Oh, Boy! The 15 Best Quantum Leap Episodes, Ranked

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The post Oh, Boy! The 15 Best Quantum Leap Episodes, Ranked appeared first on Consequence.

Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Doctor Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished….

These words, uttered by series writer Deborah Pratt, ushered in nearly every episode of NBC’s iconic sci-fi series Quantum Leap. It was a rare success for the time, a science fiction series light on the gimmickry and absent any rubber-foreheaded aliens.

Instead, the premise was simple, approachable, and incredibly optimistic: Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), a hyper-smart, goofy, but principled scientist, is ushered throughout mid-20th-century American history, hopping in and out of people’s lives to help steer their fates from tragic to hopeful.

The only hint of its genre trappings, apart from the mechanism that ushers Bakula from life to life each week, was Dean Stockwell’s Al, a garishly-styled, streetwise hologram from the future who served as Sam’s confidant, sounding board, and sidekick. Think Touched by an Angel with a hint of Back to the Future.

The formula, crafted by TV titan Donald P. Bellisario, was a winning one, not just critically but commercially: The show would net 43 award nominations and 17 wins, including Emmys for cinematography and Golden Globes for both Bakula and Stockwell. What’s more, it was that rare crossover hit for a science fiction show, the kind of adventure you could watch with your mom.

And that kind of old-fashioned attitude worked for the show, whose do-gooder remit made it that rare series that tackled throny social issues like racism, sexism, and homophobia, without a hint of cynicism. It’s cozy and optimistic about the American experiment (bordering on naive), which puts it out of lockstep with our modern disillusionment with the nation’s historical evils.

But in a post-Watergate, post-Reagan environment, with AIDS on the rise and the Cold War drawing to an end, Quantum Leap still held out hope that we could make the world a better place if we just helped each other.

After nearly thirty years off the air, Quantum Leap is getting a flashy revival on NBC (ostensibly a continuation of the original series’ timeline). To mark that occasion, we’ve dusted off our handlinks, stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator, and zapped back to some of our favorite episodes of the show’s inaugural run.

15. “Mirror Image” (Season 5, Episode 22)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: August 8, 1953; April, 1969

The Leapee: An adult Sam himself, in a mysterious bar on the exact day and time of his birth.

What Once Went Wrong: Nothing; Sam knows not why he’s here, why the bar patrons all look like important people from his past leaps, and why Al the bartender (Bruce McGill) seems to know about the last five years he’s spent leaping. Meanwhile, Al and fellow Quantum Leap supervisor Gooshie scramble to find out why Sam’s disappeared from the imaging chamber…

Notable Guest Stars: McGill is a familiar face from films like Matchstick Men and Animal House, recent shows like Reacher, and a whole mess of ’90s Star Trek. You’ll also recognize Richard Herd (All the President’s Men) and Stephen McHattie (Pontypool), not to mention a heaping helping of guests from prior episodes of the show, whose characters return as cameos.

Quantum Drip (AKA Al’s Fashion Corner): Al’s just in his Army dress whites this time, but that matters not, since he spends most of his time in the Imaging Chamber trying to wring Sam back from wherever he is.

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: “Sam Becket[t] never returned home.”

If “Mirror Image” feels like a rushed, cobbled-together resolution to Quantum Leap, that’s because, well, it is; facing abrupt cancellation but hoping for the chance to renew the show somewhere down the line, Bellisario hastily wrote this existential pit stop for Sam Beckett, where he finally came face-to-face with whatever cosmic force has been guiding him through time to put things right (implied, numerous times, to be God).

It’s messier and more ambiguous than previous episodes, but I applaud its ambition and the deliberate mystery of its dreamlike plot. It may have given us very little closure on a series so many of us loved (see: The misspelled closing text card that reads, “Sam Becket[sic] never returned home”). But with the prospect of a new show just around the corner, maybe we’ll find out where he’s been all this time.

14. “Deliver Us From Evil” (Season 5, Episode 7)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: March 19, 1966

The Leapee: Jimmy, a man with Down’s Syndrome whom Sam had leaped into in a previous episode (we’ll get to him further down on the list).

