Judge Sandra Dozier heard the words "twenty hours of Scott Bakula goodness" and asked no further questions about this boxed set.
"This is my quest, to get to the bar. No matter how crowded, no matter how far!"—John O'Malley (John Cullum) in "Catch a Falling Star"
Quantum Leap is a show that was, if you'll excuse the pun, a little out of step with the times. When it debuted in 1989, there wasn't a lot on the air in the way of science-fiction television. In fact, sci-fi would not see a popular revival for a few more years, and the newly hatched Sci-Fi Channel would not catch on for a few more years still. Plus—a show so heavily dependent on an obscure physics theory? It was predicted that it would quietly disappear after the first season. Of course, it's always delightful when studios underestimate the audience. Instead, the show found an appreciative and instant fan base that was hungry for a new and exciting sci-fi series. Word of mouth helped it to grow and last for five seasons. Now it is finally on DVD for longtime fans to enjoy, and for new fans to get to know.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) is a genius with a string theory, one that he puts into practice in the Quantum Leap project. The idea is that he can leap backward to any point in time within his own lifetime, and therefore time travel. But under pressure to prove his theories, he steps into the accelerator chamber too early and ends up waking up in the lives of other people. He is still time traveling within his own lifetime, though, and is therefore confined to the years after approximately 1953.
Sam's body is located back at the project, but he switches consciousness with whomever he leaps into. Only animals and small children can tell that he isn't who he says he is—everyone else sees (and hears) him as the person he leapt into. His guide is Al (Dean Stockwell), the project observer and a good friend of Sam's. Unfortunately, Sam's memory got "swiss-cheesed" in the initial leap, so there are some things, sometimes significant things, that he cannot recall. Technically, Al cannot fill in the details that Sam can't remember, but he will sometimes fill in the blanks if Sam is struggling to remember something important, and he does confirm if Sam remembers something else. While Sam is a bit of a boy scout and a do-gooder, Al is a completely lecherous soul, constantly distracted by beautiful women and talking about his many conquests and marriages. Despite this, he is a good guy and a loyal friend to Sam.
Going into the second season, the twist is a direct acknowledgment of God as the person controlling the Quantum Leap project. In theory, Sam should have leaped home by now, but they think that God might be sending Sam to "put right what once went wrong" in the lives of others. None of these lives are of the earth-shattering, world-changing quality that you might expect the Big Man to get involved in…these are the lives of everyday folks with everyday concerns. Sometimes Sam will affect something more well-known, an effect called the "Kiss With History"—for instance, in "Good Morning, Peoria" he meets and inspires Chubby Checker to do the twist.
There are three flipper discs in the Season Two box, and they contain the following episodes:
• Honeymoon Express
Each episode has the original credits as broadcast, which means that these morph slightly throughout the season. We start with the music-only opening and recap of past events at the beginning of each episode and gradually move to the spoken introduction (long version) that replaces the recap of past leaps in favor of explaining the project. Each episode also has the original "leap out" sequences at the end, showing the next leap for Sam. This is both good and bad. Good, because it preserves the original air date leaps, which repeated some of the shows from the first season, but bad because we don't ever get a chance to see the "leap out" sequence for the actual second-season episode that came next. Personally, I would rather have seen these sequences integrated back into the episode, mostly because I like to see the way they edit down the opener of the next episode for the "leap out" teaser.
Most fans will tell you two things about Quantum Leap: One is that it was a well-written show, and the other is that it was a well-cast show. In particular, the two recurring leads, Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell, carried the burden of whether the show would sink or swim, based on their performances, believability as characters, and proficiency with the scientific aspects of the story. With such an intimate principal cast, no amount of good writing would have made the show better had these two not hit it off and sold the premise to audiences. Stockwell got to stretch his comedic talents by playing a lecherous but lovable advisor, and Bakula's natural charm and all-American good looks made him the perfect choice for Dr. Beckett. Their chemistry together was the foundation of the show.
In terms of casting the show, the supporting cast of guest stars helped to tell the story each week, and Season Two features several emotional performances that stand out—in particular, the wrongly accused black woman (Tyra Ferrell) who will not betray her white employer in "So Help Me God," the grieving father (James Sutorius) who cannot accept his son's death in "Thou Shalt Not," the struggling brother (John D'Aquino) of a retarded man who is stuck between the disapproval of his wife and his boss in "Jimmy," and a Native American (Frank Sotonoma Salsedo) who wants to die in his homeland rather than endure his illness in a sterile nursing home in "Freedom." The second season also features memorable performances from excellent character actors who went on to fame in other long-running series, notably John Cullum (Holling Vincoeur on Northern Exposure) in "Catch a Falling Star" and Patricia Richardson (Jill Taylor on Home Improvement) in "Good Morning, Peoria."
San gets himself into all kinds of situations, from a cop to a fugitive, a ghostbuster to a suburban mom, a lawyer to a trapeze artist, and many other scenarios. Half the fun of the show was just in seeing how Sam would handle each new situation and persona. Things can get quite technical as he leaps into bodies other than that of a middle-aged white male of around the same shape and size. Sam's first leap into the body of a woman makes for an interesting episode ("What Price Gloria?") as he fends off the randy advances of coworkers and even Al, revealing that Al sees Sam as whomever Sam has leaped into instead of as his true self (Al only sees Sam's face when he looks at the person in the waiting room back at project headquarters). Sam also leaps into a blind man ("Blind Faith") but is still able to see, and leaps into a retarded man ("Jimmy") but still has his own mental faculties. These types of leaps challenge our perspective of the person he has leaped into, and good scripts took advantage of this fact, turning situations on their ear.
