Season 1 of Quantum Leap had 8 episodes if you (correctly) count Genesis as a single 2 hour ep vs. a 2 part pilot.
The 2022 reboot/continuation (referred to as “Season 6” below for convenience) heads into hiatus after an equivalent count of 8 episodes, so I thought it would be fun to stack rank the leaps against each other.
Note: I’ll likely update this post after the hiatus to keep the one for one, apples to apples ratings going.
Also, I’ve never liked the clickbait-y drama of counting down top lists backwards, so I’ll take it from the top here. (Besides, as memory serves there aren’t many bad episodes of Quantum Leap–though in my opinion two of them are from Season 1. There’s your clickbait encouraging a scroll to the bottom…)
The Color of Truth (Season 1, Episode 7)
Arguably the first classic leap with a lesson, it holds up without being too preachy even if it’s not exactly subtle. Features Al’s first side-mission separated from Sam and the first instance of someone hearing him. Fun fact: This is often remembered as a Driving Miss Daisy tribute/copy, but it predated the movie by several months.
Somebody Up There Likes Ben (Season 6, Episode 3)
Ben Song follows in Sam Beckett’s footsteps, with the third episode for both landing them in the life of a boxer who needs to win a fight. Aside from the nearly identical leap-in punch-out it’s more than a remake, allowing the new series to hit a good blend of past & present day while also including a PTSD angle to fit in the aforementioned lesson leap the OG was known for.
Star-Crossed (Season 1, Episode 3)
Season 1 had its episode sequence shuffled vs. the originally intended production order, shifting this one to the post-pilot debut vs. later in the run. The story feels like it could’ve/should’ve been the first season finale with Sam trying to alter his own future & Al getting briefly fired from the project–though I can see why it was selected as a strong showing to air right out of the gate.
O Ye of Little Faith (Season 6, Episode 7)
A Halloween episode airing on October 31st starts off as a creepy horror show before morphing into a 1930s Agatha Christie style mystery. One of the coolest mirror image interactions of either incarnation. The cliffhanger reveal is a little bit of a stretch that was better on paper than in execution, but still gets style points for the effort.
Double Identity (Season 1, Episode 6)
Written to come right after the pilot, Donald Bellisario asked to have it pushed back so as not to confuse viewers with a double leap so soon (and interestingly, for one of only two times ever). The “let’s try to retrieve Sam without really trying to figure out the purpose of the leap” plot makes a lot more sense under that scenario. This one is mostly a riff on The Godfather, but it’s so much fun I can let the movie inspiration slide. Also includes multiple instances of the classic “Al saves the day just in time” trope as well as the “you actually have one more thing to set right” twist ending.
Atlantis (Season 6, Episode 2)
An epic leap situation and a nice easter egg callback to the original series via Samantha Stratton. The workplace drama subplot back at the project felt a little clunky but moved the plot forward. Missed opportunity for something like “Ziggy’s having trouble locating Ben anywhere on Earth…” since he wasn’t on Earth. Mildly amusing that Sam’s only astronaut leap was into a chimp who never left the planet, so this is sort of setting right what once went wrong.
Stand By Ben (Season 6, Episode 8)
The new version is starting to find itself with a solid topical leap into a 1996 youth bootcamp. First time Ben overlaps with the original project. The teenagers referring to his “imaginary girlfriend” works well as a talking to a hologram coverup, and I especially like the subtle suggestion the group listened to an entire No Doubt album since shuffling required pre-meditation in the 90s.
Genesis (Season 1, Episodes 1&2)
Middle of the pack among these first 16, but if your pilot is the best episode ever you’ve got a problem. Exposition heavy as these things often are, it’s a great episode of television but not a great episode of Quantum Leap if that makes sense. Drags a little at times; probably better suited as an hour or ninety minutes vs. a full two including commercials.
Salvation or Bust (Season 6, Episode 5)
Full disclosure: I was a little nervous about deviating from the “within his own lifetime” rule but this one (plus the 1930s Halloween episode) put my mind at ease. Same heart as a recent history leap and a story with good character & characters. Shock ending was cool; might have been better with a simu-leap between lines of dialogue. (“I know who you are…” <leap> “…stop following me.”)
What a Disaster! (Season 6, Episode 6)
Much like the original series had episode ordering altered post-production, this leap was filmed as the new pilot but later retooled to run later. Compared to the script, the present day scenes were scrapped and redone but ~70% of the leap was kept with premiere exposition cut and some clever edits for continuity. 1989 setting a nice nod to the OG. Personally I think this would have been a better inaugural leap, but I’m not a TV executive. Bonus points for the meta title referencing both the earthquake & online rumors this version of the pilot was scrapped because it was a disaster. (Spoiler alert — it wasn’t.)
A Decent Proposal (Season 6, Episode 4)
My least favorite leap of the first batch of new adventures, mainly because it feels a little cartoony for Quantum Leap in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. It has some good moments, the first gender creative experience isn’t made a big deal of, and Magic’s “nudge” speech about being leaped into by Sam is an early classic moment that saves this episode from landing at the bottom of my first half of season 6 list.
July 13, 1985 (Season 6, Episode 1)
The second take on a pilot episode that become the new series premiere. Much like “Genesis” it’s exposition heavy by necessity, though has the opposite issue of being too short to fit it all in. The heist storyline is an odd choice for a premiere, bordering on cartoony like “A Decent Proposal” was. The undercover cop twist was a clever thing the original never did, though Sam did so once mainly to provide a fake-out leap-in of “he’s a hooker!” But nitpicks aside, IT’S THE FIRST NEW EPISODE OF QUANTUM LEAP IN NEARLY 30 YEARS! with plenty of fun callbacks to the original — and as you’ll see below better than half of the original Season 1 in my humble opinion.
Camikaze Kid (Season 1, Episode 8)
If you asked me for an example of an average / typical episode of Quantum Leap this pretty much fits the bill. Good but not quite great, yet hits all the beats of a self-contained plot where Sam & Al save the day, overcome a few obstacles and have a random kiss with history along the way. I’m really curious where this falls on the line of demarcation if/when I continue to expand this ranking list, but as of this initial writing I consider it the Mendoza Line of Quantum Leap.
The Right Hand of God (Season 1, Episode 4)
A fun early episode that lacks the right amount of punch (pun intended). Some good bits with tying in the streaker and the twist gambling resolution, but the show is clearly/understandably still finding its legs. The subplot about Al’s loud neighbor keeping him up at night is pretty lame, as is the somewhat forced Rocky montage. (I gave them a pass for the Godfather episode, but can’t quite do it here.)
Play it Again, Seymour (Season 1, Episode 9)
Honestly I’ve never really liked this episode. The Bogie references are overdone, the Woody Allen kiss with history unnecessary, and the overall hardboiled plot tries too hard to be something the show isn’t. Twist that Sam remembers reading the future novel this scenario is based on an interesting idea that doesn’t quite work for me. Sometimes I’m surprised the show got renewed after this first season finale–but I’m immensely thankful it did.
How the Tess Was Won (Season 1, Episode 5)
Another one I chalk up to a show figuring out what it’s going to be, this is basically Sam playing cowboy without a real goal in mind, culminating with the twist he’s really there to help Buddy Holly write “Peggy Sue” even though Buddy Holly didn’t actually write “Peggy Sue” himself.” Al leaves Sam to ride Widowmaker alone, putting his life at risk? Al accuses Sam of having an affair with Tina? Sam’s there to marry Tess — but he failed, oh well. (And he never had a shot–strongly implied to be because he’s either hispanic, ugly, or both?) He’s also there for several days, but never looked in a mirror until the end? Ziggy database knows when people cheat at cards, but gets who was cheating wrong? Just too many out of character oddities requiring suspension of disbelief. (I can see a version of events where GFTW put him there to give Tess the confidence to marry someone, but even that still feels off-brand.)