Sunday, September 16, 2007

Quantum Leap: Genesis

Quantum Leap: Genesis

The idea of the wardrobe was Don's. And I thought it was terrific. I don't know if anybody ever said, "Why does he ever dress like that?" Nobody ever asked, "Why does he dress like that?" It was just accepted. And it really worked, without any explanation. Where would he get those clothes? My God, where would you find stuff like that?--Dean Stockwell

Sheila posted that quote in a series of thoughts from Quantum Leap's creators and cast, September 14. Go check those out. I point that one out because it's one of the first things you notice as the series Quantum Leap begins. Our show, the first in the series, opens with Al jetting across the desert, somewhere in the mid 1990's (Wikipedia lists the date as 1995), in a futuristic speedster, festooned in a tuxedo. In the very first moments of the show, our libidinous friend is leaning, wolflike, both arms on the open window of the speedster, lamenting the fact that he cannot help a beautiful woman with her flat tire, because of his state of dress.

Let me take a second to comment on the woman's state of dress...I remember 1995 in a vague sort of way. I've never been on the cutting edge of fashion (if you had to place me, I'm somewhere around the dull, blunt end), but I can't remember any point outside of a rave, where light-up shoes and ear-rings were the required dress of the day. And neither Al Calavicci nor our beautiful breakdown seem much like rave material....

I want to comment on it only briefly, because future technologies are impossibly hard to portray and project in a way that is accurate, pragmatic and entertaining. The first is impossible, and really, aren't the second two what matters? We gotta somehow build a bridge to cover the leap of faith the viewer has to make in order to buy into the whole idea that these guys less than a decade in the future have created technology that allows a guy to travel through time. Somehow, shiny clothing and light-up earrings are maybe a little easier to jump to than the idea of a guy stepping into a "Quantum Leap Accelerator..."

But that doesn't mean I can't be amused by futuristic speedsters and Al's (and the breakdown's) wardrobe choices.

I also should note that, I think Al's wardrobe choice became less and less a sign of the times, over the course of the show, and more an indication of the eccentricity of the man wearing the fur coat and babushka.

A few notes on the first episode, entitled Genesis:
  • Sam Beckett's journey begins in earnest with a leap into the life of Tom Stratton, an Air Force test pilot living in 1956. They say that the writer is a sadist, and if that's the case, thrusting a guy with holes in his memory, into a time he remembers only from his very, very early childhood, into a situation (both as a parent and a pilot) he has no experience of knowledge of, then that makes Donald Bellisario as sadistic as they come.
  • It is in the first few minutes of Sam waking up in the life of Tom Stratton that we are introduced to one of my favorite conventions of the show, and it may be the most jarring of Sam's whole journey. He's woken up in bed with a very pregnant wife, in a home that is not his. He's negotiating his way through showering, and it's then that he catches Tom Stratton's reflection in the mirror. I always dug this portion of the show, for the minute bit of choreography it entails, the idea that the "mirror image" must mimic Scott Bakula as Sam Beckett's movements, as closely as possible. I wonder if there's a bonus feature or interview that sheds light on that little part of the process, just how they choreograph Sam looking at a reflection not his own.
  • Sam's ride into the base illustrates a small point. I could be wrong about this, but if somebody I flew with, worked closely with (or was married to, when you think about his wife) was acting as disoriented as Sam is acting in Tom's body?
  • This example doesn't pertain to this episode necessarily, but wouldn't you notice if somebody you'd known for 20 years suddenly started referring to soda as "pop." when he'd be calling it "soda" for as long as you'd known him. If only to say "why the hell are you calling it 'pop?'' It's gotta be a similar thing for Sam, as many anachronisms as he throws in--the one that stands out is his asking for the area code. I'd have to raise a few more questions than get raised over the course of the episode (and series). Why is _x_ acting this way? Call it another leap, I guess, but the whole "Stratton's a goofball" thing can only work so much.
  • Bruce McGill shows up as Weird Ernie. He's one of my favorite character actors, and he does a good job in just about everything he does. As character types go, he never had "that guy" status with me, where I knew his face but not his name. I can't see him without saying "D-Day!" to myself.
  • Al,hung over and in his pajamas, while Sam is fishing? Classic, and probably my favorite scene from this episode. I just like the whole thing where Al Calavicci is dealing with what could be the most groundbreaking development in history and science, with the Quantum Leap technology. Add to that the whole deal where his friend is trapped in history, quite possibly in great peril. But Al, at times, looks at the whole thing as something of a hindrance to his social agenda. I enjoy that idea, that the whole "Save Sam" thing might just fall to second or third on Al's social agenda, from time to time. Al personifies the whole "work to live, not live to work" mindset.
  • There's a whole "higher power" thing at work with Sam's leaping. After righting what once went wrong with Tom Stratton's life, he leaps into the life of Ken Fox, a baseball player, right in the middle of a game. Why can't that higher power leap Sam into Fox when he's asleep, the night before? Or at breakfast? Why's he gotta do that leaping mess when he's in the middle of the big game? Of course, it all goes back to that "the writer is sadistic" thing, so we know which higher power is working here....
  • The pajama scene may be my favorite Al moment, but it's not too far ahead of Al revealing to Sam his personal information. I like that about Al. He's enough about "duty" to get to the rank of Rear Admiral. But he's human first. I really dig that about Al.

These are just a few things I gleamed from my notes on my yellow Staples legal pad.

The last thing I want to note is how Al's character seems to be set, even here in the pilot episode. A lot of shows, it takes time before the writers and the actor jive as to who the character. Sometimes, it's a couple episodes. Sometimes, it's several episodes, or even seasons. Sometimes, that synergy never comes. Dean Stockwell and the writers were spot on from the start. That's testament to Stockwell's talent, as I've come to appreciate thanks to Sheila, and to the strong writing of Donald Bellisario and the rest of the show's staff.

Having said that, I was not surprised to find this quote, that I'd missed when Sheila did her rundown Friday: "A lot of Al was Don Bellisario. You know, the lecherous, the checking out the girls." Scott Bakula, in reference to the character and the creator of the show.

Makes me think of Randall, from Clerks. Kevin Smith wrote that script with himself in mind to play Randall--hence, the best lines, and the demeanor that most matches Kevin Smith, the persona.

Now we know, a lot of Bellisario in Al.

Whew. Looks a lot different from legal pad to computer screen....


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