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"Theorizing that one can time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator... and vanished. He awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own, and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time who appears in the form of a Hologram that only Sam can see or hear. And so Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap... will be the leap home."
Quantum Leap is a 1988-1993 NBC Cult Classic series about a scientist, played by Scott Bakula, caught in a malfunctioning Time Travel experiment that bounced him back and forth in the past; the only way for him to move on from any time period he landed in was to change the life or lives of someone there for the better.
The show's explanation for the time travel was basically a Hand Wave -- the accelerator started Sam's leaps, but afterwards they were controlled by the Powers That Be. The show also established that leaping affected Sam's memory -- and his own past. This allowed the writers to regularly Retcon his skills and personal history (referred to in show as "the Swiss Cheese Effect") -- at least once a season he would suddenly be revealed to have completely forgotten about his musical career/doctorate in the specialty needed for the leap/wife/etc. (In other words, he Suddenly Always Knew That.) In the case of his wife, he hadn't so much forgotten about her as not actually had one when he started leaping; his pre-Leap marriage was actually a consequence of one of the changes he made -- as was the existence of his daughter Sammy Jo.
Great premise because it allowed an entirely new supporting cast and premise every week. If you didn't like one episode, chances are the next would be completely different. Also a cheap premise, since it made extensive use of existing period wardrobes, locations and sets, all but eliminating the need to build or make anything for the show, save for the very rare view of Project Quantum Leap itself. Many of the episodes recognizably played off the premises of popular movies, but went in a different direction.
The show employed several unique tropes. For one, though Sam would leap into a variety of different hosts, and he would appear to all other people (including Al, at first) as whoever his new host was, he would appear to the audience as Scott Bakula. Of course, Once Per Episode, he would look into a mirror early on to give the audience an idea of whom he was portraying. The actor mirroring what he was doing would usually not be any good at it, much like when David Duchovny and Michael McKean did the Duck Soup dance on that episode of The X-Files.
Though it had a sci-fi premise, Quantum Leap never really considered itself a sci-fi show. The time travel element was just a device to tell a variety of different stories, and the majority of episodes contained no fantastic elements at all, save for Sam's leaping and Al and Ziggy's guidance. (One of the few shows to air on both the USA and Sci Fi channels at the same time.) This was helped along by a rule (broken only twice intentionally, and twice by accident) that Sam could only time travel "within his own lifetime," so he couldn't be sent to prehistoric times or the future. This also helped keep costs down.
Quantum Leap is the Trope Namer for:
Quantum Leap provides examples of:
- The Ace: Sam has six different doctorates, is a classically trained pianist, sings tenor, skilled in a number of martial arts, and fluent in several languages. However, his Swiss cheese memory means he only seems to remember them when it's relevant to the plot.
- Actor Allusion: When Sam leaps into a college fratboy, the Dean whose office he and his friends regularly break into is called "Dean Stockwell".
- All There in the Manual: Apparently Sam's entire body leaps and he only takes on the appearance of whoever he is for that episode through the use of Hammerspace or some other technobabble. This explains why he is able to perform physical feats that he should not be able to as a young kid, old man, old lady, chimpanzee, etc. This has led to other implications, such as the ability to conceive a child.
Conversely, whoever Sam leaps into takes his place at the Project and takes on Sam's appearance, though since they are confined to the waiting room during Sam's leap, this seldom comes into play in the series. The episode "Honeymoon Express" acknowledges it during the Senate hearing to defund the project, where the senator in charge says that for all they know Sam lied about inventing time travel and uses this as a way of playing them off by claiming "Oh that's not really Dr. Beckett, it's the person he's leapt into inside his body."
