Quantum Leap–Third Donald P. Bellisario series redux is surprisingly good

Review by C.J. Bunce

Who would have thought someone could reboot Battlestar Galactica in a smart, successful way?  Who would have thought Magnum, p.i. could get a reboot as engaging and fun as the original?  Both of these series featured the writing and ideas of Donald P. Bellisario, a name synonymous with classic 1980s television.  So it should be no surprise that a Quantum Leap sequel, even after nearly 30 years, is just as good.  What may have tripped up viewers was a lackluster marketing campaign by the studio, but once you get into a few episodes, you’ll see how steeped in the original the writers are taking their series.  We’re now six episodes into the exploits of a new leaper and a new face back home behind the leaps.  If you gave the series a pass, you may want to give it another try.

The writers have been carefully crafting a story that isn’t merely a typical reboot.  Interwoven in the fabric of this science fiction story are all kinds of throwbacks to the Scott Bakula/Dean Stockwell show that ran from 1989-1993–possibly the greatest time travel series ever to hit the small screen, and certainly a Top 10 series for the genre.  Set 30 years after Bakula’s Dr. Sam Beckett first stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished, viewers meet Dr. Ben Song, played by Top Gun: Maverick and Prodigal Son actor Raymond Lee.  Working as a physicist on the latest incarnation of Dr. Beckett’s project, he was dating the planned pilot of the project, Addison Augustine, played by Caitlin Bassett in her first television role (she’s playing her role a bit like Kate on Castle or Frankie on Whiskey Cavalier.)  Dr. Song was never intended to leap, but the series begins with him arriving in the past, stuck just like Beckett.  Augustine steps into the role of his guide from the future, the role the late Dean Stockwell perfected in the original series.

The series could continue as an anthology of “leaps of the week” like the original.  But it doesn’t.  For half of each episode viewers at last get to learn the other side of the project, which was mostly veiled in the original.  The point of this series is the same: Help the leaper find his way home.  And that retrieval effort is often more compelling than the trademark body swap of the past.  Allison works with key members of the secret Quantum Leap project, led by Ghostbusters co-star Ernie Hudson as Herbert “Magic” Williams, who brings the genre street cred to the show.  Part of the technical brains behind the project is Dr. Ian Wright, played by Mason Alexander Park, who sci-fi fans already know from Cowboy Bebop as well as The Sandman.  Park plays Wright like a futuristic wizard–he has a unique style that evokes Michael Sheen’s suave and flashy showman in Tron: Legacy.  Rounding out the team is Nanrisa Lee (Star Trek: Picard) as ex-cyber con turned project security expert Jenn Chou.  Each member of the team has his/her own secrets, slowly being revealed.  First and foremost is Hudson’s Magic Williams–a name savvy viewers will recognize from the original series.  And Ziggy is back, too–the know-it-all computer from the original.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Dr. Song has amnesia caused by his leap, so not only doesn’t he recognize fiancee/co-worker Addison, he cannot remember why he leapt in the first place.  That question is the key to this first season, and from the first scene viewers are teased pieces of the answer.  Georgina Reilly (Murdoch Mysteries) plays Janis Calavicci.  Calavicci is of course the last name of Al–Dean Stockwell’s Al–and Janis is his daughter.  Somehow she tried to take over the Quantum Leap project where her father left off, but the details are still part of the mystery.  Susan Diol, the actress who played popular Star Trek Voyager guest character Dr. Danara Pel, plays Janis’s mother, and one of Al’s many ex-wives.  She is holding back secrets, too.

Even more interesting for those who believe the series can’t exist with Sam Beckett is the clever and twisty way Beckett may just be part of the series.  Both Bakula and Stockwell appear as holograms in brief scenes, but something more is in play.  Will Scott Bakula return to play Sam?  Who knows.  But it may not be necessary to the story to have the actor back with the way the writers are taking this story back into the future.

As with Bakula’s performance, Lee doesn’t try to provide a fully inhabited creation each week–neither were nothing like we saw from Tatiana Maslany in the sci-fi series Orphan Black, for example.  But it’s that light approach that was part of the charm of the original, and that continues here.  Everything you’d expect from the original is here, and more.  Already Dr. Song has leapt into an astronaut, an undercover cop, a boxer, an Old West hero, and a bounty hunter–his first leap as a woman.  It’s the same brand of good fun as the original, and an easy to watch weekly show (or afternoon binge).  The backstory provided by the Quantum Leap team in the future is just a great bonus.

Don’t let this series pass you by.  Quantum Leap airs Monday evenings on NBC, also streaming on Peacock.

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