A Behind The Scenes Interview
In its Second Season, the NBC hit Original Series QUANTUM LEAP continues to push the boundaries of epic adventure and science-fiction story-telling, all the while evolving authentic tales of diversity and inclusion.
It’s rare in entertainment when the stars align, and from that combustion, a hit show emerges! 30 years ago, a physicist found himself in a scientific predicament that saw him time-traveling and leaping from one body into another. For 5 seasons on Quantum Leap Scott Bacula and Dean Stockwell found themselves faced with a new challenge every week in one of the most beloved science-fiction adventure series on television. Three decades later NBC re-tinkered and, reignited the accelerator, and introduced a new hero, Dr. Ben Song, portrayed by Raymond Lee.
Now in its Second Season, Quantum Leap (airing Tuesdays on NBC @ 10 pm EST) continues to fire the imagination of its audience and has in its own right, emerged as a phenomenon worthy of its predecessor. The series is rightly a sequel or a “requel” (depending on one’s preferred pop-culture terminology) of the Bacula/Stockwell run. It acknowledges the legacy and even brings in “connective tissue” to bridge the two series. It also stars Caitlin Bassett as Addison, who is often at Dr. Song’s side during his quantum leaps, in a similar capacity to the Dean Stockwell character, but with more tech.
In fact, among some of the more significant upgrades to the new series, Dr. Song and Addison are part of an entire team, an operation that is headed by Herbert “Magic” Williams, played by Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters), and supported by the brilliant Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park, The Sandman, Cowboy Bebop) and Jenn Chu (Nanrisa Lee) the head of security. There’s a deeper conspiracy that is also exposed, as Ben quantum leaps from life to life, a man out of time, righting historical wrongs, and who might be lost forever, unless the bigger mystery behind Ben’s leaps is solved!
Science fiction has given creatives a thrilling backdrop in which to tell stories that often feature relevant cultural and social contexts. It’s a practice that goes back to the ‘60s with Star Trek which introduced television’s first interracial kiss between Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), and continued with further groundbreaking moments including one of the first same-sex kisses in syndication. Quantum Leap has given its creators similar agency and a directive to tell stories that are inclusive and reflective of the culture, addressing social issues through a sci-fi lens.
The Truth in The Treasure
Among the creatives inside the inner workings of Quantum Leap is transgender activist/performer Shakina who came onto the series as a staff writer in Season One, and is now a co-executive producer as well as an Executive Story Editor. “It’s so thrilling to be part of a show that has such a great legacy and fans,” she said, “and to tell stories that speak with the voices of our community.” In her role, Shakina has been able to provide a perspective and insight that has revealed storylines spotlighting the LGBTQ+ community and given a platform to the journey of trans individuals.
In the tenth episode of the Second Season, “The Family Treasure”, Ben’s latest leap lands him in Mexico, in 1953 in search of fortune and glory. He becomes entangled in a sibling rivalry, as one of the adventurers played by episode guest star Wilder Yari uncovers a secret of her own. Set against a backdrop of classic high adventure, Shakina, and the writing team also deliver a deeply human story of a broken family, and one among them who is struggling to define their own identity. It’s not always as simple as “X” marks the spot, and the story came entirely with its own series of pitfalls.
“The mandate came down from our showrunners, to come up with an adventure,” Shakina expressed, “and we had to start from scratch.” Determined in their resolve for industry-wide equity (especially in the realm of streaming), the Writers and Actors strikes of 2023, once an agreement was reached, had pushed the start of many of the studios’ fall shows. Quantum Leap was not an exception. “But how do you write a treasure hunt?.” Previous episodes had given audiences a space mission, an earthquake disaster, and even a UFO investigation. A treasure hunt was our likeliest next destination.
“I had to look at the movies that I love that are in that space.” Shakina was inspired to revisit films including the Indiana Jones movies, and Romancing the Stone, “but I also took from Adventures in Babysitting, to hit all the marks in an adventure story that you’d know and love, and want to see in an episode of Quantum Leap.” In the episode, Ben leaps into the body of the youngest member of a family of archaeologists, who set on a journey to honor their late father. Yari plays one of the siblings, “and during the course of that [journey], this sibling that they thought they knew, they didn’t. It was beautiful to embody how they see one another and accept their different ways.”
Run This Race
Given the science-fiction origins of Quantum Leap and the tropes that allow Shakina and the staff of writers the ability to fling Ben into a new setting every week, they are presented with exploring an entire variation of genres. “This is our Indiana Jones episode,” Shakina illustrates, “but week to week, we try to tackle a whole different adventure mode of story-telling.” And oftentimes, places our hero in situations that aren’t unlike very real-life circumstances that have depths and consequences.
In Season One, Shakina wrote and directed the episode “Let Them Play” which finds Ben inhabiting the body of a high school girls’ basketball team, and confronts the prejudices when he puts his teenage trans daughter, Gia into the game at a pivotal moment that changes the course of her story. “He has to take on the community, and other students and the team,” in a story ripped from the headlines. “No parent of a trans child knows what to do, and that’s the moment that we find ourselves in. I wanted to create an opportunity for anyone going through that experience to see what it’s like from the inside.” Through support and working to build a “safe space” the course of Gia’s life is irrevocably altered.
“These are just parents trying to figure it out, just like they would with any kid.” The episode is poignant and rich in emotion, and very much true to Quantum Leap and its legacy, with a new generation making the leap, the fans have spoken and embraced this sci-fi journey, making the show a success on NBC.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be like this, “ to Yari’s delight. “I know how much the show means to so many people, and we need to keep telling these uniquely fleshed-out stories.” Shakina agrees and adds, “We’re so blessed by the support we get from Martin Gero and Dean Georgaris [series showrunners] that we have a show where we do have representation week after week”, especially with regular series cast member Mason Alexander Park, but most importantly, “to everyone who loves Quantum Leap if you love us on TV, love us with your vote, love us with your voice, and love us with your opportunities. We’re moving the needle, but it’s a collective effort.” A message meant to transcend space and time. When we make that leap to embrace authenticity in all our lives it changes everything for the better.
Get your #FansEyeView of the Second Season trailer of QUANTUM LEAP starring Raymond Lee here:
QUANTUM LEAP | starring Raymond Lee new episodes air Tuesdays on NBC @ 10 pm EST, catch-up with streaming on PEACOCK.