Quantum Leap is the revival genre television desperately needs

Contributed by
Feb 1, 2018, 6:00 PM EST

These days, it feels like reboots and revivals are all the rage. A Lethal Weapon TV series? Check. Will & Grace returning after over a decade? Check. Not just one, but two additional seasons of The X-Files? Check and check. Classic franchises are being resurrected all over the place, not just in the realm of television but on the big screen, too. Whether to capitalize on nostalgia or make a quick cash grab (or both), reboot fever doesn’t appear to be breaking anytime soon. But in all of the conversations swirling around about which shows to bring back for a second chance at success, one title remains very absent—and now more than ever could be the best time to revive it.

Quantum Leap has acquired a cult status among science fiction fans, but during the course of its airing from March 1989 through May 1993, it was more of a mainstream success. The series finale was viewed by more than double the average audience numbers for that entire season, and throughout its original run, Quantum Leap earned 17 television awards out of 43 nominations, including six Emmys and two Golden Globes (for the show’s two lead actors, Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell). The biggest detractor it ever had to contend with was a shifting timeslot, which seemed to leap almost as much as the character Dr. Sam Beckett did through the spacetime continuum. In spite of this, the series managed to achieve enough eyeballs to endure for a total of five seasons.

Much of Quantum Leap still feels timeless when revisited today. The show was originally limited to a specific set of decades—one of the rules set down by creator Donald P. Bellisario was that Sam could only leap throughout the length of his own lifetime—but found a way to tackle perennial issues through the eyes of its protagonist. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and animal rights were only some of the topics addressed by the series via Sam’s leaping into other people who were often more marginalized in society.

As a straight, white cisgender male, Sam found himself confronted with situations that he likely never would have faced were he in his own body. Much of his initial adjustment process after leaping into another time and place involved having to accept that he couldn’t deal with problems in the same way if he looked like a black man or a gay man or a woman to the rest of the world. An early episode of Season 1, “The Color of Truth,” illustrates Sam’s conflict after leaping into the body of a black chauffeur living in segregated Alabama during the mid-'50s. In Season 2’s “What Price Gloria?” Sam leaps into a woman for the first time and has to deal with continued sexual harassment from the woman’s boss. Season 4’s “Running for Honor” is considered to be one of Quantum Leap’s most controversial episodes, though the story only moderately addresses the rights of LGBTQ people serving in the military (a rather hot-button topic back in the early '90s when it first aired). There are countless more examples where the show pushed the envelope. An episode titled "Raped" brings Sam forward into his more contemporary era of the '80s, where inhabiting the body of a female survivor of sexual assault centers the conversation around subjects like victim-blaming and the pervasiveness of rape culture. For its time, stories like these were certainly contentious with audiences, but they were also refreshingly unconventional.


Examining this show through a more modern lens does reveal some of its minor flaws in retrospect. There were occasions when Sam tended to veer perilously close to being something of a savior, especially in the episodes that called on him to try and rescue an individual from a certain fate, all while offering their own grander commentary on the state of specific issues in America during their respective time periods. More often than not, however, Sam allowed himself to be educated by others even though his “fixer” nature would frequently try to dictate action and self-initiative in changing history over listening and taking cues from those around him. Nowhere is this more perfectly highlighted than in Bakula's brilliant portrayal of the character, which paired nigh-boyish wonder and fascination with warmth and selflessness. Sam technically couldn't leap to another time period until he had resolved whatever problem was keeping him there, but even if that narrative obstacle had been removed his inherent altruism would have likely been enough to keep him around. One of the biggest themes of Quantum Leap wasn’t just about fixing history, it was about Sam himself coming to terms with the limitations that the disenfranchised frequently experienced and figuring out the best way to, essentially, be an ally. In mending the places where things had gone off course, Sam also learned important lessons about how to see the world through different eyes.

Social issues aside, the original show has a ton of content worth mining into a revival that could potentially pick up where the series finale left off. In “Mirror Image,” Sam Beckett chooses to continue leaping through time without ever returning. One way to tie a Quantum Leap revival into that could be to follow a new character—Sam’s daughter, or maybe Al’s—who decides to step into the accelerator with the intention of finding a lost Dr. Beckett and bringing him back home. But, as sci-fi aficionados know, nothing ever tends to go right when time travel is involved. Then there’s the matter of the Evil Leapers, an organization that does its best to create chaos and wrongness in opposition to what the Quantum Leap project tries to accomplish. What if it tried to intervene in Beckett Jr.’s attempts to rescue their wayward father? The possibilities are pretty endless, and that’s even before you consider the potential for there to be more than one “good leaper” making their way through the '80s and '90s. It’s got to be within their lifetimes, after all.


The main lesson of Quantum Leap—putting yourself in someone else's shoes—is one so desperately needed in today's world, which feels more prone to harassment and hate than ever. Via the oft-used sci-fi device of time travel, Sam Beckett was able to come to the understanding that the human experience is never universal, let alone identical. When you take into account how much certain outdated attitudes and mindsets have evolved since the show’s initial release, a revival could really go above and beyond the coverage of its predecessor. In a world where empathy for different identities can be significantly lacking at times, the simple concepts of Quantum Leap are something that modern audiences should be reminded of.

Top stories
Top stories