8 Sad Truths You Realize When Re-Watching Quantum Leap

It is hard to hate Quantum Leap, the NBC sci-fi series which debuted in 1989 and was canceled in 1993 after completing its fifth season.  The show is so utterly well-meaning, following the lovably gee-whiz Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) as a scientist whose experiment “leaves him leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping that his next leap will be the leap home.”

That just warms the heart, doesn’t it?

On the other hand, Quantum Leap is very easy to mock, largely due to its remarkably earnest tone and many “very special episodes,” like a sci-fi Blossom.  Sam is fate’s grunt soldier, fixing broken relationships, saving one life at a time, and occasionally running into young versions of celebrities, e.g., Stephen King, Buddy Holly and Michael Jackson.  However, he’s constantly faced with the prejudices of our past which leads to plenty of sermonizing.  His best bud Al (Dean Stockwell) is always around for a reliable one-liner, but even he gets in on the sermonizing and turns out to have led an insanely eventful life, with an ever-growing list of prior careers and ex-wives.

In general, there’s an awful lot of plot convenience to what Sam and Al turn out to be capable of.  Plus, the mechanics of the time traveling component of the show are pretty wonky, and what they thought the future was going to look like was hilariously inaccurate.

Those are the types of things which really jump out at me every time I re-watch Quantum Leap.  My love for the show has not faded, but my willingness to mock it has sure increased.  There are plot holes and awkward moments galore as well as some simple reminders of how much TV culture has changed since Quantum Leap went off the air.

1)     God or Fate or Whatever Sure Has a Sick Sense of Humor

Almost every single Quantum Leap episode ends with Sam being thrown into the deep end in a new and terrifying situation, forcing him to either sink or swim.  That’s a pretty shitty existence, going from smiling earnestly one second to walking on a stage in front of a packed theater of people waiting to hear you play piano the next second.  But boy did it make for good television.  It’s one of the things that makes Quantum Leap so compulsively watchable, its every episode ending on a cliffhanger in which Sam has no idea what to do next and lets outs an exasperated, “Oh boy.”

However, if we ignore the part where this is a TV show with a story structure designed to keep viewers hooked, and think of the logic of the show’s own universe it becomes pretty apparent that God or fate or whatever the heck it was leaping Sam throughout time has a wickedly dark sense of humor.  Seriously, why couldn’t Sam have ever been allowed to simply leap into someone sitting around their living room watching TV, with maybe their wallet (and thus a quickly accessible method of identification) laid out on the table in front of them?  Nope, instead Sam got dropped into situations like this:

QL Sam Electric Chair
Yes, that’s Sam seconds after he has leaped into a man about to executed.

And this:

QL Sam Ghost Ship Pilot
Your pilot today will be a man who only just moments ago arrived in the cockpit and has no idea whatsoever how to fly a plane.

Is any of that really necessary for Sam being able to put right what once went wrong?  Absolutely not.  God or fate or whatever just really liked watching the poor bastard squirm.

2)     Sometimes Sam & Al Just Weren’t That Bright

Al is “a hologram that only Sam can see and hear.”  It’s right there in the show’s voice-over prologue.  However, sometimes both Al and Sam seemed to forget that, the most egregious example being the time Sam tried to throw a pie at Al’s face in the season 4 episode “Stand Up”:

QL Sam Pie Stand Up 2And Al behaved as if he 100% believed he was in real “pie on face” danger:

QL Sam Stand Up Pie1Sam usually gets the benefit of the doubt because, well, he’s damaged goods with his ultra convenient/inconvenient “Swiss cheese” memory.  But Al?  Was he just humoring his mentally compromised best friend, the way one might tolerate a “not quite right” uncle’s insistence that he did actually magically produce the 7 of hearts when doing a card trick?  Was he just so caught up in the situation he forgot he was just a hologram?  Or maybe is it just that sometimes Sam and Al appeared to have taken complete leave of their senses in the show’s effort for comic scenes between the two?  Fine, it’s obviously the latter.

3)     Some Innocent People Had Their Lives Ruined By Sam

tumblr_m5eyo9xizE1ruy7jfo1_500For a show whose own series finale was shockingly bittersweet, Quantum Leap was built on happy endings.  Most if not all episodes ended with Al assuring Sam (and by extension the audience) that everything worked out a-okay for all involved.  However, when you think about it in some cases that doesn’t seem true.  Case in point, in “Shock Theater” Sam develops multiple personality disorder as the result of being leaped into a mental hospital patient who immediately receives traumatic electroshock therapy (again, with God and his dark sense of humor).  Sam keeps shifting back and forth between adopting the various identities of those he’d once leaped into in the past. To save his own life and maintain his connection with Al, Sam needs to have electroshock re-administered to him at a dangerously high voltage.  He, while believing himself to be a mentally challenged man named Jimmy and thus slurring his speech, manages to pull it off by desperately pleading with the attending nurse, “If you don’t shock Jimmy Al go away.”

