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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

American television at its glorious peak

By Lisa Kraushaar

David Hasselhoff, Richard Dean Anderson, Tom Selleck – false idols in the television landscape of the 1980s. Sure they may arouse devotion (among other things), but none can compare to the one true lord, the moral compass, the actualizer of fate: Scott Bakula.

Playing Dr. Sam Beckett, Bakula articulates the heterogeneous experience of the American everyman (and woman), sampling the variety of our culture and experiences—life in the moral ambiguity of a post-nuclear, pre-internet America.

Spurred by a pre-graduation nostalgia for the days when success meant watching no less than six hours of television a day, I recently added “Quantum Leap” to the ol’ Netflix queue. Owing all due gratitude to the ever-increasing instant gratification of media accessibility, I must now accept one of two things to be true about my Macalester education:

Either, a) that the last four years were a waste of time and cigarettes; all important knowledge of

life and socio-historical dynamics can be learned from “Quantum Leap,” or,

b) the last four years have been an important practice allowing me fully comprehend the

wisdom of Ziggy (the omnipotent probability-espousing super-computer), Sam and the

beautiful Al, his time-guide and pseudo-homosexual soulmate.

Beginning its fifth season run in 1989, “Quantum Leap” rarely veers from its initial formula. Here is a quick breakdown for the uninitiated:

Scene 1: After a review of the previous episode, Sam leaps into a new body, looks into the mirror

to find out what new identity he has assumed (Is he black!? Is he a woman!? No!! He’s a chimp!!).

Intro Montage: Which at a minute and a half could be boring, except it’s the greatest work of orchestral synthesizer ever conducted.

Scene 2: Sam consults with Al and Ziggy about the probabilities of his situation, makes disparaging comment about Al’s (in my opinion) awesome wardrobe. Next, Al walks through wall, just because he can.

Scene 3: Sam must stave off the advances of sexually aggressive woman.

Scene 4: Sam offers social wisdom, never compromising his post-feminism, post-Civil Rights, post-Conservative revolution moral righteousness.

Scene 5: Sam and Al have a heart-to-heart and try to hide their obvious erections with vague allusions to Al’s many wives.

Scene 6: Action sequence.

Scene 7: With fates fulfilled, Sam leaps anew, another display of awesome pre-computer graphics.

Together, it is the formula and the time-travellin’ barrage of recognizable cultural imagery that serves as the soul of “Quantum Leap.” This is not to say that Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell do not provide an on-screen chemistry rivaling Bill Cosby and Raven (formerly known as Raven Symone). However, with only two recurring characters – neither provided with a fully-fleshed background or any sort of personal motivation – the person we relate to in every episode is the American, i.e. the soldier returning with a foreign bride, the sexually-harassed secretary, the newlywed. And where do these generic personas exist? In the heartland of Ohio, on the train to Niagara, among the skyscrapers of the modern American city…

Dr. Sam Beckett may have six doctorates (including music, medicine, quantum physics, and ancient languages) but his most impressive accomplishment is his ability to embody every American to have existed during the Cold War.

“Quantum Leap” makes me love America to an extent rivaled only by the Super Bowl. Granted it also makes me disrespect and hate women, but really, don’t we all sometimes?

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