By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
On Sept. 19, 2022, a new “Quantum Leap” television series, with a new Asian hero, “leapt” off the time traveler platform on NBC. They don’t make any claims about it being an entirely different show, so much as seamlessly transitioning from where the prior show left off, to today.
The original show aired five seasons, from 1989 to 1993, and had a fairly solid fanbase. Scott Bakula starred then as the lead character, “Dr. Sam Beckett” (I just keep thinking of the writer of “Waiting for Godot” every time I hear that name), the physicist who goes rogue and jumps into the “accelerator” without permission when the government threatens to stop funding.
In this reboot and the original, Beckett, now “Dr. Ben Song,” played by Raymond Lee, is indeed able to time travel, but every time he “leaps,” he’s put into a different body and has partial amnesia. Also, in order to leave, or leap again, or whatever he’s up to, he has to solve some historical dilemma so that it reaches a “better” outcome—he has to help someone.
Come to think of it, the reboot is exactly the same. The team, which is definitely more diverse now—there are at least two Asian main cast members, one Black, and one nonbinary—is still trying to hide their unorthodox activities in case of the program being halted. They are still part of government and military operations. There is still a hologram that follows Ben around and helps him, except now it’s his fiancée that he can’t remember, “Addison,” played by Caitlin Bassett. It’s 30 years later, yes, and the creators linked the two series together by explaining that the new team is trying to figure out how to get back into the accelerator and time travel successfully again so as to bring Beckett back from wherever he disappeared back in 1993.
Similarly to the original, Ben makes an unauthorized leap and is caught in the loop, while his friends back in “the present” scramble to get “Ziggy” (same name), the AI system, back up and running fully, and gain some control over the time travel process. The acting is terrific.
Lee, an actor and producer known for playing “Sam” in the television show, “Here and Now,” and recently starring in “Top Gun: Maverick,” is engaging and funny. He does a great job of transmitting to the audience that Song is a caring and intelligent guy, who gauges all of the connotations of his presence in the past fairly quickly, and even apologizes to Addison for leaving her and everyone without any explanation—even though he doesn’t know who she is.
The story, well, I mean, I was never part of that fanbase. I was a kid who watched the show regularly because it was on when I was in the room. Someone in my family liked it and I found it semi humdrum and semi interesting. As today, the acting was without fault. The design and cinematography of the reboot reminds me a lot of the NCIS and CSI franchises. You are in a rhythm of going between outside-the-lab and inside-the-lab, and the way they frame the scenes is similar, with one character, usually Ben, towards the front, and someone, say Addy, behind him.
I think I expected something a bit more momentous for the first episode, like Ben would have to step in and stop Hitler or what-have-you. There’s some indication at the end of the first episode that the next might be more along these lines. But for the pilot episode, it’s a smallish scenario involving a heist and an “end justifies the means”/“Breaking Bad” plot line wherein Ben has to stop a “well-intentioned but in desperate straits” buddy from an unfortunate fate. I had a hard time with this. Like yeah, life sucks, but being a criminal is not the answer. I think what bothered me more was the idea that this was Ben’s benevolent mission—to be a good Samaritan to someone who had chosen illegal activity as their only option. This card has been overplayed.
There were some other annoying aspects, such as Ben asking Addison a question and her garnering a Wikipedia page of info from her futuristic hologram gadget thingee in under one second, looking up too soon, and regurgitating what there’s no way she could have finished reading already. The 1980s nostalgia (the first episode is set in 1985) is cute but also overdone. There’s a lot of secrecy, as to be expected. They have to leave some things to be discovered later in the series. We don’t know why Ben had to go rogue like Sam did, but he promises, this is “bigger than anything you can imagine. I’m doing this because I think it’s worth it. Because I think it has to be done.”
The show has that pacing of television drama that can grate, but picks up really nicely during the finale. The humor picks up there, too, and I really enjoyed the final few minutes. “Can I dance?” Ben asks Addy. “You think you can,” she answers dryly. There’s a rapport there and a timing that bodes well for the future. Same for the emotion the characters show towards each other. Before he leaps, Ben makes a speech that Addison then says back to him at episode’s end, but now, it has even more meaning, as he and Addison are divided by time and space.
“Science is romance…Take the love entanglement. Once two particles experience a shared state, they’re no longer separate entities. They exist as one, even when separated by great distances.”
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.