Time travel? Been there. Body switching? Done that. Time traveling into somebody else’s body? Friend, you got yourself a TV series!
Quantum Leap may have sounded like a gimmicky sci-fi drama on paper, but the accent was on the drama, not the gimmick. Through four prime time seasons, this show gave us a chance to look through a new set of eyes each week, exploring issues of gender, race, religion, and even rock and roll. It was an ambitious leap for a sci-fi series, but Quantum Leap made it work.
The leaping started back in 1995 (which was actually the near future when the show debuted in 1989), when quantum physicist Dr. Sam Beckett built a machine that would allow anyone to “leap” into different times within his or her lifespan. But the testing process went awry when Sam, ignoring the advice of supercomputer “Ziggy,” stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator… and vanished.
It took some time for Sam to figure out what was going on, but we’ll skip the discovery process to give you the lowdown: Sam not only leapt through time (to 1956 at first), he leapt into the body of another person. Rear Admiral “Al” Calavicci (an associate on the Quantum Leap project) was able to reach Sam as a hologram, visible only to Sam himself. To leap back out, Sam had to right some historical wrong—always personal, never anything major like terrorist bombings or presidential assassinations (though he did leap into Lee Harvey Oswald’s body)—but he never knew exactly what needed fixing. Al had communication with “Ziggy” back at the project lab, but that process only gave probabilities, not absolute fact.
When Sam did right the wrong, he leaped on to a new body, nearly always stuck in some awkward situation (a prize-fight, a courtroom, a magic act, the electric chair, and so on). After uttering a despaired, “Oh, boy,” Sam did his best to figure out the problem, and—with Al and Ziggy’s help—fix it.
Others saw Sam as the person whose life he had lept into, but animals and small children were harder to fool. To the adults, Sam was his new identity, and if that made him a black chauffeur in the heat of the civil rights movement, a pregnant woman near her due date, psychologist Dr. Ruth, or even an Air Force test chimp, then so be it.
Every so often, Sam leaped into situations out of his or Al’s own past, including the fan favorite “M.I.A.” and “The Leap Home” episodes. Here, the temptation to play God was great. There were plenty of heartbreaking failures (or seeming failures) along the way, and as the series progressed, it seemed that Sam’s paths were guided less by the Quantum Leap accelerator and more by some sort of divine power. These suspicions were confirmed in the 1993 series finale, an open-ended mystery that baffled some fans and left others begging for more.
Unfortunately, more Quantum Leap was nowhere on the horizon. The show had never been a Top-20 smash, but critical praise and a very loyal following of “leapers” had kept Quantum Leap running for four seasons. Those same fans have kept the show alive in syndication, hoping that one day the leaping will begin again either on the small or big screen.
(This article originally appeared on the long defunct Yesterdayland website. We reprint it here as a way to preserve it.)