LOS ANGELES – Raymond Lee plays a physicist on NBC's new version of "Quantum Leap," but his theory-quoting character, Dr. Ben Song, seems worlds away from the nebbish stereotype.
The first sign is his slamming 1970s wardrobe, a funky burgundy patterned shirt with flyaway lapels over disco-snug grey polyester pants. An even more obvious sign: Song frets about getting pummeled during an upcoming professional boxing match.
"Dr. Ben Song is not your normal physicist,” Lee explains on a filming break. "And he is definitely not a fighter.”
Instead, Song is a time traveler in “Quantum Leap” (Monday, 10 EDT/PDT), the reboot of its beloved 1989-93 sci-fi TV series that featured Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett, who involuntarily vaulted through space and time, taking the place of seemingly random people to correct past mistakes.
Song's modern-day physicist is picking up the time-traveling experiment conducted by Beckett and his Project Quantum Leap hologram cohort Admiral Albert Calavicci (Dean Stockwell) in the original series.
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Time travel – on this day into the body of a 1977-era promising young boxer in an episode airing Oct. 4 – explains Song's anxiety. He doesn't inherit the skills of the body he inhabits and gets pummeled in the ring early. "He's always out of his element," Lee says.
The time travel also explains the strong '70s vibe that includes the 1972 Chevrolet Malibu convertible in which Song rides for scenes outside the Sheraton Universal Hotel, which has been convincingly converted into a neon-light-filled Las Vegas casino.
It's all temporary. In the first season, Song will time vault into a jewel heist getaway driver in 1985, a space shuttle astronaut in the 1980s and into a woman's body (in next month's fourth episode). The Ziggy supercomputer that ran the Quantum Leap Project returns, with upgrades to expand the time-traveling scope beyond Beckett's lifetime.
"Talk about knocking off the bucket list for an actor. And there is no limit, we're talking the possibility of prehistoric times," says Lee, who dons a wildly different ensemble for each episode. "Each week is like a whole new movie."
Bakula weighed in on the "Quantum Leap" return, posting an OG picture Instagram Thursday from a 1989 episode, with Beckett as a boxer, to "quiet rumors" and reiterate that he has "no connection with the new show."
"So many of you have been asking me in recent months, 'How could you do QL without Sam? (or Al, for that matter.) Well,I guess we're about to find out." Bakula wrote, adding that it was a "difficult decision to pass on the project."
"However the idea of anyone ‘leaping’ around in time and walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, remains a very appealing concept and so worthy of exploration, especially given the current state of mankind," Bakula added, wishing the new show "good luck and happy leaping."
As Bakula noted, there are noticeable deviations from the original series, including the Korean American Lee, 35, in the time leaper spot for his first leading series role (after appearing in "Top Gun: Maverick").
The famed "Sam and Al" bromance of the original has also been replaced, by a romance between Song and Addison Augustine (Caitlin Bassett), his fiancée and Quantum Leap Project colleague.
"We didn't want to do another 'Sam and Al' show. That would be crazy since the last one was so perfect," says Martin Gero, who is executive producing the series along with creator Donald Bellisario and Deborah Pratt. "This is about evolution. We're continuing in the same world, but we're telling our own story that will absolutely brush up against the previous show."
The romance is complicated. Song heads into the time-traveling machine early for mysterious reasons, slipping away during the couple's engagement party. Addison is able to follow in hologram form, but Song has no memory of his past, or his fiancée.
"This relationship brings a whole new dimension," Lee says. "And one side doesn’t even remember it. It’s like '50 First Dates' every time they meet."
The updated version will bring viewers into headquarters with the Ziggy computer for the first time, meeting the team led by Herbert "Magic" Williams (Ernie Hudson), who once time-leaped with Beckett.
While Stockwell died at age 85 in 2021, the series would appear to set stage for a Bakula reappearance, despite the stars' distancing from the new series. Beckett never returned to the present in the original series finale, and is presumably floating out there in time. Beckett even appears briefly in hologram form in the new series' first episode.
Gero says that an appearance is up to Bakula. "He gets to control that, not us. It's just a question of when and if he wants to engage. The show is very special to him for a lot of reasons."
Until then, it will be Lee's Song leaping, correcting small and large moments of history. The travel has perils well beyond the obvious, as Lee discovers while shooting a scene jumping from the '72 Chevrolet Malibu.
Slamming the car door, Lee looks shocked when the ample sleeve of his polyester twill jacket is pulled along with the bulky closing door.
"I got my sleeve caught on the lock-knob thing, It's one of those things you can't prepare for. It was like, 'What is going on?' " says Lee, laughing. "With this show, you really have to be on your toes."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Quantum Leap' time traveler: Raymond Lee enters ring, replaces Bakula