QL Shock Theater Reverse Shot
Sam: If you don’t shock and therefore potentially kill me my best good imaginary friend is going to go away!
QL Shock Theater nurse
Nurse: Well, you make a compelling argument.

Waaaaaaaiiiiiiiit a minute here.  I get that the historic period of the episode (specifically 1954) is meant to comment upon the early days of medicine in relation to mental health and conditions like multiple personality disorder or schizophrenia.  In that way, this is Quantum Leap‘s own version Sybil.  Al even references Sybil in the episode!  So, none of the doctors or nurses truly know what the heck is going on with Sam.  However, even though a perfectly timed dosage of electroshock at the same near-fatal dosage as the therapy that triggered the multiple personality disorder is what Sam needs it’s not necessarily what the person he leaped into needs nor is it medically advisable.  In the course of the episode, the generally sympathetic nurse argues that 200V is a potentially fatal voltage, administering electroshock therapy twice in 48 hours could kill the patient and that only doctors are allowed to administer the therapy, a fact confirmed by one of the doctors.  Yet she is the one to administer electroshock to Sam at 200V while the Doctor and orderly are arguing.  This is supposed to be a big, heroic moment, but, wait, didn’t the episode establish that what she does could actually kill the patient?  Yep, pretty effectively, too.

 How do you think it’s going to go over in a Morbidity & Mortality meeting if when asked why she gave the patient a fatal dosage of electroshock therapy she replies, “He said if I didn’t do it his imaginary friend was going to go away”?  She might end up a patient at that very mental hospital, oh irony of ironies, or at the very least mentally anguished, haunted by frequent “Why did I do it?” thought. However, even if the nurse had been wrong about both the voltage and frequency of treatment being fatal she still broke the rules by administering treatment and is likely looking at some serious repercussions in her career.  That is but one example of a happy ending being not so happy and an otherwise nice and decent person whose life was potentially screwed by Sam Beckett.

4) Al Totally Amy Pond’d a Poor Little Girl Except Even Worse

Quantum Leap Another MotherIn the Doctor Who episode “The 11th Hour,” the Doctor encounters an adorable little Scottish girl named Amelia Pond.  He promises to take her to the stars and on an adventure, but when he fails to return she had to go through years of therapy as no one believed her tale of a “raggedy doctor” who literally fell from the sky.  The thing here is that, crucially, the Doctor did eventually come back, and he never intentionally misled poor Amelia.  He just really sucks at getting time coordinates right.

So, what then, do we make of the final scene from Quantum Leap‘s season 2 episode of “Another Mother”?  By this point, the only thing preventing Sam from leaping is Al’s need to say goodbye to the adorable daughter of the woman Sam leaped into.  Falling into that kid/mentally challenged/animal spectrum of people who can actually see Al other than Sam, the girl had grown attached to Al and him to her.  What proceeds is a genuinely sweet scene between a young child actress who mostly flashes her big white eyes at Stockwell as he promises to come back to see her again real soon.

Liar!  Al can’t go back.  He’s not really a time traveler who can just go anywhere he wants; he is linked to Sam’s brain and can only go to a place and time where Sam is present.  Unless Sam leaps back into that family with the little girl, Al has no way of following through on his promise.  That poor little girl probably had years of therapy after that, refusing to back down from her claims of a strange imaginary man from the future who was going to come back to see her any minute now, just you wait and see.  “Oh, it was just an imaginary friend” they’ll all say, angering her even more.  Of course, that imaginary friend may be the least of their concerns since that little girl will probably also swear up and down that for around a week mommy went missing and a nice man named Sam pretended to be her and dressed in her clothes.