What Once Went Wrong: Sam leaps back into Jimmy to find all the progress he made during his previous leap has been upended — only to find out that it might have been deliberately reversed by another traveler, a malicious villain running around putting things wrong where once they went right…

Notable Guest Stars: Apart from Renee Coleman as the “Evil Leaper,” Alia (who would end up appearing in two more episodes in the fifth season), we got English legend Carolyn Seymour as Alia’s version of Al, Zoe. SeaQuest‘s John D’Aquino returns as Jimmy’s brother, and Space: Above and Beyond‘s Kristen Cloke also shows up. (Quantum Leap has an imaging chamber’s worth of guest stars from ’90s sci-fi television.)

Quantum Drip: Al’s got two classic outfits here — one a spangly suit with a glittery suit jacket over a lavender dress shirt and purple-striped tie, and the other a nifty hot-red blazer with a bolo tie.

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: The concept of an “evil leaper” feels anathema to the very concept of Quantum Leap, where all it takes for history to improve is for the backwards thinking of the past to meet the liberal progressivism of the future. But it’s hard to deny there’s a chintzy thrill to the idea of Sam having to stop someone who’s working at exact cross-purposes to him throughout time, and revisiting a fan-favorite leap (more on him later) is always nice.

13. “Good Morning, Peoria” (Season 2, Episode 6)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: September 9, 1959

The Leapee: “Howlin'” Chick Howell, a bombastic radio DJ in central Illinois who just loves playing rock-and-roll, much to the consternation of the station’s studio execs.

What Once Went Wrong: Sam’s got to overcome his stage fright to fill Chick’s shoes, keep his station afloat, and stop an uptight local businessman from tamping down the spirit of rock-and-roll.

Notable Guest Stars: Home Improvement‘s Patricia Richardson plays the buttoned-down station producer who falls for Chick/Sam. Oh yeah, and the real Chubby Checker shows up as a younger version of himself, pitching a demo he’s recorded of a little song called “The Twist.”

Quantum Drip: This episode, Al’s got a beige double-breasted suit with loud, floral shirt and bright-orange tie. What a legend.

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: While Quantum Leap‘s best hours would involve the Big, Heavy stuff like trying to solve racism, sexism, and animal cruelty on America’s TV screens, it’s also nice to let Scott Bakula just sit back and have some fun. And this breezy, silly hour is a nice one to include, especially once Sam figures out the secret to being a rockin’ radio DJ: just imitate Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam. Plus, you get enough classic ’50s bops to rock allll the way around the clock, from “Tittu Frutti” to “All Shook Up” and “Shout”. Network TV music supervisors wish they had the budget to clear all these tracks today.

12. “Lee Harvey Oswald” (Season 5, Episodes 1/2)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: A range between October 5, 1957 and (you guessed it) November 22, 1963.

The Leapee: John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

What Once Went Wrong: Leaping into the infamous assassin at several points throughout his life, Sam tries to figure out what circumstances, if any, he can change to keep him from killing JFK.

Notable Guest Stars: In the Imaging Chamber, Oswald is played by the gone-too-soon Willie “Sex and the City” Garson!

Quantum Drip: Al’s outfit is comparatively muted in this one, an olive-green striped jacket with a closed-collar white shirt.

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: Season Five is the moment the show jumped the shark (leaped over the shark?) between its reliance on even goofier leaping gimmicks — leaping into Dr. Ruth, a young Elvis, or Marilyn Monroe’s chauffeur — and that god-awful synth redo of its smooth-jazz theme to make it more “exciting.”

But its boldest leap yet was also one of its most intriguing: putting the goody-two-shoes Sam into the body of one of American history’s greatest villains, to see if he could change a fate we all know did and must happen. Bellisario wrote this script as a rebuttal to Oliver Stone’s JFK, as he was firm in his belief that Oswald acted alone. The results serve as a nice corrective to those conspiracy theories, and tested the show’s capacity for empathy toward its subjects.

11. “A Leap for Lisa” (Season 4, Episode 22)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: June 25, 1957

The Leapee: A young Al, currently stationed on a Naval base in San Diego’s Torrey Pines.

What Once Went Wrong: Sam’s tasked with clearing Al’s name for the rape and murder of the base commander’s wife, a crime he didn’t commit — now complicated by the fact that the married nurse who could serve as his alibi has died in a car accident before she could clear his name.

