Universal // 1990 // 1020 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // February 8th, 2006
"He stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator...and vanished!"
Once upon a time, before Enterprise made him the unemployed actor he is today, Scott Bakula was actually one of the best actors on television. Week in and week out, on NBC's little-watched but much-loved Quantum Leap, Bakula assumed a new role as his character, Dr. Samuel Beckett, "leapt" into other peoples' existences. It was a simple, but amazingly flexible and deep concept for a show.
Unfortunately, that very flexibility and depth makes it a challenge for reviewers. Quantum Leap was really a different show each week. But for the common thread of Beckett's story tying the episodes together, it could have been considered a one-man dramatic anthology. However you want to classify it, one thing is certain: Leap was a very entertaining show. Even a decade and a half later, it holds up extremely well. Leapheads have been loyal to their show for years, and are probably rejoicing that it's finally coming out on DVD. Too bad it's getting a bare-boned treatment from Universal. But a little Leap goes a long way...
Dr. Samuel Beckett (Bakula) is a genius physicist who comes up with an interesting theory involving time travel. One thing leads to another, and suddenly Sam's bombarding himself with charged particles in the titular Quantum Leap accelerator. Zap, pop, poof. Apparently his theory was sort of correct. He's now traveled in time, but he's also jumped into someone else's consciousness. With the help of one of his co-workers, former Navy sailor Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell, Blue Velvet), and an only partially reliable supercomputer named Ziggy, Sam discovers that these leaps put him inside of people right before they're about to go through some sort of life-changing event. Once Sam puts things right -- which usually involves changing the actual historical outcome -- he leaps out of that person and into a new one. All the time, he's hoping that his next leap will be the leap back to the future...to home.
Hey -- if I cleaned that up a little, I bet it would make a good voiceover intro, no?
This "Complete Third Season" set from Universal contains the following episodes, which ran in the 1990-91 TV season:
* "The Leap Home, Part 1 -- November 25, 1969"
* "The Leap Home, Part 2 -- April 7, 1970"
* "Leap of Faith -- August 19, 1963"
* "One Strobe Over the Line -- June 15, 1965"
* "The Boogieman -- October 31, 1964"
* "Miss Deep South -- June 7, 1958"
* "Black on White on Fire -- August 11, 1965"
* "The Great Spontini -- May 9, 1974"
* "Rebel Without a Clue -- September 1, 1958"
* "A Little Miracle -- December 24, 1962"
* "Runaway -- July 4, 1964"
* "8 1/2 Months -- November 15, 1955"
* "Future Boy -- October 6, 1967"
* "Private Dancer -- October 6, 1979"
* "Piano Man -- November 10, 1985"
* "Southern Comforts -- August 4, 1961"
* "Glitter Rock -- April 12, 1974"
* "A Hunting We Will Go -- June 18, 1976"
* "Last Dance Before an Execution -- May 12, 1971"
* "Heart of a Champion -- July 23, 1955"
* "Nuclear Family -- October 26, 1962"
* "Shock Theater -- October 3, 1954"
Quantum Leap was the brainchild of Don Bellisario (JAG), who broke into the business as one of Glenn A. Larson's stable of TV people back in the 1970s. Starting as a writer for Kojak, Bellisario worked his way up to the director/producer ranks, eventually making significant contributions to Larson's Battlestar Galactica and Magnum, P.I.. His first post-Larson production -- the highly underrated Raiders of the Lost Ark ripoff Tales of the Gold Monkey -- wasn't successful. He found a bit more success with the TV version of the movie Airwolf, which ran for three seasons, before launching Quantum Leap in 1989.
From the very beginning, NBC had no real clue what kind of show they had on their hands. It was nominally a science fiction show, but all of its stories were set right here in America, and in the past -- not the future. The only science fiction to be found was in the premise itself, not the actual episodes. It was a straightforward drama laced with a good amount of humor. Although it dealt with a lot of adult themes, the show ultimately was as pure and good as any episode of Highway to Heaven; the religious subtext (is it God who is guiding Sam's leaps?) -- also a Larson trademark -- was always hanging around in the wings.
Quantum Leap ran for five seasons; at least three of those seasons are solely due to the fans' fervor for the show, as expressed by massive letter-writing campaigns during NBC's annual quest to cancel it. Given the lack of faith on the part of the network, and the constant doubt about the show's continuing existence, it's surprising how good the show turned out. The writing on Quantum Leap, although not complex by any stretch of the imagination, was solid and enjoyable. The show managed to strike a good balance between its sense of humor and the serious social commentary (on racism, gender issues, and other topical subjects) it weaved into its narratives, never becoming too preachy or too silly.
This season is one of the better Leap seasons, featuring some of Sam's more memorable leaps -- into a pregnant '50s teen, a glam rock star, the black half of an interracial couple, a professional wrestler, and male dancer "Rod the Bod." But again, it's hard to review a show like this. Each episode is an island unto itself. If you started your viewing of this series with, say, Episode 9 of this set, you wouldn't feel left out. Unlike most (if not all) of today's dramas, there's no true narrative thread linking each episode. This can be viewed as a strength, too -- you can pick up and watch an episode here or there without having to worry about losing (or ruining) the "story" of the show.
This every-episode-is-an-island nature makes Bakula's performance(s) all the more impressive. I really don't think he gets enough credit for his work on Quantum Leap. Think about it -- he had to create the character of Sam Beckett, who had a distinct personality, but he also had to create the character of whomever Sam was leaping into, because part of the show's conceit was that the person's personality "seeped" into Sam's thoughts and actions during the demonic possession...er, I mean, during the leap. That's a lot of work for an actor on a weekly drama. Somehow, Bakula always makes both Sam and the leapees into real people to whom we can relate. All these factors make Quantum Leap one of the most watchable shows in recent history. No matter what your taste in television drama, you should manage to find this inoffensive yet intelligent show appealing.
Unfortunately, the show doesn't look particularly good in this DVD set. The picture holds its color well, but is more grainy than most filmed television I've seen. The opening credits look absolutely horrible. The Dolby soundtrack is in the original mono mix -- it's passable but unspectacular. Nary an extra is to be found. It's a minimalist presentation for the show -- but you do get 22 episodes, which is hardly an insignificant amount of entertainment.
"Music may differ from televised version."
What can you say about Quantum Leap? It's a good and decent show that's unexpectedly entertaining. Each episode is a one-off story that's well-told and clever. Bakula is terrific, as is Stockwell. The end. Any questions?
Review content copyright © 2006 David Ryan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1020 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Review: Season One
* Review: Season Two