5)      Nope, You Didn’t Dream It – Al Really Did Rap in One Episode

Some things are so strange, so bizarre, so impossible sounding you can convince yourself over time that you simply made it up.  For example, was Creed ever really a super popular band?  That didn’t really happen, did it?  Well, in the case of Quantum Leap re-watching it reveals that one insane thing you might have convinced yourself was but a fever dream of your’s actually happened.  I present, with utter, utter regret, rappin’ Al from “Shock Theater”:

With Sam a bit busy being 12 different versions of himself, it is up to Al to right the wrong, and in this case, it means teaching a man how to read.  Why?  Ah, who cares.  Why does Al think simply teaching him a song about the alphabet will automatically guarantee his ability to read?  Ah, again, who cares.  The bigger issue here is simply what in the hell were they thinking by having Dean freakin’ Stockwell perform a rap song on a national television show in 1991?  In fact, years later they included that song, “ABC Rap,” on the show’s official soundtrack meaning you can go buy “ABC Rap” on iTunes right now.  Mercifully, M.C. Stockwell’s long-awaited rap album “Nozzles, Cigars & Bazoombas” never materialized

QL Shock Theater Rap3
Yeah, well, you’re not ready for it yet, but your kids are going to love it.

6)     Sam Was a Man-Whore Cheating on the Wife Waiting for Him Back Home

KissesEvery Quantum Leap episode other than the pilot features a moment during the opening credits where we see a montage of Sam’s best kisses with woman from the show’s history to that point.  Of course, there’d be plenty of kiss scenes to show – the dude got some serious action as the show sought to appeal to Bakula’s female fanbase.  It is also the natural by-product of an episodic show with a central male character who is both a lover and a fighter – he’s going to have a ton of love interests.  The same thing was true of Kirk on Star Trek: The Original Series.  But at least there was no woman waiting at home for Sam, no woman so despondent with loneliness she looks up at stars at night and imagines one of them talking back to her with Sam’s voice, right?

QL Leap Back Sam Donna
Meet Donna, Sam’s wife. She works on the Quantum Leap project where they often have to help Sam romance the girl to save the day. Donna’s job is harder than yours.

Then the season 4 premiere (“The Leap Back”) happened, and we learn that bachelor Sam had changed his own history on a previous leap in the first season resulting in him having now actually been a married man this entire time.  Knowing that from the get-go when re-watching the show makes a fun game out of, “I wonder how close Donna was to complete breakdown this week based upon Sam’s romancing of yet another woman.”  To be fair, in “The Leap Back” Donna actually forgives Sam for his many, many infidelities because his memory loss meant he didn’t know he had anyone to whom he’d pledged to be faithful.

There was always a strange dynamic to sexuality on the show, in which Al and his consistent references to nice “bazoombas” and “gazongas” was a horndog for Sam to admonish.  Who the hell is he to talk, though?  He fell in love with women sometimes at the literal drop of a hat, bedded them, and then left them high and dry for his next leap.  Man, at least Al knew what he was.  Sam?  He was a total man-whore; he just didn’t know it.

7)   Our Definition of Physical Fitness Sure Has Changed

Back in the day, Scott Bakula was what might best be described as man candy.  His Sam Beckett was the consummate sensitive 90s male, not afraid to cry (and boy did it show) but tough enough to stand up for what’s right.  So, obviously, the show featured Bakula shirtless…a lot.  Like at least once every other episode.

If you can think of a more appropriate attire for yard work I’d like to hear it.

Wait, that’s what qualified as a sex symbol back then?  Don’t get me wrong – Bakula looks fantastic.  He’s clearly in good shape.  It’s just that nutrition and body shaping sciences have advanced so much that we now have constantly shirtless male stars of TV shows who look like this:

Olliver as he appeared in the show's pilot episode.
Stephen Amell from the CW’s Arrow.

Advantage?  Stephen Amell of Arrow.  Well, I guess the true advantage goes to the viewer inclined to find such sights appealing as neither are in anything remotely resembling bad shape.  Re-watching an older show like Quantum Leap centered around a male sex symbol shows just how much our image of that type of person is ever-shifting in response to the advances in abdominal muscle-shaping glory.

8)     They Were Desperate For Ratings That Last Season

It’s always kind of sad when you see your favorite show trying too hard to get big ratings.  However, sometimes when you watch older shows in syndication or on Netflix you may not be aware of it because your viewing is happening so long after the fact.  But let’s look at what Quantum Leap did in its fifth and final season:

  • Sam Leaping Into Dr. Ruth, Elvis, and Lee-Harvey Oswald Even Though He Wasn’t Supposed to Leap Into Historical Figures
  • Sam Leaping Into Someone Working for Marilyn Monroe
  • Sam Leaping Into the Civil War Even Thought He Wasn’t Supposed to be Able to Leap Outside of His Own Lifetime
  • A Trilogy Focused Upon Sam Being the Father, the Lover, and then the Court Defender of One Woman At 3 Different Stages in Her Life
  • A Trilogy Focused on the Concept of There Being Evil Leapers Out There Just As Sam is a Good Leaper
  • Stunt-casting of Brooke Shields in an episode somewhat recreating the scenario of her film Blue Lagoon
  • Sam leaping into a vampire

Some, if not most, of these episodes are pretty good.  The trilogy focused on Abigail was admirably ambitious, and the concept of an evil yin to Sam’s not-evil yang was long overdue.  However, taken as a whole it becomes pretty apparent they were ditching all of their old rules and just throwing everything at the wall in the hopes of getting the ratings necessary for a sixth season (epic fail on their part).  Plus, they re-did their theme song – you know, their amazing, instantly hummable Mike Post-composed theme song.  They made it oddly insistent and energetic in a desperate “Please watch our show, we have pep now” fashion:

Alas, they got themselves canceled.

