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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

9 Comments

  1. BadCatMan
    March 29, 2015 @ 11:59 pm

    Oh boy.

    I was waiting to see if you cover Quantum Leap, and was meaning to ask if you would. Because I've been thinking about it all this time in preparation.

    I loved Quantum Leap as a kid, but didn't remember too much about it. I think I lived for the reveals of who Sam was that week or next week. Later, I was dismayed that some younger SF fans had never seen it or knew about it, then realised how much older I actually was. I rewatched the whole series a few years ago. The daytime movie drama stories usually didn't really do it for me then (I'm too much of an SF&F geek, though I can get into emotional storylines if there's a spaceship or something for a lead-in), and it was too limited to modern American history and genres, but I was more intrigued by the mystical aspects and the very different approach to time travel. I wish there'd been more background and explanation, but maybe that's the SF geek in me.

    There don't seem to be many or even any SF series that go out of their way to change history, even Doctor Who, but Quantum Leap is based on it. And then, rather than big historical changes, it's just changing and improving one life at a time to make the world a better place. The most important thing is ensuring someone isn't a bit miserable the rest of their life. It's a nice idea. It's probably a more reliable means of altering history anyway. I imagine Sam's timeline as a great big knot of string, with Sam slowly unpicking it, one loop at a time.

    It avoids big history and big names, most of the time, bar the few Kisses with History. I think these were generally subverted. The big one would be "Lee Harvey Oswald" (where Sam mostly leaps into Oswald himself.) In the end, he fails to save John F Kennedy, but that wasn't the point – he was meant to save Jackie. (The episode's also semi-autobiographical – series creator Bellasario clashed with Oswald when he was a marine.)

    A lot of time travel fiction talks about chaos theory and the butterfly effect, how a butterfly flapping its wings here starts a destructive storm there, how a small change will have a huge, disastrous change. Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" is the classic here. Which ignores that butterflies flap their wings all the time. Actual chaos theory shows how chaotic systems are sensitive to even small perturbations, but also quite resilient to small and large perturbations. The oddly butterfly-shaped plots of chaotic systems just keep coming back to the shapes. Other time travellers avoid stepping on butterflies or don't notice, but Sam comes along and picks them up and lets them fly.

    There's something mystical about him stepping into other people's lives, seeing through their eyes, acquiring memories and feelings from each, and being enlightened by it (though it's suggested he's an angel and God's sending him on his path, which is a bit too Christian).

    Plus there's the bravery of putting a straight white man into the bodies of women, black men, black women. A gay man. A mentally disabled person. A rape victim. Oh, and even a chimp. Generally it seemed (to me, at least) to be handled well.

    Dean Stockwell appeared in Enterprise once, in the episode "Detained" as a prison camp governor holding Archer captive.

    I would have loved to see an episode of Enterprise open with Archer looking at a mirror and saying "Oh boy." Or near the end see him ask a blank wall why he hasn't leaped yet. Quantum leaping would have been the perfect solution to the Temporal Cold War.

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  2. EclecticDave
    March 30, 2015 @ 1:15 am

    I loved this series when I was younger and it's on my "watch the whole thing again" list for if I ever find the time (it's on Netflix, at least last time I checked).

    Although often derided for its "silly" episodes, there were a number of stand out episodes, however the final will be the one that always stays with me. (Note: SPOILERS!)

    It's in that episode that it's revealed that nothing is forcing Sam to leap other than Sam himself – he could have gone home at any time if he'd ever been selfish enough to put himself before all the people he could help. While previously his sense of moral obligation was subconsciously keeping him Leaping, even after he knows where he stands he's still unable to allow himself to go home – instead (in tears, no less) choosing to fix the one time he feels he was selfish, in the two part story "The Leap Home", where he saves his brother when he should have been saving Al. Of course the series then ends in the only way it ever could – with the words "and Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home".

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  3. David Faggiani
    March 30, 2015 @ 2:57 am

    Hey, so I'm a big Star Trek fan, particularly of DS9. I've never seen 'A Leap for Lisa', but, given the summary you provide, isn't that the plot of a first-season DS9 episode? Where Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell, of course) is on trial for a murder Curzon may have committed, and the only escape for her is (SPOILERS) the revelation that Curzon was having an affair? That's a really weird co-incidence/influence!

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  4. David Faggiani
    March 30, 2015 @ 5:34 am

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  5. K. Jones
    March 30, 2015 @ 7:03 am

    If I ever watched Leap it was because I was too busy playing with toys to change the channel, but I was totally aware of it and knew the premise long before the internet. I assume this means that the show's iconography and short-hand was presented in a way that was really, really easy for the casual viewer to understand. Which is pretty cool!

    At any rate, Bakula himself had a pretty large presence on TV. Any given talk show or guest appearance boasting "Quantum Leap's Scott Bakula!" sticks in my memory as one way of having met him. I was quite aware of who he was by the time ENT rolled around, and pleased to see a sort of vetted sci-fi actor keeping Trek anchored, ironically. He seems like a nice dude.

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  6. tom harries
    March 30, 2015 @ 7:08 am

    "Plus there's the bravery of putting a straight white man into the bodies of women, black men, black women. A gay man. A mentally disabled person. A rape victim. Oh, and even a chimp. Generally it seemed (to me, at least) to be handled well."

    Um, I think bravery might be overdoing it. It was still a straight white man as the lead and getting all the screen-time. Admittedly, it's Scott Bakula, but … still. More than once, having him leap into a black guy's body meant that we had a white actor (playing a black character) lecturing a black actor about racism.

    It's a great show, don't get me wrong, but it was one of the things that made me notice that all the lectures my generation were getting about prejudice and morality and "don't do bad things to other people" all seemed to be coming from middle-aged, middle-class white guys who looked like my Dad!

    PS I loved that episode of Enterprise with Stockwell and Bakula!

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  7. BadCatMan
    March 30, 2015 @ 2:22 pm

    I meant more the identity issues. I imagine it was brave for the time, in late 80s, early 90s mainstream television. Though they did flipflop on whether Sam's mind was in their bodies or his body somehow replaced theirs without anyone else seeing anything different. (To the point he made someone without legs walk.)

    But yeah, good point. Though in "Raped" at least they brought back the girl's mind and switched the POV so she herself could confront and accuse her attacker.

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  8. Froborr
    March 31, 2015 @ 9:56 am

    Interesting. I also have vague childhood memories of liking Quantum Leap, but have never gone back to rewatch it. I do remember, when Enterprise was announced, I was already well into my not-caring-about-Trek phase, but I was aware of it due to my roommate still being a big fan. (Not of Enterprise, of course, but of Trek in general.)

    And the main thought I recall having was "Scott Bakula? Quantum Leap guy? No way, he's way too nice to be a captain." Because, well, all the Trek captains are pretty forbidding? They're capable of being actively friendly, sure, especially Picard and Sisko, but that's when they consciously choose to be; by default, all the captains are rather closed off, albeit in very different ways.

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  9. Daru
    April 3, 2015 @ 10:53 pm

    "and maybe utopianism also means doing small things for each other to make everyone's lives a little happier"

    I have very fond memories of watching this show often in my teens and with my parents. I think we really (especially with my father) felt some togetherness in watching the show. Yes, I liked that the premise was simple and straightforward and that it was easy to just dip in an see episodes at random.

    I haven't watched it all, but love and agree with your sentiment above Josh. I believe sincerely in the small things we can do for one another.

    Reply

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