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NBC's Quantum Leap Reboot Is the Best Kind of Bad TV

The world needs shows that are good enough to half-watch.
  • Raymond Lee and Caitlin Bassett in Quantum Leap. (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
    Raymond Lee and Caitlin Bassett in Quantum Leap. (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

    The new Quantum Leap reboot isn't good, but it's good enough, and sometimes that's just fine. Not every television show has to be an aesthetic breakthrough, because if everything were that compelling, then we'd never get the laundry folded.

    Sometimes we just need a series to provide amiable company while we do other things, and if the pleasure of low-stakes entertainment means enduring corny dilaogue or clunky plotting, then so be it.

    To be clear, Quantum Leap, which premieres tonight on NBC, has plenty of both.

    The show is a continuation of the 1980s original, and once again we're following a scientist as he "leaps" into different lives at various points in history. In each episode, Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) has to solve some kind of problem for that person before he can leap to the next body, and while he's working it out, he can get advice from the hologram of his co-worker Addison (Caitlin Bassett), who is beaming in to help him from a modern-day lab. Luckily, Addison is always able to find information about Ben's latest life at a moment's notice. If he's about to get shot by a drug dealer, then she can instantly google the dude's family and give Ben information to use as leverage. If he's trying to run through a building, then she can pull up the floor plan.

    It's best not to think about this too hard. And don't focus on how, even though they can't get Ben back to 2022, Addison and the rest of the scientists can always locate him at whatever random point in history he's landed in this week.

    In a way, the show's ludicrous premise is part of its appeal: We know the series will never "fix" its illogical storytelling, so we're free to enjoy it on a more visceral level. And in the pilot, at least, it delivers. Ben gets hurled back into the 1980s, where he slides into the body of a thief with a heart of gold. There are car chases, fist fights, and some cloak-and-dagger work at a fancy gala where the Hope Diamond just happens to be on display. For a dash of gravitas, there's also a subplot about the robber's friend, who has a sick wife.

    Although the sets look cheap and some of the acting is hammy as hell (particular among the snarling criminals), the episode gets by on its breakneck pacing and Lee's charisma. Plus, the reboot continues the Quantum Leap tradition of ending each episode with a teaser of the body Ben will leap into next. That cliffhanger is a promise that there's more silly fun to come.

    However, there are warning signs that the show could slip from "good enough" to just plain bad. Consider the elaborate backstory being set up for Ben, who "leaped" without telling anyone and has subsequently lost the memories that would help him explain why he broke protocol. (Inconvenient!) It seems to be connected to the U.S. military and a shadowy group of covert operators.

    This intrigue could add to the fun, but it could also turn into a convoluted conspiracy plot that muddles the simple charms of watching a scientist briefly inhabit a housewife or a baseball player. Here's hoping the show doesn't leap too far afield.

    Quantum Leap premieres on NBC Monday Setember 19th at 10:00 PM ET.

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    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Quantum Leap (2022 Series), NBC, Quantum Leap (1989 Series), Caitlin Bassett, Raymond Lee