But I really like Quantum Leap.  Let’s end on a positive note.  What is a good truth learned from re-watching Quantum Leap?

Most of Your Favorite Episodes Are Still Amazing

“MIA,” “The Leap Home,” “The Leap Back,” “Catch a Falling Star,” and many, many other beloved Quantum Leap episodes are still as good as they ever were.

What about you?  Any things you’ve noticed upon re-watch?   Liked the show but never actually went back and re-watched it? Let us know in the comments.

This post is partially a result of years of joking with my best friend Julianne.  Click here to check out her picks for Quantum Leap‘s 10 best episodes.


    1. I always liked the “peppy” season 5 music, because I like remixes of my favorite songs. Star Trek TOS and TNG kept the same music, but changed their title graphics in season 3 (if I recall correctly). DS9 changed both graphics AND music in season 5(?). Babylon 5 changed every season. As did a whole bunch of sitcoms (too many to list).

      Changing the intro is pretty common in TV


  1. I bet that a lot of leapees would have been in the waiting room a 2d time if the evil leapers were not just in the last season.

  2. How come in Raped Al never told Sam what happened to Katie Kevin and everyone else after Sam gave Kevin what for and leaped out causing Katie to leap back in.

    1. He did but they cut it out. Kate went to jail for GBH and was further raped in jail. You seem unhealthily interested in this episode Greg. Anything you want to tell us?

  3. The Wrong Stuff is the only nonhuman leap Sam made. What if he made more leaps that were nonhuman.

  4. Since Sam never made the leap home it’s likely he’s crossed paths with Ali and Zoey helping Ali make amends for her misdeeds while Zoey ran amok.

  5. When I watched the final episode, I thought the text at the end meant that after Sam told Beth to wait for Al, Al never joined the project, which therefore never got off the ground. Then when Sam leaped out of the talk with Beth, I thought he leaped into non-existence after breaking the space-time continuum or something. But now I read that most people think he just decided to keep leaping and making history better. No wonder people were so underwhelmed with it – I thought it was brilliant. Either way, his wife gets a raw deal, though.

    1. Yeah, Donna got screwed.

      That’s an interesting interpretation. It would kind of sort of solve the time travel conundrum of “Would AL really still have ended up at QL if Beth waited for him?” It’s definitely an interpereation I’ve never actually encountered before. But, yeah, most people read it as a gut punch of Al be happy, Sam be an angel or however else you want to put it.

    1. Ziggy says that in order to take over the world you have to sever ties with this guy’s best friend, a Cockney-accented idot who goes by “Pinky.”

      Or, alternatively:

      Ziggy says that after years of abuse the Brain finally drove his friend Pinky to suicide, but the guilt and moral anguish he felt over having caused such a needless tragedy wrecked him. He didn’t take over the world; he didn’t even take over the ACME Labs testing area. You have to be nicer to Pinky and let him know how much the Brain values him.

      Or something.

  6. Greg maybe you should start your own blog emptying all your thoughts rather than the back of this one which used to be about quantum leap and why it was so good.

      1. Full disclosure: I’ve never blocked anyone on this site. I’ve never really had need to. I’ve thought about it with Greg, particularly when his comments seemed particularly unhinged. Lately though, they’re just completely random and relatively harmless. Plus, in all honesty, the frequency of his comments actually helps the article in the Google rankings. But if he is annoying everyone then perhaps you’re right.

  7. I think you’re right I seem to have a obsession with the Raped episode of season 4.
    There are actually luxury prisons worldwide that Sam never leaped into.

  8. Even in the Quantum Leap comic book Sam always succeeds in putting right what once went wrong but always fails to make the leap home.

      1. The memory of your time in the chamber would fade as quickly as a dream as your believe your memories of everything Sam did as though you had done it yourself.

  9. Quantum Leap has dealt with prison because Sam leaped in 1 in Unchained and Last Dance Before An Execution.2 Prisons I wish he leaped into are the Tomb from Escape Plan and the Kyln from Guardians of the Galaxy.

