By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Entertainment Reporter
My husband the scientist and I are fond of original Quantum Leap and while we were eager to see this new version, particularly because it featured an East Asian American male lead, we were utterly disappointed and give it two stars. That might be an unfair assessment because it is generally best to look at least three episodes before passing judgment. Yet reviewers were only given access to one episode with a caveat that “this isn’t final air quality and elements may change prior to broadcast.”
After watching the review streaming video, I watched the episode in the form it aired. There were few changes. The script is still heavily weighed down by exposition and too light on humor and wit. So many opportunities to bring layered cultural or historical commentary or build emotional connections are wasted.
This version of Quantum Leap isn’t a reboot of the original series which ran from 1989-1993. Instead, this 2022 version takes place 30 years later and both Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) and his best friend, Admiral Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell) are part of its history and seen using archival footage. The episode opens with white letters on a black screen explaining:
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…
This point is also explained in the dialogue. Yet time travel is a regular fixture of science fiction, including television series, so the necessity to keep explaining seems ridiculous, particularly if you re-watch the first episode of the original.
The new series begins with a mystery woman who is alone in a spacious lab which we later learn is the Quantum Leap accelerator lab. She tells herself: “That can’t be right.” Then, using her smartphone, she contacts Ben Song (Lee).
Ben is with his lab crew–security person Jenn Chou (Nanrisa Lee), computer geek Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park) and the boss, Herbert “Magic” Williams (Ernie Hudson)–at his spacious apartment with many other guests, reluctantly hosting his engagement to Addison Augustine (Caitlin Bassett). No parental units seem to be around so Ben, who hates small talk and public speaking, gives a short speech during which he describes 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.
Soon after, a series of text messages force him to abruptly leave the party and rush to the lab where he suits up and leaps into the past. He finds himself confused and looking at the leather-wrapped steering wheel in the driver’s seat of a van. It’s, as the episode title tells us, July 13th, 1985.
Addison in the form of a holograph finds him, but Ben doesn’t know her. This time-leap induced amnesia also happened to Sam Beckett (“Genesis: Part I“).
On July 13, the Live Aid benefit concerts in London and Philadelphia raised funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. Yet how this ties in to any theme of the episode wasn’t readily apparent to me. The ultimate goal of Ben’s new crew is a jewelry heist from the Museum of Modern Art in Philly. This could have been a slick heist and it’s hard to resist a comparison to the series Leverage because during the heist the word “leverage” is used. This theft is simple, brutal and not particularly realistic. Like Live Aid, the cultural reference to the specific jewel, the Hope Diamond, is not interwoven into the plot. They could have substituted an imaginary jewel and had the same low impact.
So much time is spent on unnecessary exposition, particularly back at the Quantum Leap Accelerator, that the audience never really gets to know the person Ben is supposed to be helping and that person’s family. The man in question has a sick wife and because their insurance dropped them and they were forced to mortgage their restaurant. Now the bank has foreclosed. They also have a daughter, but we don’t really get to know her. Contrast that with the wives of the test pilots that the audience gets to know (along with the test pilots) during the original first two episodes from 1989.
The writers also decided they needed a tango because all jewelry thieves, like all spies, can tango? Now that’s a trope that should have writers asking 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 then, what really is tango culture in itself?
Tango dancing is very specialized in practice and in attempted practice. Even though two pop stars have released tangos (Shakira’s 2001 “Objection” tango and Jazmine Sullivan’s 2008 “Bust Your Windows”), it is highly unlikely that an ordinary groups of musicians or a DJ would 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 ). My husband and I have tested this out for over a decade.
I also want to ask a more generalized question: How does the specific song Por una cabeza and its lyrics tie into this plot? In the original, there is a pensive surprise snippet of the song, “Que Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much which I thought tied in well to the series in the second episode of TOS Season 1.
The 2022 series does try to tie in Stockwell’s character, Al. Al supposedly died the year before and the actor Dean Stockwell did actually die last year (1936-2021) and the episode is dedicated to him. But Al did have a daughter.
Writing credit has been given to the original creators Donald P. Bellisario, Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt ( both of 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 face computer problems. At the apartment, Addison finds Ben’s smartphone and plays a recorded message he left where he tells her that “This is something bigger than us” but he will “find my way home to you.” But Ben Song is left suited up as an astronaut being launched into space.
I hope the writing will get crisper and will avoid name-dropping of famous things and events in favor of developing stories of the people around the person Ben inhabits. We could also probably spend less time admiring the set design of the Quantum Leap Accelerator and the advanced computer affectionately known as Ziggy. Perhaps more will be revealed about the romance between Ben and Addison and we’ll learn more about Sam and Al’s lives in the last 30 years as the search is on for Al’s daughter.
The new Quantum Leap premiered on Monday, 19 September 2022 on NBC and is available to stream. Episodes of the original are available on Roku channel. For a longer discussion on this episode of the new Quantum Leap, visit my blog Age of the Geek.
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