TV Round-Up: Quantum Leap, “Stand By Ben”

breakfast-club-on-the-run-quantum-leap-s1e8One of the running threads of the original Quantum Leap was the long-standing friendship between Sam and Al and the lengths that each side would go to for the other. Early on, Al was established as a guy willing to bend or break the rules of time travel for his friend Sam – providing details on where to find Donna, helping Sam save his brother, and telling Sam he had a brother named Tom. Sam was a bit more of a stickler when it came to the rules, as witnessed in “MIA” when he chastises Al for not researching fully the reason for Sam’s leap and instead desperately working to get Sam to sabotage Beth’s new relationship.

Over the course of five seasons, we saw Sam slowly begin to realize that his mission wasn’t only to put right wrongs in the lives of people he didn’t know, but also to change his friend’s life for the better. This beautifully hits home when Sam leaps to the final moments of “MIA” as himself and asks Beth to wait for Al. The reveal is that Sam succeeds because he’s finally willing to bend the rules to help his friend. The cost is Sam never returns home.

It’s one of the reasons that the original Quantum Leap still resonates with me today.

It’s also why I’m slowly becoming frustrated with this new version of the show.

As good as the show is at giving us compelling, character-driven stories in the past, it is completely dropping the ball when it comes to the future storylines and the implications they have on Ben’s journey and his decision to start leaping through time.

This week was another example of this. Ben leaps into a teenager, who with three other teens has escaped a deprogramming camp in 1996. Ben helps them survive and turns the tables on the camp administrators. It’s all solid enough and the story hits the right emotional beats.

On the other side, it’s drug down by the future team scrambling to find and stop Janice.

NUP_199126_00154Last week, we saw Janice show up and tell Ben she knew why he was leaping. This week, Ben finally recalls why he’s traveling – though in typical new show fashion, it happens thirty seconds before the Leap, teasing the audience into coming back next week for more details. This is after we sit through Janice attacking the project and locking everyone down while she escapes.

As good as the scene with Magic telling about Sam leaping into him was, the rest of the future scenes are starting to become a bit repetitive for this fan. We can’t get into Ziggy because Janice is doing something and then we wring our hands a bit that she’s one step ahead of us. Outside of Magic’s character moment, every other character moment feels forced – up to and including Jen’s dad thread from this week. After being shoe-horned in last week, this one just feels like it’s going from a textbook of cliched dramatic tension 101.

I don’t think it’s necessarily helped that by limiting Ziggy, you’re limiting the usefulness of Addison to Ben. Recall that Al could center on other people and come up with ways to expedite things for Sam in multiple episodes – something that Addison has yet to do. I feel like the producers are overlooking a vital detail to help Ben solve problems or overcome obstacles. In this week’s case, it’s trying to move ahead to find the cabin or possibly using some trick to frighten the wolves away since I believe it was established that Al could be seen by young kids and animals. (Or you can say that and thus, eliminate the wolf threat).

The reveal that comes in the final moments though, has me wondering.

So, Ben leaped to save Allison somehow. From what? What is lurking in her past that needs fixing? Will this take her away from him and the project? Or is there some looming threat to her that he has to somehow fix the series of events leading up to her fate?

The series seems to be taking a page from The X-Files in the “give them one answer but them ask eight more questions.” But it was a bit more effective there because I was more invested in the characters.

At this point, I like Ben and they’ve done a good job getting us invested in him. The nod to one of his teen colleagues losing their mom dovetails well with what we learned a few weeks ago. But, honestly, I’m starting to not feel much when it comes to Ben and Addison as a couple. I am not sure I necessarily buy the depth of their relationship as much as the writers want me to. Yes, we declare they love each other, but based on what we’ve seen about Ben and his decision to leap, I start questioning whether this is really a solid relationship.

I’m still here for the show – and maybe I need to stop thinking so much. But given that this is meant to continue the universe that was established with Sam and Al, it’s becoming harder to do that with each passing episode.

Again, I will say this series really needs an episode or two by Donald P. Bellisario or Deborah Pratt to kick-start things.

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