Saturday, May 14, 2016

Quantum Leap -- Episode 1: Genesis

Sam Leaps Into: 
Tom Stratton, a U.S. Air Force test pilot.

Survive a plane crash.  Save the life of his premature newborn.


Edwards Air Force Base, California

Sam Leaps Into:
Ken Fox, a minor league baseball player.

Help his team, the Waco Bombers, rally in the bottom of the 9th inning to avoid finishing in last place.


Waco, Texas

Memorable Quote:
I'm in a real identity crisis here, Al.  ~Sam

The scene where Sam calls his dad on the phone.  It's amazing that the writers and producers were able to create a moment as great and as poignant as this in the pilot episode when we're just getting to know the characters.  The dialogue is outstanding, Bakula's acting is magnificent, and the music (more on that below) is the perfect complement to the scene.  And it's interesting that in the movie "Source Code" (which was inspired by Quantum Leap), a similar scene takes place at the end and this time Bakula voices the father. 

The moment in the beginning when Sam steps into the Quantum Leap accelerator.  He's laughing and raising his arms in a manner that makes him seem power hungry, and Gushie tells Al that Sam jumped in before it was ready.  It's not a bad scene per se, but the mad scientist persona is out of character for Sam who we come to learn is quite measured and humble rather than wacky and impulsive. 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Seeing Sam get his bearings in 1950's America reminded me of a similar scene in Indiana Jones 4 (amazing that I remember anything from that movie because I tried to forget it all). And they both include Howdy Doody and Hound Dog -- I guess those are the go-to symbols of 50's America.
  • Speaking of 50's America, I noticed the kid has a Davy Crockett hat and shirt.
  • I love the mirror concept (i.e. how Sam sees someone else in the mirror) -- very creative.
  • I wonder if it was intentional that he leaps into a pilot in the pilot episode.
  • Whoa, it's Jack Dalton!  It didn't take long to see a familiar MacGyver face.  I remembered that Bruce McGill played a significant role in the Quantum Leap series finale, but I didn't recall him being in this episode.  In fact, I didn't recall anything about this episode, and the only thing that seemed familiar (other than the shots that end up appearing in the opening sequences) was when Al said "Caca" -- I remember asking my Mom what that meant when I was a kid.  And there's one more MacGyver guest star who makes an appearance in this episode -- do you know who it is?  The answer to be revealed later in the post.
  • I didn't recognize the Bird Dog character at first, but it's John Allen Nelson who played Walt Cummings (the crooked Chief of Staff) in Season 5 of 24, and he was also on a Season 2 episode of Burn Notice that I recently watched.
  • Another fun guest star reference -- Jennifer Runyon (who plays Sam's wife) was Gwendolyn Pierce, Charles' girlfriend in season 1 of Charles in Charge.  I used to be a big Charles in Charge fan back in the day.
  • 34:50 mark - our first taste in the series of the "Leap Home" music, which we hear when Sam is thinking about his childhood and family.  The theme comes from Dvorak's New World Symphony, 2nd movement which was based on Longfellow's poem, "The Song of Hiawatha," and it's very appropriate here because Dvorak's melody has become synonymous with "going home."
  • I was surprised to hear that Al was an ex-astronaut.  Astronauts have to be pretty smart in the math and sciences, and not that Al is dumb, but he comes off more as the street smart, common sense foil to Sam's genius.  Maybe this will be flushed out more as the series continues.
  • Watching the flying scenes makes me want to say a quick word in praise of pilots, especially those that fly at supersonic speeds.  The combination of danger, motion sickness, and claustrophobia is not one that I would enjoy, and I'm amazed at those who willingly and ably man the cockpits.  If I ever was in one of those planes, I would end up like Colbert puking in the back of a Thunderbird.
  • This episode features two common and humorous occurrences that we'll see throughout the series:
    • People looking at Sam funny when he's talking to Al, but they can't see Al so it looks like Sam's talking to no one.
    • Sam having a conversation with Al while someone else is present, and that someone thinks Sam is talking to him, so Sam ends up having two conversations at once.
  • When Sam was using his medical knowledge to save the baby, I was surprised because I thought his speciality was quantum physics.  But we learn later in the episode that he has six doctorates including one in medicine.  I think he's also got black belts in multiple martial arts disciplines.
  • I love the brief moment in the dugout when his dog starts going nuts and he realizes that the dog can see who he really is.  "He knew.  The little sucker knew.  And he wasn't going to stop barking until they all knew."  ~Sam
  • Did anyone recognize the other MacGyver guest star?  The baseball team manager was Hatcher, the lead villain from Ugly Duckling.
  • In the DVD extra, Bakula says he's a natural right handed hitter, but they wanted to try and recreate Roy Hobbs' dramatic scene at the end of "The Natural" and so they made him a lefty.  Bakula goes on to say that he was embarrassed by his swing and he wished that he would have done it as a righty.
  • The leap at the end of the episode was a great and natural way for the show to promote next week's episode without needing a separate teaser preview.

