Friday, May 26, 2006

Blast from the past: Quantum Leap

For the past couple weeks, my roommate and I have been watching the first season of Quantum Leap on DVD. What a gem! It reminds me both of how much television has changed over the years and how much has stayed the same.

For those of you who have managed to avoid any knowledge of Quantum Leap (pretty difficult considering it was on for five seasons, '89-'93), the basic story is this: scientist Dr. Sam Beckett finds himself "leaping" through time as the result of a time-travel experiment gone wrong...or "cock-eyed", as he puts it. Sam jumps in and out of different eras of history, attempting to set right what once went wrong; once something is set right, he leaps elsewhere in time for another task. As he attempts to correct the mistakes of the past, Sam's aided by his friend Al, a fellow scientist still in the present time. Al appears as a hologram that only Sam can see and hear, and acts as Sam's link to Ziggy, a supercomputer that helps Sam figure out what he's meant to fix and how to do it.

Sam's perpetual fish-out-of-water scenario provided for a never-ending source of hilarity and hijinks. I've never become very involved in shows that rely on the 'instant reset' button -- setting things back to the start at the end of each episode, without continuing plotlines or narrative threads -- but Quantum Leap managed to pull it off in a way that didn't get too repetitive. Plus, the show seemed to set the stage for a couple other shows I liked, like Sliders.

So what's the same about TV? Good characters can make or break a show. Scott Bakula, who plays Sam, is pretty much as good-natured and likeable a guy as you could ever hope to run across. They say Sam and Al (played by Dean Stockwell) are pretty much the personalities of their actors, and I'd believe it, given their easy, natural banter on the show.

What's different? The credits - they're incredibly long and quite detailed about the past events that Sam has taken part in. You could never catch a show with credits that long and informative today -- just look at the brevity of the intros for hit shows like Grey's Anatomy. The shorter the credits, the more time for commercials in today's profit-driven age. (The same age that axed Everwood in favor of the marginally more profitable yet deplorably poor-quality Seventh Heaven.) Also, the plotlines are a lot simpler. None of this 'several storylines interwoven together' stuff that got its start with ER. One goal, one story, e basta.)

Any other Quantum Leap fans out there? The first four seasons are available on DVD, so you can become one if you aren't already. We've got one episode left to watch from season one, so it's a fair bet that we'll be buying season two tonight and watching that this weekend.

What, you thought I was going to do something other than watch TV over the long weekend? Dubious.


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