Quantum Leap – The Wrong Stuff [4.7]

Sam leaps into Bobo, a chimpanzee training for the space program in 1961. Sam struggles at both being a chimp and an astronaut-in-training, while he attempts to prevent Bobo’s death at the hands of a scientist doing questionable work about the effectiveness of human crash helmets. In the end, Sam is able to save both Bobo and another chimp, and helping the scientist to have a change in heart.

Written by Paul Brown. Directed by Joe Napolitano.

Previous Episode: Raped Next Episode: Dreams

After the emotional intensity of Raped, Quantum Leap does a hard 180º and delivers The Wrong Stuff, an episode that still has heart but layered with an awful lot of slapstick silliness. For the only time in the series’ run, Sam leaps into a creature that is not a human–an ape named Bobo. It’s interesting that the show manages to keep this a secret for as long as it does–you’d think it was the sort of thing that would have been revealed by the teaser at the end of the last episode. I don’t remember ever seeing The Wrong Stuff before but I knew the basic premise so I’m not sure how how effective the reveal actually is, but it was quite a different thing for the show to do, so I’m sure it would have been notable.

A lot of the episode is therefore taken up with the Sam’s awkward antics as an chimp, which is all pretty successful. It’s actually pretty funny to remember that everyone else sees Sam as a chimp. Just imagine Bobo spin-kicking people down or grabbing a gun–it’s silly, but hilarious. And there’s drama in there as well–the sequence where a drugged up Sam is about to get his head smashed in by the scientist’s helmet-testing machine is pretty tense.

In the end The Wrong Stuff is fine as an episode, but not really a classic. Sam becoming an animal is certain memorable just because it is so odd, but it’s also limiting. Having Sam not able to communicate with anyone in the normal fashion is just too restrictive for the sort of character-based drama that the show is normally known for. So the whole thing is a pleasant diversion, but in general I’m glad the show never went there again.

Cast Notes:
• Caroline Goodall (Dr. Leslie Ashton) is an actress I feel like I’ve heard of, but I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just because she was the mother in the two Princess Diaries movies?

• Whoa, both Caroline Goodall and Kim Robillard (First Military Officer) played jet pilots in the 1993 Sylvester Stallone-starring action thriller, Cliffhanger!

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Bobo, a chimp, at Cape Canaveral, Florida from January 24-25th, 1961.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to prevent both Bobo and Cory (another chimp) from dying, and to get through to Dr. Winger to help him realize that he shouldn’t keep performing cruel and unethical experiments on animals in order to test things like crash helmets.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
We don’t really learn anything new about Sam this time, except that he doesn’t seem to like the taste of caterpillars.

What do we know about Al?
Al was an Apollo astronaut, who orbited the moon 10 times and recited Genesis on Christmas Eve.

Al smokes Cavello cigars.

Al claims that he threw up on the teacup at Disneyland.

What about the experiment?
Al implores Sam to follow the “Quantum Rules” at at least pretend to be who he leapt into.

Driven by an Unknown Force (God or Time or Something)
There are no particular references here.

“Oh Boy”
When Sam has to have his temperature taken with a rectal thermometer, the catchphrase sort of appears, but it’s more of an “Ahh boy….” It’s heard properly in the teaser for the next episode.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Cory the chimp is obviously enamored with Bobo the chimp–or is it Sam, since some animals can see Sam as he really is? Later, Sam innocently kisses Cory.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al makes a couple of lewd comments about Dr. Ashton.

Questions and Speculations
OK…Al says he was with the Apollo program, and that he orbited the moon ten times and read from Genesis on Christmas Eve. It real life, this was done by the Apollo 8 crewmembers Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman, on December 24, 1968. According to previous continuity, Al is a prisoner in Vietnam for a continuous period of time from 1967 to 1973. In reality, no manned Apollo missions ran outside of that time. So either the Apollo program is very different in the Quantum Leap universe, or maybe Sam has somehow already changed history here? And then later it changes back? Or is Al just lying? Ugh, continuity.

Other Observations
• Cute–Al calls Sam a “chimp-a-naut.”

• All the stock footage of failed rocket tests is certainly ominous

• Sam’s narration is funnier than normal: “Spending the night as an astrochimp wasn’t as bad as it might seem. My bed was firm, the food was free, and the company was…more than friendly. The only thing I really needed…was a shave…over my entire body.”

• Nice bit of dialogue from Dr. Skinner talking about what he misses from the test pilot program: “Everything but the funerals. You know, one day you’re slugging back a beer with a guy, the next day you’re carrying his coffin. I lost a lot of my friends there.”

• All that stuff about drinking caterpillar proteins is pretty funny, with Sam gagging away. I wonder i they would make Sam sick? The show never addresses, to my knowledge, whether any illness or injury that Sam suffers in one leap can carry over into another one. It doesn’t seem like it, but I wonder why. Al is typically funny when talking about Sam’s food: “That’s the gunk there? I don’t see any caterpillars in there. Well, maybe they squish ’em up real good.”

• Cory the chimp is super-cute when she looks up at Al.

• Al doesn’t know where Leslie is at one point, but usually he can just tell Gushie to centre him on a person in the past.

• The exchange of close ups when Sam (as a chimp) and Dr. Winger stare at each other and bond is just bizarre.

• There’s quite a long leap-in at the end of Sam looking around the creepy house.

Sam Leaps To

Favorite Dialogue
I think I just like the absurd understatement of one of Sam’s first efforts to explain to Leslie that he is not really Bobo:

Lady, I need to tell you something…that’s probably gonna come as a terrible, terrible shock to you…”

Special thanks, by the way, to this site for the episode transcriptions.

The Best Moment
I think my favorite moment comes when Sam is tied into the gyro-stabilizer device. “I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do though. They just strapped me into this chair here….” It’s funny stuff, with Sam getting shocked, spinning all over the place, and then being given the animal food as a reward. “If it means eating this, no, I’d rather stay in this spin forever.”

Previous Episode: Raped Next Episode:  Dreams

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