When good TV exits bad: how Quantum Leap acquired one change too far

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

Keep your salacious, scowling, morally endangered 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 gazed rocky but he was also relatable, a goofy but indefatigable do-gooder with six different doctorates, some sick kickboxing moves and a core decency so unshakeable it could apparently survive the existential damage of frequent temporal displacement.

For five memorable seasons between 1989 and 1993, Sam didn’t just parrot the age-old adage about sauntering a mile in another man’s shoes( or desert boot or high heels ); he lived it. After a berserk physics venture in 1999 communicates him ping-ponging within the span of his own lifetime, Sam experiences himself zapped abruptly into strangers like a one-sided Freaky Friday. With the help of horndog hologram Al( Dean Stockwell ), Sam must intuit how to alter each current sliver of history for the better, clearing the cosmic runway for his next relief mission.

Sporadic sci-fi signifiers such as Al’s eye-searing future-zoot suits disguised Quantum Leap’s old-fashioned centre. With the only repetition factors being the two main references and Bakula’s bewildered catchphrase (” Oh boy !”), Quantum Leap was virtually an anthology succession build on vivid, ever-revolving age trappings. These were standalone justice plays- literal season capsules- that interrogated what it meant to live, task and love in the US during the course of its instability of the late 20 th century. Sam did a lot of preventing collisions and foiling assassinates but Quantum Leap baked in social issues to reinforce its thesis: that empathy is possible and should trump prejudice.

Even below-par episodes were enlivened by the daisy-chaining preview of the next escapade, a moreish cliffhanger that would disclose Sam was unexpectedly a trapeze master in mid-air, or a convict in the electric chair, or a cheesy magician about to be shish-kebabbed by a sword. By cleaning the board clear every week, Quantum Leap could claim to be essentially shark-proof.

Yet when it strayed toward novelty, such as Sam leaping into a chimp, Quantum Leap surely began to inch over the fin. There was the spooky third-season escapade where it was implied the very best doctor had entangled with the actual devil, a shocker in all sorts of ways. Increasingly, instead of normal beings with vaguely relatable questions, Sam obtained himself hijacking famed personalities such as sex therapist Dr Ruth and a pre-fame Elvis. These stunt bounces cumulatively chipped away at the show’s original foundations.

But Quantum Leap definitively jumped the shark during the premiere of its fifth and final season, when Sam reached his notorious bounce into Lee Harvey Oswald. This divisive two-parter rejected the bait of plots to present JFK’s assassin as a lone gunman. That was an unpopular creative alternative but a defendable one. The real unforgivable sin was season five, taking Mike Post’s masterful original topic- a warm, accepting bubblebath of deadening cocktail jazz- and remixing it into hateful, artificially energised sillines. If exclusively there was some road going to go and lodge that …

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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