Saturday, August 14, 2010

Striving To Put Right What Once Went Wrong...

I love science fiction. It's one of the most versatile genres ever created. However, it tends to alienate people because of the perceived notion that one must be technologically gifted or carry a great deal of scientific knowledge to be able to appreciate works of science fiction. Personally, I could not disagree more. The best science fiction stories NEVER focus on the supposed "futuristic" technology presented in the work, but instead use that technology to cast light on some very specific facet of the human condition. The far future time period, or whatever new technology is featured in the work sets the stage for a story whose themes can only be seen from the framework of science & technology. I can not conceive of a more perfect example of this than one of my favorite television programs, Quantum Leap. In fact, QL's very humanist portrayal of science fiction is at the core of why I love the show.

For those of you unfamiliar with Quantum Leap, the show is about a scientist named Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula), who becomes disembodied and lost in time, due to rushing a time travel experiment. While trapped in the past, Sam temporarily takes the place of random people, as the show puts it, "putting right what once went wrong" using knowledge of the time period he's currently in from the future. He gets this future knowledge by means of mental transmission of his partner Al Calavicci (played by Dean Stockwell), who only Sam can see and hear. In each episode, Sam fixes another person's life, during which said person is in Sam's body in the future, usually guiding Al's research into the time period from whence they came.

Now that concept is completely sci-fi. There's no hiding that, but the show itself is all about people. It launches itself off of the stage of science fiction and flies into comedy, drama, action, romance, adventure, etc. And, at the same time, Quantum Leap touches upon a wide variety of social issues, presenting its message in an a fashion of emotional power that makes it unique amongst sci-fi programming. Not even Star Trek (arguably the greatest sci-fi franchise ever to air on television) can match the wide scope that Quantum Leap was essentially built to deliver.

Throughout the course of the show, Sam "leaps" into a wide variety of people: young, old, male, female, black, white, pregnant, even the mentally or physically handicapped, in an equally wide variety of times. Tapping into the nostalgia of the America of yesteryear, where things seemed simpler, but mostly weren't. And each time, Sam does his best to correct whatever tragedy is about to happen: murder, rape, institutionalization, estrangement from family, even something as ephemeral as the loss of a dream.

Sam goes from preventing a town from tearing down a radio station in one episode, to saving the life of a wounded Vietnam vet in another. From helping a woman reach her dream of becoming a singer, to preventing a man from killing his own brother during a race riot in L.A. That's how wide a net Quantum Leap cast during its run.

In recent years, they've tried to re-work the concept into a new series called "Journeyman", which was an awesome attempt. But I think the show failed because it couldn't match the broad range of topics and genres the core concept is designed for. The producers of Journeyman tried to limit that range and it hurt the show. And now, a feature film version is being worked on in the catacombs of Hollywood. I hope they do a better job with Quantum Leap: The Movie, because I would love to see modern audiences re-connect with such an awesome show.

I'll leave you now, dear readers, with a clip from YouTube of the best version of the intro for Quantum Leap. If you have some free time, check out the show, you won't regret it.

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