Fondly remembered by fans and TV critics alike, Quantum Leap is the story of Dr. Sam Beckett, an uber-genius with six doctorates who is desperate to prove his theory of time travel. With his 'leaping' project on the verge of shutdown, Sam decides to risk his own life by entering the Project Accelerator!
Quantum Leap: Originally broadcast from March 26, 1989 to May 5, 1993
Leaving behind a brilliantly late '80s interpretation of the future, Sam (Scott Bakula) leaps from body to body - materialising at different points in history to put things right that once went wrong. Sam's memory is disrupted by the leaping process, leaving him with a "Swiss cheese brain" - but luckily project observer Al (Dean Stockwell) is able to guide his friend, as a neurological hologram...
Armed with hybrid computer Ziggy, the snappily dressed, cigar-smoking Al is always around to advise Sam on what's required of him before he can take the next leap. But some mysterious force always prevents Dr. Beckett from simply returning home - "God or Time or something was just waiting for your quantum leap to correct a mistake," Al suggests in the pilot.
Even Al's help wasn't always enough - leaping into a new body, Sam would often find himself in a rather trying situation, lacking the necessary skills to pass himself off as the person he was supposed to be...
What's more, he never knew exactly who he was until he looked in the mirror - in an early episode, Sam's disappointed to lose cowgirl Tess (Kari Lizer) to the strapping Wayne (Marshall R. Teague), until he discovers that he's inhabiting the body of a gawky, balding man.
One of the strengths of this premise was the variety it offered - Quantum Leap was essentially a different show each week. It was science-fiction, sure, but the series also become a gangster drama, a detective thriller, an epic romance - the list goes on...
The nature of Sam's mission would also change from week to week. One episode might require him to patch up a relationship between a husband and wife, while another would see him involved in pivotal moments in history - the JFK assassination and Watergate scandal both cropped up across the show's four-year run.
A consequence of all this leaping around in history was that Quantum Leap would often confront social issues too. Race, gender and politics all came under the microscope, while one particularly memorable episode - 1989's 'Jimmy' - saw Sam leap into the body of a young man with Down's syndrome. In 1964, he's branded as "retarded" and bullied by ignorant thugs, including one played by a young Michael Madsen!
Sam was always hoping that his next leap would be the leap home, but as early as the pilot episode, he admitted to himself, "I could be bouncing around in time forever". And so it was ultimately to be...
In series finale 'Mirror Image', Sam materialises in a tavern, where he's met by an enigmatic barman (Bruce McGill), who may or may not be God. Oh boy, indeed...
As events unfold, Sam learns that he is in fact in control of his leaping - he could've returned home any time he wanted. Desperate to get back, but honour bound to continue righting wrongs, Sam keeps on leaping... forever.
Thanks to his friend, Al is reunited with his true love Beth (Susan Diol), but Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home. It's a melancholy but in many ways perfect ending - Quantum Leap always provided plenty of humour and fun japes, but at its heart was a real emotional core.
We've come this far without even mentioning our two leads. As Sam, Scott Bakula has a natural charm and likeability - the perfect everyman to guide the audience through a series of madcap adventures. He's perfectly complimented by Dean Stockwell, whose spirited performance is frequently hilarious and at times quite touching.
The strength of the show's central duo meant that Quantum Leap appealed to more than just avid sc-fi fans - the relationship between Bakula and Stockwell is one of the show's real strengths.
A terrific science fiction premise, two rock-solid lead performances and an overwhelming sense of fun - Quantum Leap had all these things, and Mike Post's memorably jaunty theme tune too! Rumours of a movie remake abound, but we'd suggest tracking down the original - all five seasons are available now on DVD!
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