I’m not sure if the Quantum Leap producers really could see the future, or if they’re just really good at pivoting, but it seems significant that the latest episode of the revived show has Ben leaping into Space Shuttle Atlantis just hours before the US Space Program launches a twice rescheduled Artemis I from Cape Canaveral, laying the groundwork to bring us back to the Moon.
Following the pattern of the first episode, it’s beginning to seem like this version of Quantum Leap takes place in an alternate universe. The original show used to play a little loose with real-life history – and not just with the “kisses with history” (Buddy Holly, Marilyn, Stephen King, and Michael Jackson, to name a few). The difference is, if what we saw seemed inaccurate, that was the ‘once went wrong.' And usually whatever Sam ‘made right,' was the history we remembered.
Probably the most notable of these was the double leap in the JFK episode. After multiple hops within Lee Harvey Oswald’s life, Sam is catapulted out, right before taking the fatal shot, into a Secret Service agent, who manages to save, in Al's words – “Your swiss-cheesed mind probably doesn't remember this, but the first time, Oswald killed Jackie too.”
But while the explosion in Philly in 1985 still happened on the show, it didn’t in real life. Worse, it kinda takes away from the very real explosion a couple months prior, when police bombed the MOVE headquarters in a row house, ultimately killing 11 people.
In this second episode, Ben leaps into the Space Shuttle Atlantis, on a mission in 1998 to help construct the International Space Station (ISS). While the dates match up for building the ISS, Atlantis was not utilized between 1997 and 2000. It was actually Endeavour that dropped off the first US pieces of the ISS in December of 1998. The plot points of the mission in the episode do feel inspired by Atlantis’ 1997 mission, which included docking with (spoilers) and a joint mission.
History Doesn’t Need To Be Rewritten
And if you think I’m being nit-picky – I am. This is a time travel show about history. One of the earmarks of the original show was its adherence to historical facts, even while telling a great, compelling story. I understand the desire to play fast and loose with the facts when you’re trying to connect audiences with emotional beats. But Quantum Leap has always been more historical fiction than straight-up science fiction. And in this day and age, where geekdom is supreme and literally everything that can be broken down and debated in an article or YouTube video is, repeatedly, this is exactly what will endear the show to fans or send them scrambling.
There’s also a question of false representation. In the episode, Ben comments that he was inspired to become a physicist by the very man he leaped into. But he didn’t leap into Ellison S. Onizuka, the first American in space of Asian origin (who later died in the Challenger disaster), or Ed Lu, whose first shuttle mission ALSO shares similarities with plot points of the episode. No, he leaped into and is inspired by a fictional person. So instead of taking the chance to highlight an actual Asian astronaut – whose real life would have been an inspiration for Dr. Ben Song – and giving asian kids watching the show someone to look up to who looks like them, the producers bobbled the ball.
Historical concerns aside, the show is really enjoyable. We get some fantastic views of space, solid performances from the guest cast, including Narcos’ José Zúñiga as Mission Commander, and the show again manages to match and echo the themes between the events of Ben’s leapee life and who he was prior to the leap.
That’s probably the saving grace for the overly-packed show. Other reviewers have pointed out that the original had two leads – Sam & Al, while the new show has five, and time split between the present and the past takes away some of the magic of the leaps.
I agree, to a point. I enjoy the “back at home” cast, although I do wish they’d spend more time in Ben’s world. The classic Quantum Leap could take the time to really explore specific themes and history, and would leave Sam on his own quite a bit. So far, we rarely see Ben without Addison, and they’re spending a fair amount of time dealing with the question of why Ben leaped, and I’m guessing it won’t be resolved until the 13th or maybe 22nd episode, if they get the back nine pickup (or are even planning to do more than 13 this season).
And that end reveal will likely depend on whether or not someone's been… let's say misleading on their social media.
Who’s Who and Why
It doesn’t help that they’re spending their time pursuing Admiral Al Calavicci’s daughter, Janis, who’s an astrophysicist. It’s nice to lean into those connections with the original. The only problem is, superfans of the show know that there was already an accomplished astrophysicist in the continuity of the show – Sam’s daughter Sammie Jo, conceived during a leap. Co-creator Deborah Pratt even claimed to have pitched the idea of a continuation with Sammy Jo at the center a few years before this iteration was green-lit.
On a side note, I have a theory that maybe Sammy Jo’s accidentally responsible for the ‘evil leapers’ Sam encountered in season 5 – maybe even building Lothos (the anti-Ziggy), for similar reasons that Janis Calavicci was rejected from the new project. But that’s just me.
Thank God, the producers of the revival had the sense to take a page from Cobra Kai – bringing Susan Diol back to play Beth Calavicci. Georgina Reilly, who made her bones on the BBC show Murdoch Mysteries plays the younger Calavicci, although we get to see barely a glimpse more of her in this episode than last.
Oh, and when are we going to hear Ziggy, or have her be a bigger part of the show than the computer that keeps going down? So much for the most advanced AI maybe ever…
As I mentioned, the home base cast deal with a similar issue as the people on the shuttle – trust issues and being present, yet separated by baggage and perspective. After it being mentioned a few times in 2022, Ben demonstrates his powers of unity by bringing the shuttle crew together and launching on a semi-dangerous attempt to salvage the mission, after Addison successfully helps him avoid the fate of the man he leaped into.
That said, the stakes don’t feel as strong here. While they are allegedly life and death, there are times when you wonder, watching it, if the characters know they’re in potential peril. The show is still getting its footing, and, I think, relying too heavily on the mystery in 2022 (they’re definitely devoting more time to it than the leaps themselves) – something even LaBrea handled better, at least in the pilot (even if I can’t stand the show).
Here’s the question – will the show last beyond the four episodes NBC currently has slated? Or will it disappear faster than the Ironsides reboot? Fingers crossed NBC gives it a chance to become a Seinfeld, not a Swamp Thing.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Paul Rose Jr has worked as TV News Producer, Forensic Analyst, and Train Conductor, among many other things. He’s the former TV Editor for Infuzemag.com and owns more books, DVDs, and comics than most people have seen in their lifetimes. When he’s not writing articles, he exercises his creative muscle writing screenplays and acting in film and television in Los Angeles, CA.