The process of trying to advance the original story and simultaneously replicate it becomes a jump that initially appears beyond the reach of “Quantum Leap,” an NBC redo of one of the more provocative concepts from the network’s golden years. Situated after “The Voice,” the series seems destined to get a look from viewers, but despite a serialized mystery, that won’t prevent some from jumping out just as quickly.
Building off the original show, the concept features a group of scientists and military personnel working on the project that Dr. Sam Beckett (originally played by Scott Bakula) pursued in the earlier series, before disappearing in the mid-1990s.
Here, physicist Ben Song (Raymond Lee) takes the leap into an accelerator given a special-effects upgrade, throwing him back into the lives of others – in this first episode, a getaway driver in 1985.
As with the previous series, the show has considerable fun establishing the historical moment, with songs by the likes of David Bowie and Duran Duran setting the mood. (It also happens to be the year before the Fox network made its debut, so for NBC in terms of its place in a less-competitive TV landscape, happier times.)
Here, though, Ben’s jump proves a mystery to his colleagues, including his fiancée Addison (Caitlin Bassett), who in this telling serves as the hologram appearing to assist him even as the team back home labors to decipher both why he took the risk without notifying them and how to bring him back.
Recently featured in “Top Gun: Maverick,” Lee makes for a solid lead, and oscillating between past and present does add a bit more dimension to the framework, which still boasts the procedural component of Ben helping a different person each week before leaping into a new setting. At home, the team is headed by a career military man (Ernie Hudson), while Addison struggles with Ben’s lost memories and what to tell him about their relationship.
Still, “Quantum Leap” distinguished itself in its day by using the then-ambitious format to explore social issues and history. Even then, the show was never really a major hit, although it did survive five seasons before ending somewhat unceremoniously.
While the premise stood out at the time – representing the kind of unorthodox swing the late NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff liked to take – its formula of using the past as a window into the present feels decidedly less distinctive now, and balancing that with the serialized component feels a trifle strained at first blush.
Recycling familiar titles has become a tried-and-true method of slicing through the programming clutter, and by that measure “Quantum Leap” starts with a certain advantage. But the clock is already ticking, and in the current TV environment, time might not be on its side.
“Quantum Leap” premieres September 19 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.