Theorizing that one could time travel within his own life time, Dr Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished. He woke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on the journey is AL, an observer from his own time, that only Sam can see and hear. And so, Dr Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap, will be the leap home….”
If I had to make a list of the Top 10 TV Shows that have made an impression in my life, then Quantum Leap would be in it. It may look out of place next to the likes of Breaking Bad and The Shield, but growing up in the early 90’s watching Dr Sam Beckett leaping through time and space on the English channel, BBC 2 as back then SKY was a luxury for rich people, played such a huge part in my childhood that certain things to this day brings back memories of episodes long forgotten in the back of my mind.
There was just something so simple but brilliant about the concept created by Donald Bellisario, which if we look back now was basically just a Sci-Fi version of The Little Hobo, with a man replacing the dog, who would enter peoples lives and change them for the better. It weren’t easy back in those days on the American Network to get a Time Travel show on air, but somehow Quantum Leap instantly created a massive following not just in its homeland but everywhere around the world.
The concept was brilliant. A genius scientist Dr Sam Beckett decided to create a Quantum Leap project to prove to the world that Time Travelling in your own life time was possible. The very first scene of the show, we saw Sam step into the accelerator, surrounded by blue light….and vanish. Sam was right, it was possible to time travel, but unfortunately the experiment went a little ka-ka. He somehow found himself in another body. That of a pilot named Tom, which at first Sam is confused and bewildered as the experiment had made his mind full of holes, a condition later dubbed “Swiss Cheese Effect!”. What we find out later, thanks to his partner on the project Al, who can appear as a hologram that only Sam could see and hear, from information by the smart computer Ziggy that Sam created back in his own time, is that for Sam to come home, he needs to put a wrong to right, as Tom is all set to die while testing a new plane. If Sam can somehow stop that from happening, then, he should “leap” out of his body and find himself back home. Sadly for Sam, while he saves the young man’s life, he does leap, but into someone else who needs help and then into someone else….and someone else….and…….well you get the plot of it.
By the time we got to season two, the concept was well drilled. Sam would leap into a certain someone at the start of each episode (followed by the shows catchphrase “Oh Boy!”) and needed to find out what bad incident was going to happen and how he could stop it. This information was given by Al and the help of Ziggy , while the concept changed each week from something simple like stopping a married couple from divorcing, to making a Japanese wife accepted by an American Family, to political angles like Racism in the 50’s, and if Sam was unlucky, to more darker cases like murder and conspiracies.
Helped by the fact that the show had two stars that were born for the roles. Sam was played with fantastic acting range by the quite brilliant Scott Bakula who in five memorable seasons portrayed everything and everyone from sexually harassed women, to chimpanzees, on to Lee Harvey Oswald and would you believe Elvis himself.
His partner or as Sam refers to him in the Season One opener as his Tonto to his Lone Ranger, US Navy Rear Admiral Albert Calavicci was played with relish by Dean Stockwell. His Al, always carrying that futuristic remote control and appearing from a door that would shoot up and down, was a sex mad loner, who failed many times with marriage and relationships simply because he never quite got over the loss of his first wife Beth who remarried after wrongly being told that Al had died when in fact he was a POW in a Vietnam Base camp!. It was this story arc that would play two major parts in the shows run that resulted in a sad ending that stunned and shocked fans after it was aired.
Memorable episodes included “Jimmy” a Down Syndrome child that would be put into a Mental home if Sam could not get him a job. This episode helped me personally as just before this was aired, my brother was born with Down Syndrome and being a young lad, it helped me understand the condition more than any words or books could have. Jimmy was such a popular episode that Sam leaped in to him twice, the second time though led to the stunning revelation of an Evil Leaper that puts wrong what Sam puts right. Other episodes included the three-part stunner Trinity about the disappearance of a young girl that spanned across two decades, Sam losing it in a Mental home, Al and Sam swapping roles after a lightening strike, to the jaw dropping JFK two parter which had Sam become Lee himself.