Final Analysis:
Normally I think of pilot episodes as being relatively weak (since the cast and crew need time to work out the kinks and hit their stride), but this pilot was great.  It's clear that the background and backstory was carefully thought out, and there's hardly a wasted moment or plot element that doesn't make sense.  It's making me even more excited to get going on this project.  As of right now, it's my #1 favorite episode!


  1. The thing about watching pilot episodes as 'not' the first episode you see, is that they can sometimes be a little 'off' compared to the rest of the series. I don't remember when I saw the QL pilot, but I know it was long after I'd been watching the show for a while. I *think* I remember thinking this episode was 'slower' than the rest of the series - maybe b/c it's longer (I think it's a 2-hr pilot, yeah?), or maybe b/c of the 'too many plot points going on at the same time' thing - where he has to fix the pregnant woman's labor and be the fighter pilot and whatever else is going on at the same time, so it feels overly complex for no real reason other than 'we're trying to establish the show'.

    And I think I always forget about the baseball part of the episode. It's been a very long time since I've watched any QL though... may have to change that. =)

    Oh - and I don't know that they ever mention Al having been an astronaut again. They mention a lot of other things, but I don't think that comes up again.

    1. Kind of like in the MacGyver pilot where he fires a gun and lives in a planetarium!

  2. I was always intrigued by the premise of "Quantum Leap" back when it premiered and thought it looked really cool. Early on, it was typically on at 9:00 on NBC which was past my bedtime in 5th and 6th grade so I waited until the summer of 1990 (season 2 reruns) to catch most of the episodes I ultimately watched of the series. I generally enjoyed it but was expecting it to be more of an action show so the generally dramatic tone of the series caught me off guard back in the day. But I also remember it being very favorably reviewed and thus knew it would be a good one to revisit as an adult.

    Having done so, I can confirm it was an entertaining pilot episode that very effectively set the tone of the series and explained the science convincingly. Unlike most new high concept series that came off the Hollywood assembly line, you could tell that this one was meticulously planned by showrunner Donald Bellisario (who in case you didn't know also brought us "Magnum, PI" and "Airwolf"). Bakula did a great acting job throughout and, as you said, the phone call with his dad at the end was especially memorable and moving. Some of the specific period quips of the era were amusing too, such as Weird Ernie (Dalton?!?!?!) reading Stratton's resume and all of the "hasn't happened yet" material on there. I also learned something in that I didn't know white stripes had not yet been painted on roads in the mid-1950s.

    I also really enjoyed the conversations you cited where Sam and Al were talking and someone else though Sam was talking to them. I suspect this will be cleverly laid out throughout the series. Another high point was Sam's recollection of his doctoral training (from the future) to delay Stratton's wife's delivery.

    I will say that the main story lacked sizzle for me at times and I couldn't really get behind Sam's mission the way I wanted to, and thought it seemed anticlimactic when the story was resolved. And while I can understand how, in the pilot, they wanted to show Sam actually make a leap into another character for the sake of the series' narrative, having a 15-minute second mission as a baseball player also kind of stunted the momentum for me. It was fun though so I don't take too many points away from it. Kudos also for recognizing that the baseball coach was "Hatcher" from "Ugly Duckling". I knew I had seen him somewhere from "MacGyver" but couldn't put a finger on where.

    Obviously the #1 ranked episode so far and I'm looking forward to progressing with the series with the expectation of more quality episodes. Do you remember your thoughts on the show's consistency back in the day? Do you remember some episodes as being very, very weak? Because a couple of the episodes I watched back in 1990-91 left next to no impression on me at all. Again though, perhaps I'll appreciate them more at 38 than I did at 12.

    1. Yeah, I'm impressed with the planning that went into this episode -- seems really smooth for a pilot. And if you enjoy 50's and 60's historical references, you're in luck with this series. I'm generally not a big sci-fi guy, and even though this show would air reruns on the sci-fi channel, it's really more of a historical 50's/60's show which is one reason that it appeals to me (since I love history). And you're right that the "Sam and Al talking in public" angle will be pursued in just about every episode.

      I didn't remember the 2nd leap and so it was a surprise to me when I saw it -- I don't think there are too many more of those (more than one leap per episode). I knew the baseball coach was familiar and I had to think about it for a minute, but then Ugly Duckling came to me and I checked IMDB and verified my suspicion.

      I don't remember if there are any train wreck episodes a la Mountain of Youth. There are a few that I remember as pretty dark and that my mom and I would skip when they came on reruns, and I think there are quite a few episodes that I've only seen one time and have no memory of. You're right that it's more drama than straight up action, but the stories are generally well-written with a nice flow and there's often a sense of adventure there.