Notable Guest Stars: The titular Lisa is played by Terry Farrell, who’d go on to play Jadzia Dax for six seasons on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and SNL alum Charles Rocket plays the base commander. But the big get is Planet of the Apes legend Roddy McDowell, who plays Edward St. John V, the prissy British hologram who temporarily replaces Al in a timeline where his conviction means he never joined the project.

Quantum Drip: I’m simply obsessed with this black-and-red padded and sequined jacket. The rule of thumb is: the more Al dresses like your mother right before her annual trip to Branson, Missouri, the better the episode is.

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: Episodes that touch on either Sam or Al’s personal timelines are almost always big standouts in the show’s tenure, and this is certainly one of them. With its From Here to Eternity-inspired tryst on the beach in its opening minutes, to the brief “What if?” of having Cornelius from Planet of the Apes as Bakula’s sidekick, it’s a solid entry for the show. Plus, we get a few scenes of Al talking to himself — specifically, his younger self in the Imaging Chamber, reminding us of where all these people go when Sam leaps into them.

10. “Pool Hall Blues” (Season 2, Episode 18)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: September 4, 1954

The Leapee: Charlie “Black Magic” Walters, an aging Chicago pool legend (and Al’s mentor growing up!).

What Once Went Wrong: Sam has to help Magic win a high-stakes pool game against a loan shark to save his daughter Violet’s bar.

Notable Guest Stars: Dawn of the Dead‘s Ken Foree appears as one of the loan shark’s enforcers, and Coming to America (and Coming 2 America) love interest Shari Headley plays Violet. Also, Robert “Rags” Woods, who served as the real-life inspiration for Magic, plays Sam’s mirror image in the episode!

Quantum Drip: My favorite here is the silver metallic jacket/turquoise satin shirt combo he wears halfway through the episode. The diamond-shaped tie alone

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: As Quantum Leap episodes go, this one’s pretty standard: Sam leaps into someone who’s really good at what they do, and he’s got to learn how to do it just as well if he wants to fix history. But as one of the several episodes where Sam leaps into a Black man, it’s the one that probably holds up the best — especially in a scene where Sam learns the hard way that “just get a loan from the bank” isn’t the easiest thing for a Black woman to do.

But most notably, this is one of three episodes the show would win a cinematography Emmy for, and for good reason — Michael Watkins injects oodles of smoky atmosphere into the scenes in Violet’s bar, flashes of neon light breaking up the nighttime tension of Magic’s many pool games.

09. “Running for Honor” (Season 4, Episode 12)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: June 11, 1964

The Leapee: Tommy York, a Navy cadet and track star at Prescott College in Michigan.

What Once Went Wrong: Sam’s task is to save the life of Tommy’s ex-roommate Philip, expelled for being gay and set to be killed in a gay-bashing incident from some of their classmates.

Quantum Drip: Al’s getup this episode is a bold, Nerf-orange number with stylized lapels that zig-zag and have holes cut out of them.

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: “Running for Honor” is one of the more controversial episodes in the show’s run, not least because tolerance of queer people wasn’t nearly as socially acceptable when it aired as, say, the comparatively anodyne sentiments of racial and gender equality in the ’90s.

Not only that, Sam’s quest to protect Philip encounters some unexpected resistance from Al, of all people — whose discomfort at Philip’s sexuality comes as a surprise from the normally with-it cool guy from the future. That Sam not only has to correct the mistakes of the past, but break through some preconceptions Al has in the future, makes this one particularly novel. (Plus, it explicitly references Stonewall five years before that watershed moment in queer liberation would occur.)

08. “Shock Theater” (Season 3, Episode 22)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: October 3, 1954

The Leapee: Sam Biederman, a manic depressive locked in a mental institution.

What Once Went Wrong: Technically, Sam’s in this mental hospital to help another mentally-impaired patient learn how to read so he can reenter society. But a punitive hit of electroshock therapy, right as Sam leaps in, scrambles his brain, and leaves him manifesting some of his previous leaps as new personalities.