As many sci-fi shows have done, Quantum Leap often confronted situations considered too unpleasant to discuss in the everyday world. Racism, sexism, discrimination against the mentally handicapped, and the morality of crime are all portrayed this season. One of my favorite episodes is "The Americanization of Machiko," about a Japanese war bride who is openly looked down on by a small-town society. The customs of her people and the time (1953) make her stand out, and her naïveté about America allows others to take advantage of her. It's a look at racism that comes from both fear (the mother who would not allow herself to accept a foreigner into the family because she cannot forgive herself for condemning the out-of-wedlock pregnancy of her own daughter) and ignorance (the war veteran who directs all his anger and frustration at Machiko). I was also moved by "Jimmy," mostly because of the strong and believable performances of Jimmy's adoring brother and his wife, who did not want to accept Jimmy and merely tolerated him out of duty to her husband. As harsh and politically incorrect as her attitude was, the actress who played her (Laura Harrington) makes her alienation of Jimmy so poignant and real that anyone who is uncomfortable around the mentally retarded cannot help but recognize themselves and see the alternative point of view. "They just don't know you like I do," Frank tells Jimmy, and you seem to hear years of frustration and even guilt in that phrase. Outstanding performances like the ones in this episode give added weight to these themes.
Image and sound quality for the episodes in Season Two fare slightly better than they did in Season One, which might have to do with the series getting picked up (after being a mid-season replacement in Season One) and deserving of better storage procedures. The color balance is very nice, with rich depth and a fine amount of detail. There is very little age-related wear on the image for most episodes, and only a slight bit of grain to be seen elsewhere. When compared to recent syndicated broadcasts on the Sci-Fi Channel, colors and overall tone are a little darker here, and don't look so washed out or over-bright. Sound quality is pretty good, with most episodes sporting a clear transfer and robust stereo surround. Although there is some new music for the DVD release (see the Rebuttal Witnesses for a more detailed explanation of this), replacement music is matched beautifully, with no noticeable overlap or pitch/clarity change from the surrounding original material. ADR is more expertly done in this season, as well, with very few of the obviously looped dialogue sequences that were present in Season One. As visual effects go, Al's holographic effects look better, too, and there are fewer instances of edge shimmering for the scenes where he steps back into the bright doorway out of the imaging chamber. Overall, a great-looking image for an early nineties low-budget television show.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unfortunately, fans will notice two things right away: The music changed significantly in Season Two, and the promised extras on Disc Three are nowhere to be found. I hunted around, thinking maybe they might be hidden, but had no luck. This is probably just an oversight, where planned extras were not completed or were left off at the last minute but the box wasn't changed. It is very misleading, though, especially if fans of the first boxed set were expecting more of the same interviews and goodies featuring Bakula and Stockwell.
More disturbing, however, is the change in music. On the one hand, for those who remember the original series (or who have fuzzy VHS recordings of the shows), the change of music feels like a change in the essential message or feel of the show. Certain episodes have some or all of the original music, but others do not. Significantly, "Good Morning, Peoria," an episode about a rock-and-roll station struggling to make it in 1959, has several replacements (but not the Chubby Checker song "The Twist," which is key to this episode).
On the other hand, it is well known that most major studios have faced struggles over DVD releases of television shows with original music. In most cases, copyrights either expire or are not granted for DVD release without negotiating a different contract and (of course) a different fee. There is little that studios can do about this unless they want to spend a lot of money, which would drive up the cost of the resulting boxed set. Consider the case of Northern Exposure, whose first-season boxed set retails for $60 and contains just seven episodes. The high cost of the music rights was the reason, and even at that, some of the more incidental music had to be replaced. Fans were outraged by the price, so it's really a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't" when it comes to securing rights for original music.
Again, it's all a matter of degree. Purists will probably be outraged at the replaced music in Quantum Leap, especially after all the original music was retained for the Season One set. However, the replacements are so skillfully done that the mood is not spoiled in any of the scenes. Key songs that characters refer to directly or hum along with are still there, and the only time it gets even slightly weird is when kids are boogying to the Twist in "All Americans" but the original song "Let's Twist Again" isn't playing. However, considering the reasonable asking price for this boxed set (around $45 for 22 episodes), perhaps the musical trade-off is worth it. That is up to the consumer to decide.
That being said, the lack of extras (which, let's face it, probably wouldn't have been as extensive as for the Season One box, anyway) and the change in music should not deter too many people from purchasing this boxed set. Quantum Leap has never looked this good, and the effort to preserve the original opening sequences is a great improvement over the generic syndication release that anyone who didn't record the original broadcast episodes has had to deal with for the past ten years. This is still a reasonably priced, attractively packaged set that takes up a heck of a lot less room on the old media shelf than a bunch of VHS tapes.
The adventures of Sam and Al continue, and I couldn't be happier. Fans have been waiting for this show to come to DVD and, despite the musical substitutions, this remains an excellent way to see this inventive and entertaining series. With an over-bright syndication broadcast image as the most recent memory of this show, fans should also appreciate the clear and rich quality of the DVD transfer itself. Enjoy.
I would leap through time with Scott Bakula any day…Quantum Leap: The Complete Second Season is hereby pardoned for any crimes against musical appreciation.
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