    2. As you know I tend to like darker episodes of shows so I am looking forward to those episodes. It'll also be interesting to see if the show appeared tired towards the end as "MacGyver" did....and as most long-running shows do for that matter.

    3. I know there are some 'lackluster' episodes that don't grab the attn as much as others - but that happens in most shows.

      I do remember that it was 'a big deal' when Sam leapt into a woman for the first time though. Like 'oh noes! a man in a dress pretending to be a woman!' B/c that doesn't happen until s2 (and i must've come into this series way earlier than i thought i had).

  3. And of course you can count on me for some historical contributions and parallels over the course of this countdown so I'll start with the timeline that "Quantum Leap's" two-hour pilot aired on a Sunday night, March 26, 1989, which was one night before the "MacGyver" episode "Gold Rush" aired. So 77 episodes of "MacGyver" aired before the first episode of "Quantum Leap" did. After the pilot, "Quantum Leap" aired on Friday nights, taking the slot from none other than "Miami Vice" in its tired fifth and final season when the ratings were in freefall. Unfortunately, "Quantum Leap" managed to do worse than "Miami Vice" in the slot and lasted all of four weeks on Friday night.

    Luckily for the series, it has a strong supporter in NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff who, in May 1989, moved "Quantum Leap" to Wednesday nights at 10/9 central where it would air for the majority of its run. The ratings were still softer than the show that had aired in the Wednesday slot before "Quantum Leap"--the trashy Aaron Spelling medical drama "Nightingales"--but Tartikoff gave the renewal to "Quantum Leap". And the show was lucky it had such a champion so high up in the network because, despite the good time slot and strong critical review, the ratings were not good....just barely enough to justify keeping it around. "MacGyver" was starting to decline in the 1989-90 season and finished 47th out of 96 shows, but "Quantum Leap" finished 58th out of 96 shows that season. The 1990-91 season was even worse for QL as "MacGyver" again finished 47th out of 103 shows and "Quantum Leap" finished 67th. It limped along for seasons 3 and 4 with soft ratings and finally hit bottom when NBC moved it to Tuesday night in the fall of 1992 for the fifth and final season.

    1. Awesome, I enjoy your ratings and time slot knowledge! Do you know if Quantum Leap and MacGyver ever directly went head to head in a time slot? It will be interesting to see where CBS puts the new MacGyver. Between MacGyver, Prison Break, 24, and Five-0 this fall season will be the most new tv I'll have watched at one time in probably 25 years.

    2. "MacGyver" was pretty much always on Monday nights and "Quantum Leap" was on mostly Wednesday nights and spent some time on Tuesday and Friday nights, so they never would have aired against each other. And yes there will definitely be a lot of shows next season, especially since I watch a few more shows than you. I just hope they're not all slotted against each other....because CBS and NBC are the only networks whose shows I can easily watch online if I miss an episode that airs live.

      And yes, I am an absolute encyclopedia of pretty much anything on network TV between 1983 and 1992, give or take. Even shows I didn't watch I know quite a bit about!

    3. Did you remember that QL finished 47th out of 96 shows?! I figured you looked that up online...

    4. I remembered that "Quantum Leap" ranked 58th out of 96 shows in 1989-90. I can tell you what any show ranked any season between 1983 and 1991.

  4. Nick and I watched QL when the show first began. Starting to re-watch the episodes reminds me of why I loved this show. The initial episode sets up the premise...which viewers immediately bought.
    I would have enjoyed working in the set design. All of the props were so "on point." Because I grew up in the 50's, I remember Burma Shave signs, wringer washing machines, louvered windows in the bathroom, coffee percolators, Wonder bread, slide rules and clocks with flip numbers. The attention to detail in the scrip was "spot on." Pre-birth control pill, most wives were either pregnant or had very young children. Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller making the papers when their marriage was announced.
    Times have also changed. We use words like nerd, road stripping, and futuristic labor stopping medicines. Also, today's parent would not leave a child unattended at the fishing hole.
    I had completely forgotten about the 'opening gambit" (borrowing a MacGyver term) of Al picking up a stranded woman, whose car had a flat tire.
    Now that I am re-watching the shows, I hope to catch up to Nick's point in the series.

    1. Hey Mom, glad that you're rewatching the show and look forward to hearing your "1950's" perspective!

  5. I think the pilot episode(s) loans a lot of from the BttF.

    It is set in 1950's like the BttF, it has stereotypical 1950's tropes like the BttF.

    The plot of the BttF and the Quantum Leap both deal time travelling and making things right (which once went wrong).

  6. Someone described the show as mostly a 50s/60s historical account. Were those the only 2 decades the show covered? Nothing before or after?

    I like the time travel concept, but the show is generally a little too bland and wholesome for my taste. It would be good if the stories were a little more action-oriented.