- Ambiguously Gay: A major factor in one episode. Sam leaps into a military school student who is being harassed because he might be gay. It's never determined if he really was gay or not, but Sam says it doesn't make a difference either way.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: For a series where characters utilize time travel and believe God Himself is somehow involved in their doings, this trope crops up more often than not. Sam believes in God, but not the devil. In some cases, Sam does this to Al, such as when he refuses to believe in ghosts or vampires. In a reverse, Al doesn't believe Sam when he claims to have seen an alien ship.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
Al: It's much worse than death... in two days, she goes home... she spends the rest of her life alone... without love... in Cleveland.
- Badass Bookworm
- Beeping Computers
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: "A Hunting We Will Go" is all about this trope. Sam leaps into a bounty hunter and has to deal with a female criminal who does everything she can to escape (including assaulting him, getting other people to assault him, and trying to Show Some Leg). They repeatedly comment on how much they hate one another, and yet still have a few passionate make-out scenes. For what it's worth, Al sees right through it because he had a similar relationship with one of his wives.
- Berserk Button: Sam hates all forms of racism or intolerance, it being one of the few things that drives Sam to actual anger. Meanwhile, Al, despite his womanizing ways, reacts quite badly to the mistreatment of women.
- Sam's hatred of racism is such that when one leapee is a young man who joined the Ku Klux Klan because of peer pressure, Sam is so disgusted he initially flat-out refuses to do anything to help them!
- Big Brother Worship: Sam was said to view Tom this way. Apparently, Tom used this worship to help push Sam in the direction we all know he took.
- Big Little Man: Sam leaps into a guy who works at a carnival. While he's checking out his new reflection in a funhouse mirror, one of the other carnies walks up and starts a conversation. At first we only see his reflection, which looks the same height as Sam, but when Sam turns to reply to him, he's revealed to be a dwarf.
- Bittersweet Ending: "Mirror Image" and the series as a whole. Sam ensures that Beth never remarries, which leads to her and Al being happily married and having four daughters. On the other hand, Sam never returns home.
- Blinding Camera Flash: This happens to Sam when a reporter's flashbulb explodes in his face, temporarily blinding him. Since Sam is currently impersonating a blind person, this saves him from being exposed as a sighted impersonator.
- Body Surf
- Bolivian Army Ending: The finale.
- The Boxing Episode: "The Right Hand of God." Sam leaps into a boxer "owned" by a sisterhood of nuns. The episode reveals Al as something of a boxing aficionado, but it doesn't do Sam much good since holograms make poor boxing trainers.
- Breaking Bad News Gently: The "you better sit down" line doesn't work that well when Sam is forced to be in dresses.
- British Rock Star
- By the Eyes of the Blind: Children, animals, mentally disabled people can see Al, the psychic can see Sam.
- Cassandra Truth
- In "Star Light, Star Bright," government agents inject Sam with a truth serum to question him about the UFO he saw. Instead, he goes on at length about himself, including Project: Quantum Leap. He is generally thought crazy, but he raises some eyebrows when he mentions a secret level of government clearance that the leapee couldn't possibly know about.
- A few other times, Sam does purposefully try to tell people who he really is. It usually works, but as in "Killin' Time" and "Revenge of the Evil Leaper," it takes a heck of a lot of convincing.
- The Cast Showoff
- Sam leaps into a lot of musicians and dancers, the better to showcase Scott Bakula's impressive musical chops.
- Dean Stockwell also had opportunities now and then, such as when Al showed Sam how to dance at a Jewish wedding.
- And then there was the episode where Al rapped...
- Catch Phrase
- Sam would mutter "Oh boy..." upon arriving in a new "host" and assessing the situation.
- Al would often utilize the phrase, "Isn't this a kick in the butt?" once an episode at least in Season 1.
- Chained to a Bed: Sam in "Moments to Live."
- Chaste Hero: Sam, conveniently enough, because it would be a bad idea anyway. The man even turns down Marilyn Monroe, causing Al to call him "a stronger man than I". Subverted in "Trilogy", where he falls in love with the woman he's supposed to be helping and accidentally gets her pregnant, causing their daughter to be a member of the Quantum Leap Project.
