Almost immediately, audiences fell in love with not only the character of Dr. Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula) – the scientist who curiously found himself a man lost in time with the mission of setting things right that once went wrong – but also his slightly eccentric sidekick Admiral Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell) – the colleague who appeared holographically in the past usually with information required to both set the plot in motion as well as clarify what Sam’s task was in order to leap to his next adventure. Imbuing what could’ve been two cerebral characters with an almost ‘Abbott and Costello’ sensibility, the program was first-and-foremost about human beings and the choices they make that propel both the good and bad trajectories of their individual and shared existences. These were people who met people for the purposes of saving people, and Leap – unlike other shows – stayed true to its formula because it worked each and every time it was tried.
The SciFi/Fantasy show was the mastermind of veteran TV producer Donald P. Bellisario, who also credits work in such franchises as Battlestar Galactica, Tales Of The Gold Monkey, Magnum PI, Airwolf, and JAG on his impressive resume. Under the man’s stewardship, Leap went on to garner an incredible six Primetime Emmy Awards wins as well as attention from such organizations as the Academy Of Science Fiction, Fantasy, And Horror Films; the American Society Of Cinematographers; the Directors Guild Of America; the Golden Globes; and the Writers Guild Of America. It was that rarity of rarities – an intelligently-written televised adventures serial that was almost universally cherished by any and all who discovered it.
In its original run, Leap came to its conclusion with the airing of “Mirror Image” on May 5, 1993, loosely bringing the saga of Sam Beckett and Al Calavicci to its close with some controversy: as fate would have it, the episode gave our faithful leaper the chance to go back and correct Al’s first romance, thereby setting in motion a series of temporal changes to the present. Depending upon one’s interpretation of these events, the Quantum Leap Project may or may not even exist in what would’ve been Sam’s present (think “audience time”), and viewers learned that the good doctor was apparently in control of his leaps all along. The episode ended with the reveal that Sam, in fact, never returned home.
Any bit of research will tell you that the ending as aired was likely not as originally intended by Bellisario and his team. There’s been a healthy bit of suggestion that the hour was retooled somewhat due to the fact that NBC was dragging its feet over giving the program what would’ve been a sixth season renewal, likely to have been its last. Recent reportage online even goes so far as to clarify that the original premise for a sixth season would’ve seen a happily married Al Calavicci stepped into the Imaging Chamber to pursue Sam finally physically into the past with the mission of finally bringing him back home … but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. “Mirror Image” was changed to serve as a series finale.
Seriously: how do you screw up something so fondly assembled as was the original?
Well, it would appear that – first – you cast as assortment of actors almost market-tested to appeal to the widest demographic possible while leaving out any possible straight while males or any remotely normal people. (I’m guessing there’s an episode about one characters’ preferred pronouns in the offing, by the looks of things.) Next, you ignore the fact that what propelled so much audience interest from the original was the lovable friendship and chemistry displayed between the two leads and, instead, insert a heart-tugging dynamic between two lost lovers. Oh, will they get together again … or won’t they? (Why should I really care this early in the broadcast?) Lastly, you open the show with a caper that gives the lead the chance to show his ’smarts’ when what audiences tuned in for was his ‘heart.’
It goes without saying that I found “July 13th” an incredible disappoint. Actor Raymond Lee as Dr. Ben Song – arguably filling the biggest shoes in the entire Leap franchise – is so horribly out of his element here I can’t begin to imagine what producers saw in his audition … except, well, maybe his ethnicity? His deadpan, uninterested delivery even suggests that even he may have no idea why he’s in this role, so maybe he’s underplaying everything in hopes that it’ll catch his agent’s attention? While I’ll go so far as to agree that he and actress Caitlin Bassett (her character’s name is Addison Augustine, one that practically reeks of a scriptwriter’s invention) shared a nice moment before her beau leapt without explanation into the past, it was just that – a nice moment – and far too much weight was put into establishing a relationship that needed a bit more time fleshing out.
But no …
Based on the set-up of the episode, it’s pretty clear that this creative crew is playing the long game with their incarnation of Quantum Leap: Dr. Song has a secret as to why he went into the Imaging Chamber in the first place, and now that his mind has been customarily scrambled with a launch backward into history the team in his future will have to piece together a mystery that’ll likely be strung out over several episodes (if not seasons). Instead of giving audiences a traditional serial, it looks like this one is leaning more toward the telenovel; and even the premiere’s closing moment suggests we have more cast to meet in the future than we do in the past.
Fans have long held out hope that a new incarnation of Leap would finally both bring Sam home – at minimum – and perhaps fix those developments somewhat displaced in the original’s finale.
I’ll admit that I didn’t have as many quibbles with how it all came to an end – I thought it right poetic – but I realize as is almost always my case I’m in the minority. “July 13th” does suggest that there may be some tie-ins to the Al Calavicci character’s offspring (actor Dean Stockwell recently passed, so he’ll not be involved in this show). I’d also read online that NBC has allegedly asked for Scott Bakula to not appear in the show (the actor recently stated on Instagram he was not involved), so once again the powers that be aren’t interested in giving the faithful what they want.
Bad move, NBC.
But we’ll see what history has in store for your new Leap.