Quantum Leap – Roberto! [4.17]

Sam leaps into Roberto Gutierrez, a local daytime TV talk show host whose program thrives on sensationalism and conflict. He ends up investigating suspicious activity at a local chemical plant, alongside fellow reporter Jani Eisenberg. Sam must prove that the plant is doing something illegal, and prevent Jani from dying along the way.

Written by Chris Ruppenthal. Directed by Scott Bakula.

Previous Episode:  Ghost ShipNext Episode:  It’s a Wonderful Leap

Quantum Leap is a funny show in that it often has to not just be its own genre, but also that of whatever sort of story Sam has leapt into. This time around it’s a light-hearted drama–a show about small-time journalistic rivals looking to crack a real story, while also dealing with their own “will they / won’t they” undercurrent. One can easily imagine this as the set-up of a real 80s primetime drama, akin to something like Scarecrow and Mrs. King or Remingston Steel. The whole dynamic works thanks to the chemistry between Scott Bakula and DeLane Matthews as Jani Eisenberg. The two have a nice sparkle off each other as they investigate corporate corruption.

And it’s not just surface comedy, either–their relationship allows for some nice moments of honesty. At one point, when Jani asks Sam why he got into the reporting business: “Oh, I kind of just leaped into it by accident. I sort of like it now. I never really thought much about why, you know…I guess I kind of see myself as…a champion of underdogs everywhere,” says Sam. In addition to being an example of the little subtrope where Sam gets to talk about his situation in ways that people don’t fully understand, this is actually a fascinating admission by the character. And its one that probably couldn’t have come without someone that Sam had such a straightforward (mostly) relationship with: maybe Sam likes leaping about and helping people. We have never heard Sam say anything like that before, not that I can recall.

Of course the episode is also fun thanks to whole TV talk show setting, and the over-the-top sensationalistic journalism taking place there. This sort of thing was relatively new at the time, and personalities like Geraldo Rivera–who is name-checked by Al–was making waves in the 1980s with so-called “trash TV”, as it was coined by others, which is what Roberto’s show is meant to resemble. (The brawl that breaks out in the episode’s opening scene is even based on, after a fashion, a real incident in which Rivera’s nose was broken in a similar fight.). There is also a funny bit where Sam and Jani interview someone who believes that aliens have caused problems with his sheep that ties nicely into the episode’s mystery. All of this stuff could also have been part of the theoretical ongoing series that might have followed this “pilot episode” about the ongoing adventures of Jani and Roberto.

I don’t think any other episode of Quantum Leap has ever had this potential, which just goes to demonstrate how well this episode is developed.

Cast Notes:
• Alan Oppenheimer (Earl Skinner) has got hundreds of credited roles, many of them voice-over parts. But he also appeared in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Rightful Heir), Deep Space Nine (The Jem’Hadar), and Voyager (Rise). More famously, he was the second (and the first long-term) Dr. Rudy Wells for a couple of seasons of The Six Million Dollar Man.

• Jerry Hardin (Ed Saxton) also appeared in Star Trek, in the Voyager episode Emanations, and in Next Generation in When the Bough Breaks and in the two-part Time’s Arrow as Samuel Clemens! He also in The Milagro-Beanfield War, which is a movie I like but don’t actually remember all that well.

• Victor Talmadge (Foreman) appeared in the Star Trek Enterprise episode Judgment.

• Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a popular radio host who appears as herself in this episode.

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Roberto Gutierrez, a talk-show host for KDNM-TV in Destiny, New Mexico, from January 27-30, 1982.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to prevent fellow reporter Jani Eisenberg from dying and to successfully expose the nefarious activities at a local chemical plant.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
There is nothing knew about Sam’s backstory, though like I mentioned above he admits to possibly liking his life leaping through time for the first time that I can remember.

What do we know about Al?
Nothing new.

What about the experiment?
Project Quantum Leap will only be about 30 miles away from Destiny, NM, and it will be there in 7 years , or 1989. This is when the show debuted in real life, but it doesn’t mean of course that that is when Sam originally leaped from.

At the beginning of the project, they used security cards and slots to allow people to pass through doors–later they started using electronic implants. (What?!)

The Waiting Room is referenced (though not named) when Sam talks about being held in an all-white room by aliens.

“Driven by an unknown force…” (God or Time or Something)
There aren’t any references to this this time around.

“Oh Boy”
The catchphrase is heard three times. As is tradition, we get it at both Sam’s leap-in at the start (after the fight breaks out) and on his leap-in to the next episode at the end. But it’s also in the middle when they guy they are interviewing starts talking about aliens.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Sam and Jani don’t have a romantic relationship at all, but at the end it seems that Sam is trying to make a bit of an overture with her…only to get turned down.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al ogles both Jani Eisenberg and the bikini-clad students.

Other Observations
• Sam has a good line describing his injury in the opening brawl: “I got head-butted by the führer.”

• This is not the first time Sam has had to do live TV on a leap-in. In fact, it was just a few episodes ago this season, in Temptation Eyes.

• Some pretty funny stuff when the editor asks Sam to pitch his next story: “Women who claim to have slept with Elvis’ ghost,” and “…this guy claims that he’s JFK’s twin…only he just escaped from the sanitarium…where he’s been his whole life.”

•. Is Dr. Laura Schlessinger the first person to play herself on the show? It’s a pretty funny scene that she’s in, where she challenges Roberto to do his show in his boxers.

• Cool bit where Al looks through six feet of dirt to find the secret lab.

• There’s a clever bit of direction by Scott Bakula where we see the change in the response of the computer via a reflection in a pair of glasses lying nearby.

• Of course, we don’t believe Jani is dead for a second…which I guess also makes the the episode feel like it could be an episode of an 80s light-hearted crime drama.

• Great touch where Sam at the end sets up Roberto’s return from the Waiting Room: “And finally, a personal story about the time I was kidnapped by aliens…and held in an all-white room.”

Sam Leaps To
It’s a Wonderful Leap

Favorite Dialogue
It’s a little corny, but I like the line that Jani has as she realizes that there is really something going on at the plant:

Do you smell that? After five years in East Nowhere, New Mexico, I thought I’d forgotten what it smells like, but I can smell it… a real story.

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

The Best Moment
There are a number of good scenes, but I’m partial to the whole brawl at the start. It’s hilarious, with the big guy talking about constitutional right to religion.

Previous Episode:  Ghost ShipNext Episode:  It’s a Wonderful Leap


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