Roush Review: NBC’s ‘Quantum Leap’ Reboot & Hulu’s Spoof of the ‘Reboot’
On TV, everything old is new again. Yes, this is old news. But as a new/not-so-new network TV season begins, we’re reminded of this reality with the arrival of one of the splashier reboots of recent times.
You may need a fairly long memory to recall the fun of the original Quantum Leap, which aired on NBC from 1989 to 1993, making a star of Scott Bakula as Sam Beckett, the time-tripping scientist who jumped into people’s bodies and lives in random years within his own lifetime. It’s a timeless high concept, which makes it ripe for rebooting.
And while some fans may be dismayed that Bakula has reportedly declined to be involved in NBC’s Quantum Leap continuation, the ghost in the machine that is Sam Beckett hovers over the mythology of the new series. The good news: His replacement, Raymond Lee, is more than up to the assignment, projecting charisma with understandable befuddlement as physicist Ben Song, whose motive for impulsively leaping through the Quantum Accelerator these many years later remains a mystery to those he left behind. (Cue “this is bigger than us” conspiracy subplots, a dreary staple in so many NBC dramas.)
Among those missing Ben: his fiancée Addison (Caitlin Bassett), who steps into the hologram-helper role so ably played by the late Dean Stockwell in the original. (The pilot episode is dedicated to his memory.) Addison is at his side, visible only to Ben, with access to supercomputer Ziggy to help her beloved time traveler figure out where he is, who he is, and what dilemma he must resolve before he can leap again. (In the opener, he’s thrust into a muddled 1980s thriller with a sentimental core involving a heist, highlighted by a harrowing car chase where Ben is behind the wheel struggling to operate a stick shift.)
If the fast-paced caper of the week is a bit simplistic, Ben’s situation is anything but. He can’t even remember who Addison is because the leap scrambled his memory, which adds an emotional undercurrent to the truckloads of exposition as he learns the particulars of the Quantum Leap project while on the job. The show drags any time it goes back to the lab, with its generic mix of funky techies and bureaucrats. Their goal, and Addison’s, is to bring Ben back.
Which we know won’t happen anytime soon. Because the show would then be over.
For all of you who rolled your eyes at the very idea of a Quantum Leap reboot, do I have a show for you. Biting the hand that feeds it has rarely been so tasty as in Hulu’s Reboot, a barbed satire about TV from people who clearly love TV.
When an executive at Hulu (spoofing itself) asks, “Are people still doing reboots?” his obsequious underlings rattle off nearly 20 actual titles without blinking. Naturally, his response is, “Let’s remake something original.” A show whose time has obviously come, Reboot (from Modern Family’s Steven Levitan) imagines the revival 15 years after cancellation of the fictional Step Right Up, a corny “TGIF”-lite sitcom that deserved its burial. Levitan has said he was inspired to create this series after reading about the Roseanne reboot (now The Conners) firing its controversial title star: “That’s the show I want to see—what’s going on on that set!”
The reason why “edgy” writer-producer Hannah (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Rachel Bloom) even wants to bring Step Right Up back from the dead is a spoiler, but the true purpose of Reboot is to build terrific comedy from the bones of bad comedy. (And the reboot of Step, as we follow it from table read to post-production, looks simply awful.) I even laughed at gags about looping dialogue.
The reassembled cast is an amalgam of the pretentious, the desperate, the burned-out and the prematurely has-been, played with skill and unexpected warmth by a terrific ensemble of versatile clowns: Keegan-Michael Key as the pompous Yale School of Drama grad who can’t land a gig, Judy Greer as a vain one-time starlet who had a bad brush with royalty, Johnny Knoxville in fine form as a trying-to-reform bad-boy stand-up and Calum Worthy hilariously pathetic as the former child star who still thinks he’s super cute.
Their neurotic antics are enjoyable, but many of my favorite scenes are set in the multigenerational writers’ room where Hannah and original producer Gordon (Paul Reiser) bring together the woke and the reawakened. Not since The Dick Van Dyke Show and 30 Rock has pitching jokes generated such a geyser of genuine humor.
And when TV laughs at itself, how can we not laugh along?
Quantum Leap, Series Premiere, Monday, Sept. 19, 10/9c, NBC (three stars)
Reboot, Series Premiere (three episodes), Tuesday, Sept. 20, Hulu (four stars)