overthinking the idiot box

May 22, 2006

History can make for great TV. For if we don't dramatize the past, then we're just...

Doomed to rerun it
Leaping Through Time
A Survey of the Historical Episodes of Quantum Leap
by Jenni Powell

l I have to admit it, this week's column is completely inspired by last episode's TV on DVD. Thanks Mike Celestino!

How could I have saved Quantum Leap until now? After all, it's an historical television writer's dream: due to a time-travel accident, a scientist named Sam Beckett finds himself traveling through his own lifetime... through the lives of others. Each trip is called a "leap" and a new leap can only commence once Sam has fulfilled the mission he has been sent there to do. Only problem is, Sam doesn't actually know for sure what each mission entails and his only clues come from Al Calavicci, a fellow member of the time travel project, who appears to Sam as a hologram that (for the most part) only he can see and hear.

The structure of the show was such that it could explore different historical issues and play with historical events and lives each and every episode. But there were certain episodes that were of special significance, at least from a historical perspective. I've chosen to share with you some of my very favorites, taking a few from each of the show's five seasons.

Season 1

The Color of Truth
Leapdate: August 8, 1955
One of my favorite episodes of the series, it is also one of the very first. Sam leaps into a diner and, realizing he is hungry, sits down at the counter. Only after noticing the angry stares does Sam look into a mirror in front of him and realize that he has leapt into an elderly black man in the deep South before the Civil Rights Movement.

Season 2
Sam has to cope not only with sexual harassment by his/her boss, but he also has to deal with the effect his looks have on his partner and friend Al. Not quite as amusing as the episode where Sam is pregnant (8 months, season 3).

What Price Gloria?
Leapdate: October 16, 1961
The first of many episodes in which Sam leaps into a woman and allows us to see the historical struggles of women from a perspective not often possible: how would a man react if put into a woman's shoes? As the gorgeous secretary of an automobile company, Sam has to cope not only with sexual harassment by his/her boss and the suicide attempt of a roommate, but he also has to deal with the effect his looks have on his partner and friend Al. Not quite as amusing as the episode where Sam is pregnant (8 months, season 3).

Season 3

The Leap Home, Part II (Vietnam)
Leapdate: April 7, 1970
Finding himself in the Vietnam Conflict, this is the second part of two episodes where Sam has a chance to affect his own life and family. In part 1, he leaps into himself at age 16 but this time he is a Navy SEAL in his brother's squad. He must make the decision to either save his brother's life or ensure the success of the mission in which his brother was killed. This episode won an Emmy for Cinematography and garnered Dean Stockwell an Emmy nomination.

Black On White On Fire
Leapdate: August 11, 1965
Sam leaps right into the middle of the Watts Riot, a large-scale riot which lasted six days in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. To add fuel to the fire, he has leapt into a black med student engaged to a white woman. He has to ensure that they both survive.

Season 4

The Leap Back
Leapdate: June 15, 1945
Struck by lightning, Sam and Al find their roles reversed: Sam returns to the future while Al becomes the Leaper. Due to the switcheroo, Al finds he has leapt within HIS lifetime and so we go all the way back to 1945 where Al has to prevent the death of a returning WWII hero and his former girlfriend. This episode garnered another Emmy nomination for Dean Stockwell.

The Wrong Stuff
Leapdate: January 24, 1961
Sam finds himself an important part of the Space Race: he leaps into Bobo, an astrochimp. His job is to save Bobo from the experiments of an Air Force neurologist. Not only is it a riot to watch Scott Bakula act like a chimp but he's in a diaper for most of the episode.

Season 5

Leaping On a String and Leap To Judgment
Leapdate's: October 5, 1957 — November 22, 1963
In this two-parter, Sam finds himself leaping back and forth through the life of Lee Harvey Oswald. Following the sole assassin theory, Sam and Al attempt to prevent Oswald's attack on John F. Kennedy. Unfortunately, each leap is giving Oswald more control over Sam's body. An interesting bit of trivia: during the scenes focusing on Oswald's military training, a lieutenant with the name tag "D. Bellisario" is seen. This is a reference to producer Donald P. Bellisario, who actually served with Lee Harvey Oswald in the military.

Goodbye Norma Jean
Leapdate: April 4, 1960
Sam leaps into the chauffeur of Marilyn Monroe. He is convinced he is there to prevent her tragic death. When a well-meaning plan backfires, it could mean the end of Marilyn's career, even if her life is saved.

The Leap Between the States
Leapdate: September 20, 1862
You read that right: 1862. How is it possible when Sam is only supposed to leap within his own lifetime? Due to a "twist of a genetic coil", Sam leaps into his great-grandfather, Captain John Beckett, during the Civil War. As a Northerner, he must not interfere with his ancestor's romance with a Southern Belle named Olivia while at the same time trying to avoid being hung as a Yankee dog by Confederate soldiers. An episode that is near and dear to my heart. I saved the best for last.

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