Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Quantum Leap (1989-93)

Every once in a while a television series comes along that brings a fresh and interesting twist to a familiar genre. For me one of the best shows to do this in the nineties was Quantum Leap. It was time traveling entertainment with a history lesson thrown in for free, all be it American history. Sure there have been several time travel shows before and yes this show did follow the familiar theme of hero solves a problem and stops the bad guys every week with the help of his sidekick. But it did have a unique twist.

After Sam leaps Al is always on hand to help...... sometimes.

Usually this kind of show is not memorable from episode to episode at all as they are so similar. Classic shows like 'The A Team' seem to suffer from this a little in my opinion. Ask yourself, Can you remember more than half a dozen specific story lines from all those episodes of 'The A Team'? Probably not. All that you'll probably remember is what usually happened every episode.

Some memorable characters that Sam played

Hannibal in disguise, Murdock being broken out of a mental institute or doing something crazy, Face charming a girl / conning a guy, B.A not wanting to get on a plane and being drugged, a close shave with the army colonel who is hunting them down and then the third act montage of supposed A-Team hands building and welding gadgets, weapons and van accessories. Difficult to remember anything really specific. I'm sure television producers and writers want their shows to be like this. There is a certain strength with familiarity and routine, people know what they're getting and what to expect, but too much repetition can quickly become boring. No cliffhanger or wondering what will happen next episode. For me that makes it more of a weakness.

In more than one episode Sam had to play a ladies part.

The unique twist in Quantum Leap is that not only does Sam Beckett travel through time but every episode he's Sam Beckett playing the part of someone else. A blind pianist, a boxer who throws fights, a prototype jet test pilot, A black servant to an old white lady in the fifties, a baseball has been, a beautiful young woman, a nerdy vet, a pimple faced boy racer. Our hero was all these characters and more and because each episode had a different lead character acted out by the actual lead we can remember many specific stories. We didn't get a cliffhanger as such but we did get a brief glimpse of the situation and character that Sam would leap into the following week. It was actually better than a traditional cliffhanger.

A spotty teenager and yet another lady.

I don't know how accurate the facts were for each episode but I'd like to think that, when you were told the year and shown the event in that period of American history, it was at least 90% accurate. Each episode tried to use real history to flesh out the conflicts and characters for specific time periods. It seemed to give the story lines a bit more meat. For someone that knows hardly anything about American history it was great.

A great idea brought to life by great actors.

The two main characters, Sam Beckett played by Scott Bakula and Al the hologram sidekick played by Dean Stockwell, had great chemistry. There was drama and comedy in equal measure from the banter between these two likeable characters. Another great concept was Sam's memory loss or as Al called it 'Swiss cheesed memory'. Al had to fill in some of the holes in Sam's memory after a leap, but not all of them so as not to shock him or reveal bad news. The final great concept was that Sam would be totally unaware of the problem he needed to solve. Al would pop up and use his little mini computer (how ahead of it's time was that) to communicate with a bigger computer to calculate the probability of which 'mission' Sam was supposed to complete to leap again and eventually leap back to his own time. It was these actors and concepts that pulled the show out of mediocrity. The shows creator Donald P. Bellisario also had a decent track record having had a hand in creating shows like Magnum P.I and Airwolf. I heard the show was not a huge success to begin with, possibly down to bad scheduling, but I loved the show from the first episode and it did last for five seasons.

Cool effects for a television series from the late eighties.

Last but not least I thought the theme tune for the series by Mike Post was awesome. It mirrored the style and emotional content of the show perfectly in my opinion. My two year old son loves to dance to the theme tune too. Unfortunately, after two or three seasons the show seemed to lose it's spark a little as I began to realise that Sam always seemed to solve any of the problems thrown his way, besides the one major problem of getting back home. Still for me it was one of the best television shows ever made even if I never did find out if Sam Beckett managed to make the leap back home.

Able to solve any problem (besides getting back home)

So I've decided to make a point of watching season three onwards of this cult television series hoping the spark returns from the earlier episodes all those years ago. I don't think the show will have aged too badly as most of it is set in the past anyway and Sam's given me the thumbs up.

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