Reboots, expansions, and continuations are everywhere these days on television. In recent years, genre properties from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to Star Trek have made small-screen comebacks, and now there’s news of another a sci-fi classic returning: Quantum Leap!
Theorizing that a Quantum Leap reboot could once again tackle social issues and provide hours of thought-provoking television, while also providing nostalgia-trips for the Millennial generation, Leah Schnelbach stepped into this article… and wrote a list of things she’d like to see in a new Quantum Leap.
1. Sam Beckett and Al Calavicci!
I know a few people are losing their minds at the word “reboot,” because it implies a Quantum Leap without Sam and Al, so let me begin here: Dr. Sam Beckett and Admiral Al “Bingo” Calavicci should definitely make appearances. According to Scott Bakula, Sam is still leaping around in time, so having him cross paths with a new Leaper makes sense, and would give a wonderful sense of continuity to a new show. And even though Admiral Al Calavicci is probably retired by now, he could still consult on Project Quantum Leap. I want to see how that fashion sense has evolved. Hell, maybe they could use a reboot to undo that finale…
2. A Leaper and Hologram Who Are Not Sam Beckett and Al Calavicci
When Joel Hodgson announced that MST3K was coming back with an all-new cast, many MSTies expressed concern. Likewise, the addition of agents Miller and Einstein to The X-Files was largely met with derision. So please understand that I am treading very cautiously here when I say that my theoretical Quantum Leap reboot would need a new Leaper. One of the problems with the original show is that it emphatically falls into a “white savior” pattern. Dr. Sam Beckett, the highly intelligent, handsome, able-bodied, heterosexual, extremely white male leaps into a whole array of people, learns about their pain, and fixes their problems. How great would it be if we had a woman of color leaping around? Or if the show tackled body dysmorphia issues head on by casting a trans actor? And I personally love Al’s womanizing persona (because all the leering is balanced by his ardent feminism) but how much fun would it be to gender swap that? Actually, we already know, because the show did it with Zoey, and it was great. Of course, my theoretical reboot is dependent on the idea that we find an actor who is as multifaceted (and game) as Scott Bakula.
3. More Comedy!
I love that Quantum Leap is a Woobie of the Week show. And I would certainly want a new version to stay true to that mission. But… it would also be nice to exploit the fun side of leaping? The original Quantum Leap never really delved into Sam’s chances to live whole different lives, to see a new city or corner of the world, meet new people, learn new things. Did Sam ever leap into someone who lived in a city he’d always wanted to visit? Did he ever take a day off to go see the Golden Gate Bridge or the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Surely it won’t screw up the space time continuum if a new Leaper takes a day off and goes exploring.
4. Why Can I Only Travel Within My Own Lifetime, Again?
They already tweaked this one by allowing Sam to leap into his own grandfather, but it would definitely be more fun to just dispense with it from the start. Quantum Leap is already some seriously handwavy sci-fi, so why bother with the arbitrary rule? As much as I’d like Xers and Millennials to get a shot at the same nostalgia-fest that the Boomers got through the original series, it would also be fun to allow a Leaper to bounce all over time, Doctor Who-style.
5. Take Us Back to the Future!
I’ll admit that I may be in the minority here, but I remember watching Quantum Leap and being disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of Project Quantum Leap. I always wanted Sam to leap home more often, and I really wanted to see more of Al’s swingin’ life in that absurdly neon-lit future New Mexico. Since the original episodes were set in 1999 (barely a decade beyond the show’s premiere) a reboot would need to do the same, but would probably want to push a little further into the future, and maybe make it look slightly less like the ’80s this time around?
6. You Got Your Religion in My Science!
You may have noticed that I described Quantum Leap’s relationship to sci-fi as handwavy, and this is certainly the case. The show used fuzzy spirituality and possibly-even-fuzzier science in equal measure. This made sense in the early ’90s, when sci-fi was still considered a fringe topic, ‘nerd’ was still a pejorative, and a particularly mushy type of New Age thought permeated pop culture. But a reboot would be taking place in our far more SFF-friendly world. We are the children of Quantum Leap, in the same way that Sam Beckett is the child of “Time Patrol”, and it’s only natural that a reboot would get more of its science straight. Plus, it took Sam Beckett about five minutes to accept the idea that God/Fate/Time/Whatever had hijacked his scientific experiment, but how much more interesting would it be if the new leaper, or the scientists back home, rejected the project’s spiritual component, and fought with Whatever was leaping her around?
7. Trauma! Trauma Everywhere!
Over the course of Quantum Leap, while Sam and Al returned to personal issues in many episodes, the show acknowledged much bigger cultural wounds: the Vietnam War, the Kennedy Assassination, Jim Crow laws, race riots, etc. But as the seasons rolled on it didn’t restrict itself to pre-1960s problems, it also looked at homophobia, rape culture, bullying, and all sorts of other issues. It came back to violence constantly: rather than settle for the standard rah-rah militarism of 1980s culture, Quantum Leap presented Vietnam as a national trauma, and gave us a hero who was essentially a pacifist, but who respected the use of force when he thought it was necessary. Rather than give us an occasional episode about race or gender, it came back to them again and again. Imagine a reboot of the show exploring the ongoing wars in the Middle East, the threat of terrorism, the aftermath of Katrina and 9/11, marriage equality, Black Lives Matter… basically, engaging with the fallout of that ’60s Boomer activism, and using the same political=personal technique? In the same way that the new X-Files season tried to speak to modern paranoia and conspiracy theories, a modern Quantum Leap could bring some vital stories to television.
OK, those are my thoughts, now tell me yours! Is a reboot a terrible idea from the outset? Have I missed something you’d love to see? I suppose I should add the caveat that this premise only works if we take a note from The X-Files, and keep the original theme song. That sucker’s classic.
Originally published March 2016.
Leah Schnelbach has nostalgia for Quantum Leap, a show that is grounded in nostalgia. Would a reboot create nostalgia-for-nostalgia? Is this all leading to a supermassive nostalgia hole? Theorize with her on Twitter!