Blast From the Past! Remembering Quantum Leap


By: Angela Russo (@NerdGirlForever)

Have you ever looked back across your life or the lives of the people you love and wished you could change something for the better? Classic sci-fi series Quantum Leap explored a world where this is possible. After years of scientific research and planning, quantum physicist Dr. Samuel Beckett has successfully achieved time travel. However, the project has gone a little..”ca-ca.” Sam is stuck leaping through time without control over where or when he goes. With help from his partner Al, Dr. Beckett embraces his role of time traveling vigilante and gives his best to help the people whose lives he leaps into.

Dynamic Duo

Dr. Samuel Beckett
Growing up in a nerdy household, Quantum Leap was one of the first shows I watched. When Scott Bakula appeared on Chuck, I could barely contain my excitement. Bakula stars as heroic leaper Dr. Sam Beckett. In addition to speaking ten languages and holding seven doctoral degrees, Sam is also a talented musician and martial arts expert. Since his memory has been “Swiss-cheesed” by time travel, this diverse skill-set comes as a pleasant surprise to the com-passionate Dr. Beckett, and proves to be invaluable to solving many a leap.

Admiral Al Calavicci
Dean Stockwell co-stars with Bakula as Al, a macho military man and womanizing tom-cat who guides Sam through each leaping challenge via holographic means. Al serves as an amusing foil to Sam’s straight-arrow Boy Scout scientist mentality. Their differences make for some witty invisible banter. While Sam deals with the heavy lifting and tackles the challenge of each leap head on, Al acts as a lighthearted source of innuendo and snark with his crazy outfits, smart remarks, and holographic antics.

Temperamental Technology

As the artificial intelligence of the project, Ziggy communicates with Sam and Al via handheld interface, providing calculations and insights into the people and history of each leap. Ziggy is described as being an egomaniac, and frequently concocts quirky notions that vex Al to no end. Al’s frustration with Ziggy is oddly familiar to my own attempts to interact with today’s Siri or Cortana. Considering the series ran before the prevalence of home computers and predated the development of the Palm Pilot, the similarities to our modern experiences with technology are uncanny.

Exploring the Ages

Although the exact leaping pattern cannot be controlled, Project Quantum Leap is based off of the string theory, and Sam can only leap within his own lifetime. The only exception to this rule occurred when Al and Sam switch places in season four, episode one called “The Leap Back.” In the present day, the lack of control over the time travel is perceived as an issue with the project, positing that by helping the lives of these unknown individuals, Sam seemed to be having a minor impact on the timeline. However, it quickly becomes apparent that these acts have a significant ripple effect. Impacting one life has undeniably powerful ramifications that in turn have the ability to promote social change.

1940’s World War II
1950’s Film noir, rock & roll, and the fight for racial equality
1960’s Racing for pinks, classic mafia gangsters, and the feminist movement
1970’s Free love, Watergate, and disco fever stunt men
1980’s Big hair, Dr. Ruth, the Reagan years, and a fateful conversation with a bartender

The series explored a variety of social and cultural mindsets, issues, and philosophies of each era and locale. Sam leaps into people from all walks of life, and often experiences waves of their memories or emotions as part of the leaping process, deepening the empathetic bond. As the secret white knight of the everyday man, Sam helps with relatable issues big and small from figuring out song lyrics and discovering career purpose, to uniting lovers, and saving lives.

“Striving to put right what once went wrong…”

Dr. Beckett firmly believes that a higher power has taken charge of his leaping in order to set right what once went wrong. No matter what your take on spirituality is, the idea that there’s a force out there looking to advocate for improving the lives of people on an individual and societal level is a positive and uplifting concept that we could stand to see more of. The series has a heartwarming focus on providing a happy ending where there was once sorrow. Sam doesn’t personally know these people, but it’s his duty to act on their behalf. Sometimes this means putting his own life in danger for a stranger, and other times it’s a simple as just being there for them emotionally, or saying the right thing at the right time. It’s a testament to how much we could do to help our fellow man. A simple act of kindness can make a world of difference. Quantum Leaped onto the nerd scene in 1989 and remains a beloved sci-fi classic to this day.

    One Comment

  1. Leilani McHughAugust 22nd, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    I was so proud to have worked on this show (in a very, very small way)! Beloved is such a perfect term for this series! Thanks for this Blast from the Past.

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