’s holographic comings and goings, Quantum Leap looks like any other regular series. Sure one week Sam and Al were in 1930s Alabama, then maybe the 60s the following episode, but these easily recreated recent histories keep Leap looking fresh today. If youngsters think it looks dated, you can tell them its supposed to look that way! But I must say, the few and far between depictions of the future and some of Al’s funky futuristic get ups have not stood the test of time. Oh boy!

There are a few technical mishaps on the DVD release of Quantum Leap Season 1, namely the music and score. The great theme song is still there, but rights to all those great songs don’t come cheap, so some of the classic tunes from the series have been changed for video release. We are however treated to some behind the scenes goodness, subtitles, and games.

As kids, my nieces used to grumble when I switched on Quantum Leap, but after a few forced viewings, they wanted to know where Sam’s next leap would take him. When the series was in regular time and rotation on the Sci-Fi Channel, my mother would come home like clockwork and put it on. Quantum Leap is the show for science fiction lovers who don’t admit they like science fiction. It’s serious stories, honest cast, and timeless morals never get old. If you’re old enough to understand right and wrong, you’re old enough to watch Quantum Leap. With affordable DVDs; reasonable rental sources; online options; and occasional marathons on the Sci-Fi Channel; there’s no reason for you not to appreciate Quantum Leap.


thebonebreaker said...

Like your sister, my wife is not a huge sci-fi fan, though she too loves this show! :-)

Great review!

Kristin Battestella said...

I hear you Bone. My sister hates Blake's 7, but I saw her favorite episode while reviewing for QL Season 3.