- Chivalrous Pervert: Al been married five times, eyes up everything in a skirt, everything out of a skirt and even Sam when he's leapt into the body of a woman. But he doesn't do relationships just for sex, and he considers domestic abusers to be the lowest of scum.
- Christmas Episode
- Season 3's "A Little Miracle," where Sam and Al seek to change the Scrooge-like Blake for the better. As Sam says, "We Scrooge him."
- Season 5's "Promised Land" takes place during Christmas, complete with decorations and the themes of family being a focus. Sam also gets to wish a Merry Christmas to his father, Jonathan.
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: Sam. Making the world a better place was his sole reason behind Project: Quantum Leap. Likewise in "Mirror Image", when Al the Bartender claims that Sam himself may have been the one in control over his own leaps and could have quit the entire time, but subconsciously continued on because of his desire to help people meant that he never felt he had done enough. Throughout the episode, Sam shows stubborn refusal to even enterain that idea, insisting that Al the Bartender is The-Man-Behind-The-Curtain in charge of Sam's leaps and the one not letting him come home.
- Cliff Hanger: Almost every episode ends with the start of Sam's next leap. Season 3 also ends with Sam and Al inadvertently switching roles and Season 4 with Sam leaping into Lee Harvey Oswald.
- Confessional: In Leap of Faith (season 3, episode 3)
- Cool Old Guy: Al
- Crash-Course Landing: Happened once or twice (including the pilot), with Al having to talk Sam through it.
- Creator Cameo: The horror author who Sam leaps into in "The Boogeyman" is that episode's writer Chris Ruppenthal, while the parapsychologist who Sam leaps into in "A Portrait for Troian" is played by Donald P. Bellisario. (Troian was played by series writer-producer Deborah Pratt, and named after their daughter Troian Bellisario -- who also appeared on the show and Bellisario's subsequent series Tequila and Bonetti, JAG, First Monday and NCIS as well as her only big-screen movie Last Rites.) Bizzarely, Donald P. Bellasario has a metafictional one in "Lee Harvey Oswald", where we see a portrayal of the younger version of Bellasario interacting with Oswald, as they did serve in the same military unit in real life.
- Cue Card Pause
- Dead Air: In the episode "Good Morning, Peoria", the air goes dead when an intimate conversation between the radio station owner and Sam (who has leapt into a DJ) extends past the end of the record. He picks it up well, though:
Sam: For the last couple of minutes you folks have been listening to something by Dull Needle and the Statics. A lot of people find it repetitive, I like to think of it as just plain old daring.
- Deadpan Snarker: Al
- Death by Childbirth: The wrong righted in the pilot.
- Dead All Along: One of the interpretations.
- Stawpah in the finale. He leaps out after completing his mission and no one leaps back in. According to one of the locals, a Stawpah did exist, but died a couple decades earlier.
- Deus Ex Machina: Frequently used to get Sam out of the pickles he finds himself at the very start of a leap (i.e. the cliffhanger of the previous episode). He's strapped to the electric chair... but the phone rings and he's given a stay of execution. He's about to have to go on stage and perform, without even knowing what show it is... but it turns out he's an understudy and the billed actor shows up at the last second. Somewhat justified in that it's heavily implied that God Himself is controlling the leaps, so wouldn't put Sam in a completely impossible position unless it was about to change.
- Devil in Disguise: In one episode, Sam discovers that the "Al" who has been advising him is a fake, and is actually the Devil.
- Devil's Advocate: Discussed (and sometimes used) between Sam and Al.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: During the Halloween Episode, Sam and Satan try to strangle each other. Sam wins.
- Dirty Old Man: Al
- Disappeared Dad: Al's own dad. After his mother split, Al's dad tried to provide for children, but work eventually took him overseas. Al was placed in an orphanage and Trudy in an institution until he could come back full-time. (He did apparently visit, though.) After some time, he came back for good and bought a house for them all to live in, but then he got sick and died.
