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“Quantum Leap” is traveling back to the 1992 LA riots in Wednesday’s new episode.
In an exclusive clip shared with TheWrap, Ben (Raymond Lee) lands in the body of 18-year-old Daniel Park, a first generation Korean American teenager working at his father’s shoe store in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. Jumping to 1992 alongside Magic (Ernie Hudson), the pair learn they have been transported to the day when all four officers involved in the beating of Rodney King were acquitted of assault, with three of the four acquitted of using excessive force.
“I remember watching the riots on TV — how unfair that verdict was to the Black community and how angry people were over it,” Ben told Magic as he realizes his new surroundings. “I remember the rooftop Koreans trying to protect their businesses … I can’t possibility be here to stop all that right?”
Instead, Magic informs Ben that amid the riots prompted Daniel’s father, Jin Park, to protect his shoe store, leading to his death. “Looks like you’re here to save him,” Magic said.
Ben quickly joins a conversation between Jin Park and his other son, Sonny (Danny Kang), as they discuss the implications of the unjust verdict and the differing generational and cultural perspectives of the incident, spotlighting the tenuous relationship between Black and Korean communities at the time.
“The police were protect[ing] our community,” Jin Park said. “Those officers [were] just doing their job — justice was served.”
“People won’t see it that way — for them its just another example of a system that doesn’t treat everyone equally under the law, and it’s gonna really piss them off,” Ben replied, before doing everything in his power to get Jin Park to close down the shop early.
With the NBC time travel series in its second season, the idea to return back to the LA riots was suggested by Lee, himself, after the show’s executive producers asked the lead actor if there was a time period to which he would like his character to travel.
“[Lee] immediately brought up the LA uprising in 1992 and suggested seeing that turning point in American history dramatized through the lens of a Korean-American caught in the middle — knowing how volatile those six days were, and the impact it had on so many people — not just in Koreatown, but across the country,” co-EP and episode co-writer Benjamin Raab told TheWrap.
Raab and Deric A. Hughes, who serves as a fellow co-executive producer and the episode’s co-writer, immediately identified the riots and their widespread impact as a “powerful, thought-provoking story” and pursued the story while writing for Season 2 with the support of “Quantum Leap” showrunners, Martin Gero and Dean Georgaris, as well as the network and studio.
“It felt like it was too important of a story not to tell, considering our lead is Korean American who grew up in LA, and rarely do we ever get to watch the Korean American experience/POV on network television,” Hughes told TheWrap. “Especially when it comes to an important moment that shined a light on the civil unrest and injustices that took place, and sadly, continues to take place across our country to this very day.”
“One Night in Koreatown” episode director Tamika Miller also noted the LA riots are “not so far removed” from more recent uprisings, including the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement that kickstarted following George Floyd’s killing.
“The same issues that plagued us as a society then regarding race relations, unfortunately continue to plague us now, and, new generations should be aware of the history of this country,” Miller said.
For Raab and Hughes, spotlighting the strained relationship between Black and Korean communities was similarly integral to the episode as Raab notes it speaks to “a much larger racial and cultural issue we’re still grappling with as a society.”
“These kinds of issues are exactly what ‘Quantum Leap’ was created to address,” Raab said. “Sure, it’s a fun time travel adventure show, but like all great science fiction, it’s about so much more — In this case, what it really means to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. The stories we tell each week not only have the power to open hearts and minds, but they also help remind us that the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us.”
“While tremendous progress has been made, when it comes to repairing the tenuous relationship between the Asian and Black communities, it also feels like some of it is now becoming lost or taken away … once again,” Hughes added.
“Quantum Leap” premieres Wednesdays at 8-9pm ET/PT on NBC, with new episodes available to stream the next day on Peacock.