Notable Guest Stars: David Proval, who plays the supervising doctor at the mental hospital, is best known playing all kinds of heavies and goombas, from Tony Devienazo in Mean Streets to Richie Aprile on The Sopranos, to the “Weird” Al Yankovic vehicle UHF.

Quantum Drip: Al’s here in his classic red double-breasted blazer and white shirt, which he puts to good use as he teaches Sam’s intended target how to read with the power of rap. (Eat your heart out, Michelle Pfeiffer.)

Oh, Boy: “Shock Theater” is a nifty review of the series thus far, with a high-concept gimmick tailor-made to let Scott Bakula stretch his acting muscles in a closed-off setting. (He’d win a Golden Globe for this season, presumably off the back of this episode).

Granted, it’s a bit hokey, and Bakula’s personality-hopping can cause more than a couple of winces, especially as he flips to a jive-talking AAVE for “Color of Truth’s” Jesse Tyler or goes full “Simple Jack” mode for the cognitively-disabled Jimmy (more on him later). But it’s nice to look back on all the people Sam has helped so far, and the unique structure of the episode feels novel for Quantum.

07. “Raped” (Season 4, Episode 6)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: June 20, 1980

The Leapee: Katie McBain, a young rape victim, whom Sam leaps into hours after her assault as she’s getting checked at the hospital.

What Once Went Wrong: Sam’s job is to make sure that Katie gets justice for her assault, presumably at the hands of her date that night, Kevin (Michael Sheehan). But the trick is, Sam doesn’t actually know what happened that night, leaving him to piece together exactly how to do that.

Notable Guest Stars: Liz Vassey of The Tick fame plays the accused rapist’s ex-girlfriend, while Katie herself is played by Pump Up the Volume‘s Cheryl Pollak (and gets guest star status, which is rare for a leapee).

Quantum Drip: Al’s purplest ensemble yet is this black-and-violet leather jacket with too many zippers (or not enough?), mixed with a bolo tie and purple shirt.

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: Stories about date rape are always a dicey proposition because they have the potential to be handled so inelegantly. Color me surprised that Quantum Leap‘s turn at bat is a surprisingly nuanced and powerful take on such a traumatic event. Beverly Bridges’ script takes a sensitive but honest approach to the aftermath of date rape: the internalized guilt, the victim-blaming, the material effects it has on a person’s life and well-being.

Everyone searches for a reason not to believe her, from her father (who grills her about whether she fought back or got out of the car) to her lawyer (another woman, cognizant of the low chances a date rape charge will stick) to Al himself. But Sam, all too aware of his cosmic role as Katie’s advocate, feels “in his heart” that she’s telling the truth, and he’s “going to do everything [he] can to prove” it.

The courtroom drama that follows is riveting, not least because (thanks to some future magic) Al finds a way to let the real Katie dictate her testimony to Sam, the camera eventually turning solely to her and letting her have the floor. The results are realistically bittersweet; Kevin gets off scot-free. But not before he tries to rough up Katie again, and Sam gets to knock him one in the jaw.

06. “Jimmy” (Season 2, Episode 8)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: October 4, 1964

The Leapee: Jimmy, an unemployed young man with Down’s Syndrome (the same leap he’d revisit in “Deliver Us From Evil”).

What Once Went Wrong: Sam has to help Jimmy keep the job his ever-patient brother Frank has landed him as a dockworker, dodging ableist slurs and discrimination so he can stay out of an institution (where history says he’d languish).

Notable Guest Stars: One of Jimmy’s most prominent enemies on the docks is Tarantino fave Michael Madsen, whose gruff, abusive dockworker is revealed to be insecure about his own disability: dyslexia.

Quantum Drip: Al’s go-to fit includes a black shirt with big white polka dots, a grey striped blazer, and a blood-red tie with black pants. Jack Donaghy was right; we’ll all be into power clashing in the future.

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: One of Quantum Leap‘s most acclaimed episodes is also one of the most… difficult to watch in 2022. To his credit, Bakula does his level best to not succumb to “Simple Jack”-level mannerisms, playing him with a decent level of sensitivity (a bit unlike “Shock Therapy,” alas). There’s also a heaping helping of some language used to refer to people with cognitive disabilities that we’d rather not utter nowadays, a stark reminder that, both in the ’60s and the ’90s, more sensitive vocabulary wasn’t all that popular yet.