- Disguised in Drag: At the start of "M.I.A.", Sam leaps into an undercover cop dressed as a woman for a case. (He initially thought he had again leapt into a woman and was rather annoyed.)
- Distaff Counterpart: The Evil Leaper obviously, but moreso her Observer Zoe, who's a horndog like Al (though much snarkier and ruder).
- Dropped a Bridget On Him: Invoked in "What Price, Gloria?" Sam has leapt into Samantha, a gorgeous blonde. One of the hassles he faces is Buddy Wright, a jerk of an executive with a penchant for sexual harassment. Before leaping out, Sam makes Buddy squirm by convincing him that he's lusting after a man. Sam then decks him for good measure.
- Edited for Syndication
- Following the pilot, episodes would open with a Sam voice-over and montage referring in some way to the previous leap. The series abandoned this convention roughly halfway through the second season -- likely in order to make it possible to air episodes out of sequence. When the series went into reruns, this trope kicked in -- with the stated openings being dropped. They were replaced with the familiar "...will be the leap home" opening narration and the "Oh, boy!" scenes.
- In the summer between the first and second seasons, NBC ran a one time only 90 minute recut version of the pilot featuring only the first leap and editing out the baseball leap.
- In reruns, the first three seasons always had the opening sequence made for Season 4.
- Equivalent Exchange: The people Sam replaces take his place in the now-recent-past-that-didn't-happen.
- Evil Counterpart: Not quite the Evil Leaper, since Sam talks her into a Heel Face Turn, but her hologram partner Zoe is definitely one for Al, being a snarky horndog but completely lacking any redeeming traits like his compassion or sense of honor.
- Expansion Pack Past: The dramatic need for Sam or Al to have a personal stake in the plot each week meant that both leads pretty much define this trope. It's implied that Sam changes his own history after every leap, but retains all he's learned from each timeline; and it's explicitly shown to be the case in at least two instances.
- Failure Is the Only Option
- Fan Service
- Sam frequently is shirtless, even in the opening credits. In one episode he falls into a pond and spends the rest of the episode shirtless/in a towel.
- And in "The Leap Back," when Sam is changing before entering the Imaging Chamber so he can leap into the body Al's occupied (thus having them change places so Al's no longer the Leaper and Sam no longer the Observer) Ziggy comments "Great legs, doctor." Heterosexual female viewers and gay men everywhere nod in agreement.
- Fashion Dissonance: A weird case: Al's choices in clothing were intentionally regrettable looking, when they weren't a navy uniform. Word of God states that this was done to differentiate the holographic Al from the people who were actually physically there. In-universe (particularly the novelizations), Al had a conscious preference for garish combinations. In a few episodes where Sam leaps to a time and/or place Al has a particular fondness for he will sometimes make an attempt to dress in period clothing only to put together colors and patterns that still manage to make him look appropriately terrible.
- Fog Feet: Sam leaps into a Vietnam vet who's lost both his legs. There's a mean orderly in the episode, and at one point when there's nobody else about Sam gets out of the wheelchair, walks over to the orderly, and slugs him. Since the orderly can only see Sam as the man he leaped into it looks to him like Sam is floating on air.
- For Want of a Nail: Usually played straight. Sam is contantly changing history in relatively small ways all things considered. While the people he encounters are certainly affected, the future itself isn't radically changed. This was true even when he interacted with real-life people, largely thanks to Rubber Band History.
- Foreshadowing: In "Sea Bride," Al casually mentions his one true love. The very next episode is "M.I.A.", which greatly expands on this.
- Gaslighting: In "A Portrait for Troian", Sam jumps into the body of a parapsychologist working with a young widow who insists the ghost of her late husband is haunting. It turns out to be a plot by her brother to gaslight her.
- Glamour Failure: Sam's true form can be seen by little children, animals and psychics.
- Likewise, they also can see Al as a hologram.
