Quantum Leap review – this reboot is cheesier than a brie fondue

<span>Photograph: NBC/Ron Batzdorff</span>
Photograph: NBC/Ron Batzdorff

The great reboot train chugs on to the next station, picking up the most unlikely passengers on the way. Now that Gladiators and even Byker Grove are coming, the only show from the 90s that had not yet been remade was, seemingly, Quantum Leap. But here it is, with a new cast and a new-ish premise, although the concept remains the same: time travel is possible; and one man can “leap” into the bodies of other people, tasked with righting a grave wrong before he can jump into the body of someone else.

The original series, which ran from 1989 to 1993, ended with the first leaper, Dr Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula; to my shame, I have only just realised his name must be a nod to Samuel Beckett) going missing in time and space. Now, the original Quantum Leap programme has been abandoned. Yet the brilliant Dr Ben Song (Top Gun: Maverick’s Raymond Lee) has been working away in secret to revive it. Our new intrepid physicist-explorer is, apparently, more of a “punching out code in a T-shirt guy” than an action hero, but this Quantum Leap teases the action side out of him from the off.

In the opening episode, he jumps back to the day of Live Aid in 1985, to thwart a huge jewel heist. It’s like a very budget, very 90s-TV version of Uncut Gems. In the second episode, he leaps into the body of an astronaut and heads to space. It’s like a very budget, very 90s-TV version of Gravity. Clearly, this reboot has bigger ambitions than its parent show: the storylines usually end up in substantial set pieces involving rockets and bombs; for a bit of added oomph, there is also an overarching military conspiracy involving national security concerns and a family grudge.

It’s very silly, but not self-consciously. Characters shout lines like: “The Pentagon is asking questions!” and: “This is bigger than us! Bigger than anything you can imagine!” The government keeps a lot of big secrets from the public, which, depending on your level of conspiratorial thinking, may seem irresponsible in this age of mass misinformation. Most of the storylines hinge on someone letting something slip and then regretting it, or some unlikely circumstantial twist, or a sudden recollection that a character can speak Romanian.

Caitlin Bassett as Addison, Raymond Lee as Ben in Quantum Leap
‘Bakula and Stockwell never shared this many smouldering looks’ … co-stars Bassett and Lee. Photograph: NBC/Ron Batzdorff

The first episode is dedicated to Dean Stockwell, who played Sam’s hologram pal Al Calavicci in the original and died in 2021, which is a nice touch. The new Al is the extravagantly named Addison Augustine (Caitlin Bassett), who also happens to be Ben’s fiancee. However, one of the convenient effects of time travel is that he has amnesia; for some reason, she decides not to tell him that they are engaged in another life. Instead, even though she is a hologram using the supercomputer Ziggy to calculate the probability of Ben’s death or the deaths of everyone around him, the chemistry between them simmers away. Bakula and Stockwell never shared this many smouldering looks.

The series suffers from a few problems in these early stages, the main one being that it spends more time on the present-day conspiracy – in which Ben’s plucky team of scientists and collaborators are hunting down a mysterious woman who has wiped the security footage and supposedly done something naughty to the code – than on the time-travel stuff. The most appealing aspect of the original show was the fact that each episode promised something different, depending on whom Sam leaped into that week: a murderer; a space chimp; even his younger self. Maybe it will come in time, but, so far, it hasn’t got the balance right.

Still, it’s entertaining. It is cheesier than a brie fondue with a mozzarella dipper, but it’s entertaining. What is most striking is how nostalgic it feels – and what a precise type of nostalgia it evokes. In the 90s, British TV was fond of a certain type of imported Saturday teatime show – think Baywatch or Xena: Warrior Princess – and this reboot reminds me of those.

Whether that is down to the production values, or the acting style, or the unabashed use of green screen when characters are driving through a city, I don’t know. While it has modernised the story (there are smartphones, although, handily, these are left behind during time travel), it feels like a relic of an earlier age. So many recent reboots have felt pointless; this hasn’t escaped that trap, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t enjoying it.

• Quantum Leap is on Paramount+