But within the context of those linguistic limitations, “Jimmy” is a helluva episode of Leap, one deeply concerned with the welfare of its subjects. That it takes time to understand the perspectives of everyone around Jimmy — even those who view him as a freak or a burden — makes it work even better as both drama and advocacy.

05. “The Color of Truth” (Season 1, Episode 7)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: August 8, 1955

The Leapee: Jesse Tyler, an elderly Black man in the Deep South who works as a chauffeur to Miz Melny (Susan French), the old white widow of the town’s mayor. (Yes, it’s pretty much a Driving Miss Daisy situation.)

What Once Went Wrong: According to Al, Sam’s just got to prevent his racist employer from being struck and killed at a train intersection, all while trying to make her change her ways.

Notable Guest Stars: Royce D. Applegate is another SeaQuest vet, and he was also in Rain Man, Splash, and (get this) Driving Miss Daisy.

Quantum Drip: The best one’s gotta be his hot-purple shirt-suit combo, paired with loud striped black jacket, that he wears when having a heart-to-heart with Sam near the grave of Miz Melny’s husband.

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: The highlight of the show’s eight-episode first season (feature-length pilot “Genesis” aside, which just barely edged out of this list), “The Color of Truth” is Quantum Leap in a nutshell. The series would often make merry play of the many different identities Sam could try on, but this was the first that really forced him to consider life in someone else’s skin.

Sure, its central premise starts from a transparent riff on one of the most popular movies on race relations of the time, but smart writing and deeply sensitive performances elevate it to something beyond that. In more cynical hands, this one could fall flat on its face, or smirk a little too gleefully at the subtextual race play at work having Scott Bakula play a Black man. But the po-faced sincerity of Deborah Pratt’s script pushes through those barriers to deliver an earnest, quietly powerful plea for tolerance and equality.

04. “The Leap Back” (Season 4, Episode 1)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: June 15, 1945

The Leapee: An ex-POW freshly back from WWII, struggling to get his life back together.

What Once Went Wrong: Where the electroshock going into “Shock Theater” messed up Sam’s brain, the electroshock that lets him leap out also makes him switch places with Al, who’s now tasked with stopping their leapee’s ex-girlfriend from marrying someone else. On the other side of time, Sam reassembles his Swiss-cheesed brain and grapples with the notion that his leap home is only possible for a limited time.

Notable Guest Stars: Sam’s wife(!) in the future is played by the wonderful Mimi Kuzyk, a Canadian actress who’s been a mainstay in genre TV for decades, and most recently stunned in the Bergmanesque Mark O’Brien thriller The Righteous alongside Henry Czerny.

Quantum Drip: Seeing as Al’s in the unusual position of being the leaper this episode, he’s mostly stuck in the Army dress uniform his subject wears on base.

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: Another fun subversion of the Quantum Leap formula, “The Leap Back” puts the show on the other foot for Al, leaving him with little but his wits and a bleepy-bloopy hand device that won’t activate for another fifty years.

But while Stockwell gets to have fun as the action/comedy lead this time, it’s Sam’s half of the story that wrings the most pathos. It’s the longest, fullest picture we get of Quantum Leap‘s vision of the future, all blinking lights and garish ’80s colors (which makes sense; it’s gotta match Al’s fashion sense, after all). And the reveal that Sam’s Swiss-cheesed brain had made him forget he has a wife waiting for him to come home this whole time makes his Christlike journey all the more tragic.

03. “M.I.A.” (Season 2, Episode 22)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: April 1, 1969 (April Fool’s Day!)

The Leapee: An undercover cop in San Diego, whom Sam leaps into while he’s in drag on a vice assignment — a fun little switcheroo as the ep keeps us guessing as to whose body Sam has really occupied.

What Once Went Wrong: Well, Al says Sam has got to stop a San Diego housewife named Beth (Susan Diol) from giving up hope on her husband, a soldier who’s been MIA in Vietnam for four years, and marrying someone else. But the more Sam digs into the mystery, there’s more to Al’s insistence than meets the eye.

