When good Tv moves bad: how Quantum Leap became one change too far

The time-travel show used its man-in-another-mans-body tool to demonstrate that pity trumps racism. Then Dr Sam turned up as Lee Harvey Oswald

Keep your salacious, scowling, morally compromised antiheroes. Doctor Sam Beckett– Quantum Leap’s time-hopping samaritan- was dependably the opposite, a sort of uncle hero. As played by the square-jawed Scott Bakula, Sam may have ogled rugged but he was also relatable, a goofy but indefatigable do-gooder with six different doctorates, some sick kickboxing moves and a core modesty so unshakeable it could apparently live the existential damage of frequent temporal displacement.

For five memorable seasons between 1989 and 1993, Sam didn’t simply parrot the age-old adage about sauntering a mile in another man’s shoes( or half boot or high heels ); he lived it. After a haywire physic venture in 1999 sends him ping-ponging within the encompas of his own lifetime, Sam experiences himself zapped hurriedly into strangers like a one-sided Freaky Friday. With the aid of horndog hologram Al( Dean Stockwell ), Sam must intuit how to alter each current shred of biography for the better, clearing the planetary runway for his next mercy mission.

Sporadic sci-fi signifiers such as Al’s eye-searing future-zoot suits disguised Quantum Leap’s old-fashioned soul. With the only repetition parts being the two main reputations and Bakula’s bewildered catchphrase (” Oh son !”), Quantum Leap was virtually an collection succession build on color, ever-revolving period trappings. These were standalone justice plays- literal day capsules- that interrogated what it meant to live, project and affection in the US during the course of its disturbance of the late 20 th century. Sam did a lot of preventing coincidences and foiling slayings but Quantum Leap baked in social issues to reinforce its thesis: that pity is possible and should trump prejudice.

Even below-par episodes were livened by the daisy-chaining preview of the next escapade, a moreish cliffhanger that they are able to disclose Sam was abruptly a trapeze artist in mid-air, or a felon in the electric chair, or a cheesy magician about to be shish-kebabbed by a sword. By embroiling the board clear each week, Quantum Leap could claim to be essentially shark-proof.

Yet when it turned toward novelty, such as Sam leaping into a chimp, Quantum Leap surely began to inch over the fin. There was the ghostly third-season chapter where it was implied the very best doctor had entangled with the actual demon, a shocker in all sorts of ways. Increasingly, instead of ordinary beings with vaguely relatable difficulties, Sam noted himself hijacking famed luminaries such as copulation healer Dr Ruth and a pre-fame Elvis. These stunt changes cumulatively chipped away at the show’s original foundations.

But Quantum Leap definitively climbed the shark during the premiere of its fifth and final season, when Sam manufactured his notorious leaping into Lee Harvey Oswald. This divisive two-parter ignored the seduce of plots to present JFK’s assassin as a lone gunman. That was an unpopular artistic alternative but a defendable one. The real unforgivable sin was season five, taking Mike Post’s masterful original theme- a very warm, welcoming bubblebath of allaying cocktail jazz- and remixing it into objectionable, artificially energised nonsense. If simply there was some behavior going to go and fasten that …

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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