We also saw Sam create famous landmarks of this earth. His telling of horror stories to a young lad Steve who at the end had the surname King. His singing of “Peggy Sue!” to a young Buddy Holly. His moonwalk dance to a young Mikey, Telling the story of Rocky to a boy called Sly, and advising a young Donald Trump to invest in the New York real estate (all on you Sam) and many more including Watergate and Woody Allen.
My favourite though was the episode when Sam had leaped into a Cop and was told by Al that he was there to stop a woman from remarrying. Each and every time Sam saw Al in this episode his appearance started to change from calm to stressed and nervous, the clean cut image replaced with stubble and a look that lacked of sleep. Its only when it was coming to the end of the episode Sam worked out that he was actually there to stop his partner from being gunned down in duty and the woman that Al had told him to stop from dating was in fact his wife Beth. Sam who only played by the rules refused to let Beth know that Al was alive and in the end we saw Beth dancing alone to Ray Charles Georgia with Al looking at her and then dancing slowly with her. He whispers he loves her then vanishes but as soon as he has gone, Beth somehow hears his words, and is left heartbroken when she realises she is still all alone and breaks down and cries. Yes it may have been a riff of GHOST but To this day, I still can not hear Georgia without thinking of that scene…..its also that scene that gets replayed in the final ever episode of the show, that unlike LOST manages to create a finale so out of this world that you can not help but get a tear in your eye.
The end has caused much debate. The last episode had Sam leap into himself, at a bar where a bartender named Al knows more than he should about what Sam has been doing. All around him are faces of people who he has helped through the years. Many fans take this as Sam was actually dead all along and was helping people from beyond the afterlife. I disagree though. Through out Quantum Leap, Sam and Al believed someone was guiding Sam on to each mission, a higher power and I believe even now, fate took shape in the form of that bartender. Sam leaped there for the simple reason to have a bit of time out. Even the bartender tells him that the missions now are going to get harder, a scene that comes across so tragic as Sam actually breaks down and says he just “wants to go home!. But he realises he can’t as it finally dawns on him what his next mission would be. To save his friend Al.
The final scene saw Sam leap back into the room where Beth was dancing to tell her that Al had never died and he was coming home. This resulted in Al and Beth never divorcing, giving Al the life he had always wanted. But this came to a cost for poor Sam, as it meant he and his best friend had never met, never started Quantum Leap together and poor Sam was now all alone, leaping through time forever, which the caption at the end of the show tells us…….”Dr Sam Beckett never returned home”…..
It was a heart breaking finale, thought up by the writers who were unsure if the show was to return for a sixth season. Originally there was a different plan. The original ending actually had a wonderful cliff-hanger with somehow Al remembering Sam even though he was still with Beth, and they had lost contact with the brilliant Scientist. The only way Sam could be found was if Al himself went into the Quantum Leap Accelerator, and as he did, he too leaped! The final image of Season 5 would have been Al looking at himself in a mirror and seeing this blonde stunner looking back with Al then muttering the words “Oh boy!” and Season 6 would have been quite a wonderful ride!
Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell are totally outstanding throughout the show. Scott singing and dancing, being required to do roles that you would not believe, its to his credit that you always believe in him no matter who he is, and I have never seen another actor tested in such a demanding role.
Its with great shame that the studio didn’t show patience by awarding another season. While at home, the figures were dwindling, the massive fan base around the world should have been enough to have kept it going but sadly on May 5th 1993 the show was officially cancelled, leaving behind a horde of despairing fans and the writers to come up with that infamous ending that even spelt Sam’s name wrong in the caption
There is talk these days of this show being remade, but I very much doubt that they could capture the feel and mood of this. Everything seems right, a chemistry that can not be matched and despite finishing 24 years ago, it is still popular and creating new fans to this day simply for its timeless quality on show.
For me, I am safe in the knowledge that Sam is still out there, putting right from wrong, and hoping one day soon, he will finally get his wish and return home……..