Notable Guest Stars: Jason Beghe, who plays Sam’s partner (and the person whose life he’s really here to save), would return to the force years later as the lead of the still-running Dick Wolf show Chicago P.D.

Quantum Drip: Since this is a big Al episode, his wardrobe is muted here, but not by much; he’s still got a supremely busy purple-and-black patterned shirt that looks straight off the rack at Dan Flashes, festooned with a razor-thin silver tie and metal brooch.

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: For most of Quantum Leap‘s tenure, Dean Stockwell’s Al was just the cigar-chomping comic relief, the zoot-suit-wearing Jiminy Cricket to Sam’s Pinocchio. But “M.I.A.” finally gave Stockwell the heartbreaking showcase he deserved, exploring his past through the eyes of the endlessly-empathetic Sam.

Like the best episodes of the show (including the two left on this list), Quantum Leap excelled when it explored the implications of its premise for its two central characters. If you had the ability to time travel, would you change your own fate? Would you try to get back those you’ve loved and lost? The twist — that Beth’s MIA husband is Al, and he’s been trying to manipulate Sam into saving his marriage before she moves on — makes for a scintillating morality play, compounded by the last-minute reveal of who Sam’s actually here for.

The episode’s final minutes, where Al bares his feelings to a Beth who can’t hear or touch him (and play-acts dancing with her to Ray Charles’ “Georgia”), is one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of the show, not to mention Stockwell’s body of work.

02/01. “The Leap Home” (Season 3, Episodes 1 & 2)

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Date: November 25, 1969 / April 7, 1970

The Leapee: First, a young Sam Beckett himself, as a teenager growing up on a farm in Elk Ridge, Indiana; then, one of his brother’s squadmates in Vietnam.

What Once Went Wrong: Ostensibly, Sam is meant to win a pivotal high school basketball game that would serve as an inflection point for many lives around him. But all he really wants to do is save the other men in his family from the untimely deaths he knows are coming: His father from heart disease and his brother Tom from getting killed in Vietnam. What’s more, he gets a second chance to save Tom’s life when he leaps into a member of his squad on the day he’s supposed to die.

Notable Guest Stars: “Part II” features Babylon 5 actress Andrea Thompson as a photojournalist who comes along to document the squad’s mission. But most people would more likely recognize ’90s sex symbol and Wayne’s World actress Tia Carrere as a Viet Cong defector-turned-spy. (And surprise, surprise, Sam’s dad in “Part I” is played by none other than Bakula himself, caked under the best Emmy-winning prosthetics early ’90s TV could buy.)

Sidebar related to the upcoming revival series: Ernie Hudson’s character in the continuation is actually the soldier Sam leaps into in “Part II,” now the head of Project Quantum Leap. Does he remember Sam’s intervention in his life? Guess we’ll find out!

Quantum Drip: My personal fave has to be the deep blue shirt/paisley vest combo Al wears at the gym as he coaches young Sam in “Part I.” “Part II” sticks him in his smart-looking Navy dress whites, though, which is always fun to see.

Quantum Leap (NBC)
Quantum Leap (NBC)

Quantum Leap (NBC)

Oh, Boy: They say you can’t go home again, and Quantum Leap‘s two best episodes are a bittersweet showcase for that idea. “Part I” is probably the stronger of the two, a tear-jerking homecoming for Sam that makes great use of Bakula’s versatility and the doe-eyed optimism that makes him such a compelling lead.

Like Al in “M.I.A.”, he tries to bend the rules to change his family’s fate, right down to singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” (a song he wouldn’t write for another couple of years) to his little sister, who breaks out in tears. Not just because the song is so beautiful (and Bakula sings it wonderfully; a song-and-dance Broadway man at heart, he often found excuses to show off his chops on the show). But because, if Sam’s telling the truth, that means her brother’s going to die.

Quantum Leap was the kind of show that, perhaps naively, imagined that the key to a better world lay in our ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. “The Leap Home” brought those ideas back home to Sam (and us), making us wrestle with the notion that our actions have consequences, and even the most well-meaning interventions come at a cost. But maybe, just maybe, if your intentions are good and your heart is open, you can change history for the better.

Oh, Boy! The 15 Best Quantum Leap Episodes, Ranked
Clint Worthington

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