  10. We seldom saw the leapes in the waiting room what if we always saw the leapes in the waiting room not just their time spent there but also their leaps in and out as well.

  11. Sam was actually home in the Leap Back and he gave it up for Al
    Brain in the Pinky and the Brain Halloween episode actually ruled the world and he gave it up in order to save Pinky.

  12. I admire how Sam gave up being home to save Al in the Leap Back.
    Brain gave up the world to save Pinky.

    1. The Trilogy Part II is the only episode where Sam Leaped into two people at the exact same moment.

      Think about it.

  13. The final season sure made a effort to boost it’s ratings however it failed and Mirror Image ended up becoming the last ever episode.

      1. It actually kinda is true. They were ready to run with a Sixth Season amd got cancelled a couple of weeks before the last episode. That’s why Bartender Al tells Sam his Leaps are going to get more difficult. The epilogue was only added like a week or two before it aired.

      2. Details are a bit sketchy twenty years on, but I was there for the big disappointment.

  14. Al the bartender told Sam that his leaps will get more difficult maybe they will be more evil leapers running amok through history causing Sam to fix they make go wrong.Why not have a spinoff in which Ali makes amends for her misdeeds.

  15. Why not have a spinoff entitled Doing What Is Right in which Sam and Ali leap together like they did in the Evil Leaper Trilogy
    they could do good while Zoey and other evil leapers run amok wreaking havoc.

  16. Sam was 6 when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 40 years before he started Project Quantum Leap and made his 1st leap facing a mirror image that was not his own in order to
    put right what once went wrong.

      1. I do feel like his period of sometimes amusing randomness is veering into unhinged territory again. Greg, what really is the point of your continuing comments? It doesn’t feel like you’re throwing out fan fiction ideas anymore, if that was your goal to begin with.

  17. 40 years before Sam created Project Quantum Leap and made his 1st leap the Dalai Lama fled Tibet and took up residence in India where Buddhism began.

  18. Truddi Chase was never in the waiting room she was the model for Crazy Jane of the Doom Patrol.
    thanks to the Gene Bomb her 64 personalites had superpowers.

  19. Sam has done the 4 following things 2 times on Quantum Leap Leaped into himself. Leaped into his hometown of Elkridge Indiana Leaped out of his own lifetime Leaped before his birth.

  20. The writers never had Sam leap into a tribal society.That might have made a interesting leap.If there was a season 6 the Evil Leapers might have caused Angel Jensen Elizabeth Tate Max Greenman and many others to return to the waiting room.

  21. I wonder how many Evil Leapers there were and why they didn’t cause more leapes to return to the waiting room.

      1. I got all of them.

        It still irks me that Innovation collapsed before they could publish their Annual. Some event (I believe it may have been an atomic blast) Leaped Sam into Ziggy, Ziggy into the person in the past, and the Visitor comatose in the Waiting Room.

        I just wanted to read it to see how they were going to spin that web.

  22. A leap Sam never made is to prevent the Dalai Lama from fleeing Tibet and taking up residence in India.

  23. So many leaps Sam never made and
    so many wrongs he never put right.
    So many people that were
    never in the waiting room.

  24. Elvis was the last person to be in the waiting room.
    His music was played on the radio during Sam’s very 1st leap.

  25. I find it ironic that in Memphis Melody Elvis was in the waiting room because in Genesis during Sam’s very 1st leap his song Hound Dog was playing on the car radio.

  26. Because in Mirror Image Sam managed to get Beth to wait for Al
    the last 4 wives of Al and the divorces that resulted never happened.

  27. Sam leaped outside of the United States 3 times he leaped into Japan in Lee Harvey Oswald Vietnam in the Leap Home part 2 and the United Kingdom in Blood Moon.

  28. In Raped 2 things happened for the 2nd time Sam gives someone what for then immediately leaps out this first happened in What Price Gloria and Al mentions his 3rd wife Ruthie who was Jewish this first happened in Thou Shalt Not.

    1. Almost ALL your comments would be considered “shitposts”.They clutter the entire page with worthlessness and bury posts that are interesting.

      Your posts disengage readers with their banality and lack of thoughtful insight. People come to this website for the articles that almost always have been enriched by relevant statistics and quotes from first-party participants.

      People enjoyed QL for a variety of reasons. Most appreciated the stories and characters. Few waste their time with the minutia that you ramble on about.

      Please shut the duck up already. Nobody likes you or your posts.

Leave a Reply to Kelly Konda Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: