Quantum Entanglement: Ranking the Leaps

Season 6 of Quantum Leap (my colloquial term for the 2022 reboot for convenience) had 18 episodes in its first season.

Season 1 of the original Quantum Leap had 8 episodes if you (correctly) count Genesis as a single 2 hour ep vs. a 2 part pilot. Tacking on the first 10 episodes of Season 2 gets us an equal number of episodes 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. (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 encouragement to scroll to the bottom…)

Quantum Leap Episode Rankings
36 Episodes: First 18 of Original 1989 Series + First 18 of 2022 Revival
16 additions: Season 7 (revival season 2) + OG S2 eps 11-18 in blue

Another Mother (Season 2, Episode 13)
A long time favorite that didn’t disappoint on my rewatch. “That’s not my mommy, that’s a man.” is a quote I think of far too often. Animals seeing Al may have been added for practical reasons, but the children under 5 rule is brilliantly introduced here. Refreshing to no see the gender swap played for laughs as they often were. Possibly the most scenes without Sam or Al present of any episode.

Honeymoon Express (Season 2, Episode 1)
A soft reboot of sorts that cements the boy scout Sam juxtaposed against the wise-cracking, womanizing Al everyone remembers the series for. Features several scenes of Al in “the future” of the mid-nineties at a hearing to secure funding to continue the project. The two plots go well together, leading to a neat time-travel inspired twist ending. Interesting how showing both timelines was a rarity for the original series (and having time travel tie directly into the story even rarer) but a core component of the revival.

S.O.S. (Season 6, Episode 14)
Strongest overall episode of the reboot, rivaling many of the tried and true classics with a few nice callbacks. Perfect blending of past and present and serialized plot within a standalone leap story, including a neat trick of finishing sentences between time periods. Battleship setting feels epic and film-like. Favorite line: “If I asked a dumb question, would that distract you?”

Jimmy (Season 2, Episode 8)
Such a fan favorite that the namesake character was revisited in three additional episodes, this leap with a lesson allows the viewer to walk in the shoes of a man with Down Syndrome. One of the first times Sam takes on characteristics of the leapee. Great scene where Al seemingly starts telling yet another story about one of his conquests before we realize he’s actually talking about his younger sister.

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.

The Friendly Skies (Season 6, Episode 17)
The penultimate episode of the inaugural reboot season leaps Ben into the body of a 1970s flight attendant for an airborne whodunnit–a high concept leap story I’m surprised the original never attempted. Pitch perfect script featuring heart/humor/hope and a number of clever twists subverting expectations and avoiding cliched tropes.

Let Them Play (Season 6, Episode 12)
Ben Song’s first foray into a topical leap, this one makes the decision to put him alongside the subject as he becomes a basketball coach with a trans player–who also happens to be his daughter. A powerful episode that also gives the season-long mystery arc a big step forward.

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.

Leap. Die. Repeat. (Season 6, Episode 11)
A very clever way of playing with the typical formula as Ben repeats the same leap through different leapees trying to solve a mystery Groundhog Day style. The new show is especially good at whodunnits even when not explicitly going the detective drama route, while also in peak form when the HQ storyline complements the weekly standalone story.

Disco Inferno (Season 2, Episode 2)
It pleasantly surprised me how well this one stood up in my rewatch. I remembered it as “the disco stuntman” episode, but it has a nice heartfelt plot of trying to steer his brother towards a career in music while also introducing memories of Sam’s brother Tom who died in Vietnam. In some ways this episode created the classic template for a strong standard leap story.

What Price, Gloria? (Season 2, Episode 4)
Sam’s first gender-creative experience was filmed for season 1, held back to be the season 2 premiere, and eventually settled in as episode 4 of the sophomore season. A little dated, but groundbreaking for its time and a classic in the spirit of The Color of Truth, Jimmy, and Let Them Play. Could Buddy Wright from this episode be the grandfather of Dr. Ian Wright in the new series?

Judgment Day (Season 6, Episode 18)
The season 6 finale opens in potential shark jumping territory but thankfully stays in the water. When the featured leap kicks in it’s one heck of a rollicking fun ride. I’m usually a persnickety stickler when it comes to time travel logic needing to make sense, but this episode is so much fun I’m able to suspend my disbelief more than normal. (I also hope/think/suspect some of the seemingly incongruent bits are actually secret setup for season 7; time will tell…)

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.

So Help Me God (Season 2, Episode 9)
Sam Beckett channels Perry Mason in a tight courtroom mystery. The clever direction each time Al pops in is noteworthy. I always seem to confuse this with the priest episode based on titular “God” here.

Fellow Travelers (Season 6, Episode 9)
The premiere of the second half of season 6 (man, tv schedules are weird these days) features another whodunnit, this one with Ben as a bodyguard for a 70s musician. This episode aired before the Daisy Jones and the Six tv show but after the book version. In my humble opinion as a nerdy music fan “Travelin’ On” is the best Fleetwood Mac imitation song of 2023. Sort of the inverse resolution to “Glitter Rock.”

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.

Family Style (Season 6, Episode 13)
Deborah Pratt wrote or co-wrote more Quantum Leap episodes than anyone else (20), including 4 already ranked above 36 episodes into this experiment. (Note to my future self — remember to update this as this experiment extends.) She added director to her QL resume with this tale of a family Indian restaurant set in 2009.

The Americanization of Machiko (Season 2, Episode 3)
Another strong showing from the beginning of Season 2 that pleasantly surprised me on a rewatch. Holds up better than I remembered, tackles xenophobia head on. Ending feels a little like an unearned cheat, but all in all a solid showing.

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.

Ben Song for the Defense (Season 6, Episode 15)
“Lawyer” feels like too obvious of a leaped there, done that concept. Here it works well by adding a 1980s backdrop, another dose of the revival’s whodunnit wheelhouse, and for the first time switching things up by letting head of security Jenn take a turn in the imaging chamber as the hologram. One of my main nitpicky complaints of the new series was Ben lingering on leaps longer than Sam would after his mission is done. This ep puts right what once went wrong with a borderline premature leap-out that’s really right on time when you think about it.

Paging Doctor Song (Season 6, Episode 10)
Great blend of the new-series mythology and an ER-style leap where 3 separate storylines converge in interesting ways. The leap-in to deliver a baby feels like a little bit of a cheat to add drama to the tag at the end of the previous episode, and Ben still lingers a little longer than he should after completing his missions. Other downside is it’s the only revival episode to not include Mason Alexander Park as Ian.

Animal Frat (Season 2, Episode 12)
Fun one with a solid script and good balance between the goofy fraternity and the more serious Vietnam related story. Al oddly doesn’t show up until the morning after Sam arrives. (He also sits in a chair and accidentally bumps into Sam.) Nerdy nitpick: The time travel causation seems a little off with this being one of those leaps where Sam seems to cause the history Ziggy said he was there to prevent.

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 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.”)

Catch a Falling Star (Season 2, Episode 10)
The leap itself and Sam’s mission feel like an afterthought, but the whole episode is so much fun with a theater production of Don Quixote (in Syracuse!) letting Scott Bakula sing. Subplot with the piano teacher is sort of a “Star-Crossed” redo. The ending with Sam & Al is a memorable, grin-inducing classic.

Double Identity (Season 1, Episode 6)
Written to follow 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.

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, 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.

Freedom (Season 2, Episode 16)
The grandfather is one of my favorite characters in the series and would have been a nice Mirror Image cameo. Jailbreak feels a little out of character for Sam but is necessary for the plot. The scalping threat is very out of character, but if taken as foreshadowing for how the leapee’s mind melds with Sam’s I can buy it. Random aside: I dig the guitar based musical cues throughout this one.

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.)

Blind Faith (Season 2, Episode 5)
In this instance, a great script gets bogged down by some cheesy choices in cinematography and direction. (Example: The strangler’s first victim.) Minor qualm with not going deep enough on the topic of being blind–though when they did it was great. On the plus side, The Beatles kiss with history is seamlessly integrated into the plot. Sam goofing off with Al and nearly blowing the leap because of it was well done. Once revealed, the killer isn’t as obvious as it seems.

Her Charm (Season 2, Episode 15)
An episode with a different vibe for the original series. Nice twist with the leapee I won’t spoil here, an inverse of the twist in July 13, 1985. Sam uncharacteristically reveals who he is multiple times, and also oddly recalls reading about the original history which always feels a little like a cheat the few times it happens. There’s some comically bad music during the woods chase. Since leap out timing is a pet peeve I have with the new series I’ll admit this one also feels delayed, but I’ll go with GFTW needed the professor to arrive to ensure Dana was safe after Sam left.

Ben, Interrupted (Season 6, Episode 16)
A big mythology episode for the revival with a heck of a storyline, but a clunky script kept taking me out of the story as I shook my head at the way little moments were handled. (Janis back at Beth’s house for no good reason/Beth in the episode for 2 seconds; Addison asks Ian if Martinez can see her one scene after he clearly did; Ben’s far fetched escape; the shocking twist of a cliffhanger that’s all tell followed by a gratuitous tag that’s a bit of a cheat in hindsight.) Additional minor quibble: the frequency with which Ben’s name ends up in an episode title was becoming a pet peeve by this point.

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 season 6 list.

July 13, 1985 (Season 6, Episode 1)
The second take on a pilot episode that became the new series debut. 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.

All-Americans (Season 2, Episode 14)
In the first round of this apples to apples ranking exercise I declared “Camikaze Kid” the dividing line between good and bad episodes. This one challenged that premise but ultimately supported it. A by the numbers script with a few clunky moments but other wise not bad. Out of character for Sam to tell the bookie “I think you’re why I’m here” (though that’s totally a Ben Song move). Seems the only reason Chewy had the conversation about throwing the game was because Sam had to do laps for talking to Al after the Jane Fonda workout. What happened in the original history?

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.

Thou Shalt Not (Season 2, Episode 7)
Not sure what to say here except some you like and some you don’t is the beauty of Quantum Leap‘s versatility. Here I felt the scenario and theme were better than the episode. Al’s reveal of the leap purpose comes unusually late. The red herring about Sam’s host having an affair is good and the last 10 minutes save it from a lower ranking.

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 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.)

Good Morning, Peoria (Season 2, Episode 6)
I always remembered this DJ episode as being a favorite, but I didn’t really like it on the rewatch. Fun, but just not very good. Best part is when proximity to the radio tower makes Al think he’s leaping.

A Portrait for Troian (Season 2, Episode 11)
I love the bit where Al makes ghostly noises since the electronic equipment inexplicably allows people to hear him, plus the first use of the later recycled “center me on Sam!” gag where Al reappears two feet from where he was standing. Also cool to have a Bellisario cameo as the leapee and Deborah Pratt acting. Otherwise, this episode is pretty much a train wreck. Trying to retcon Carolyn Seymour’s ghost into the Evil Leaper storyline as head canon is inadvertently intriguing.

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 itself out, 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? Leapee reflection has glasses Sam isn’t actually wearing? Ziggy 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.)

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