- When Sam leaps into the body of a Vietnam veteran who lost both his legs, he causes an orderly to freak out when he stands up and appears to be floating in mid-air.
- When he comes into physical contact with another leaper, such as Alia and later Zoe, this causes them to see each's true form.
- One episode has Sam leap into an artist who believes himself to be a vampire. At the end of of the episode, he looks into the mirror and realises he's casting no reflection.
- Giant Space Flea From Nowhere: The kidnappers from "Another Mother". While they get a fair bit of setup throughout the episode, we never find out what the deal is or why they're after their victim. It is strongly implied that they're child molesters and murderers, and that anyone will do.
- Giving Radio to the Romans: Subverted in "The Leap Back". Ziggy's handlink accidentally travels back to 1945 with Al after the simo-leap, but it doesn't work because Ziggy doesn't exist yet. Indeed, when that episode's love interest is seen punching buttons on the dead handlink, Al comments that the device probably won't work again until 1999.
- God Test: Sam has leaped into an illiterate murderer on the run who is holding a woman and her daughter hostage. He decides to drop The Masquerade, telling her he's a doctor from the future in a Time Travel experiment. She doesn't believe him. Then he notices her medical textbook, and she reveals that she's in medical school. So he has her quiz him on medical stuff to prove that he's telling the truth.
- God Was My Co-Pilot: Hinted at strongly.
- Good Guy Bar: The bar Sam finds himself in during the final episode.
- Good Looking Privates: Al is absolutely gorgeous in his admiral's dress whites!
- As is Sam, in lower ranking ones, in A Leap for Lisa.
- Granola Guy: Al is shown to be ecologically-minded in several episodes, probably because so is Dean Stockwell.
- Guardian Angel: Angela from "It's a Wonderful Leap".
- Halloween Episode: "The Boogieman". Sam leaps into a horror novelist to stop a woman from being murdered. Problem is, other people die in the meantime and increasingly spooky incidents occur. Turns out to be All Just a Dream, though.
- Happily Adopted: According to "Pool Hall Blues," a ten-year-old Al ran away from the orphange and reduced to picking pockets. The one person he tried it on was Charlie "Black Magic" Walters, who sympathized with Al and took him in. The intent was to find Al a family as the traveled, but it turned out to be Walters himself. A few months later, Walters was arrested for playing in a "Whites Only" bar and Al was sent back to the orphange. Regardless, Al considers that the time the bright spot of his childhood and Walters as the first good person he ever met out in the real world.
- Haunted House: "A Portrait for Troian" is set at an estate where the former owners died horrible deaths and Troian (the current owner) believes her husband's ghost is trying to contact her. Sam thinks someone is just trying to drive Troian insane, but Al thinks the house really is haunted. Turns out they're both right. Troian's brother was trying to drive her crazy for her money, but housekeeper Priscilla is revealed to be a ghost.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Of the non-dying variety, but still sacrifices.
- In "The Leap Home, Part 2: Vietnam," Al helps Sam save his brother's life, giving up the chance to prevent his five years of imprisonment in the process.
- In "The Leap Back" and "Mirror Image," meanwhile, Sam sacrifices chances at being home to help Al -- saving his life in the former and his marriage with Beth in the latter.
- Heroic BSOD: Sam has one in "Black on White on Fire", set during the Watts Riots. The brother of the Leapee (Ray), Lonnie, in desperation took Ray's white girlfriend hostage, before Sam managed to talk him down, ending the stand-off peacefully. Unfortunately, Lonnie is then killed by police sniper-fire.
Al: (solemnly) Sam... you did it.
Sam: (cradling Lonnie's body) Was it enough, Al? Was it enough?
(Sam leaps before Al can answer)
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Sam and Al. As said in the last episode, there isn't anything they wouldn't do for each other.
- Discussed in "All Americans," where Chuey (the best friend of the leapee) agrees to throw the football game to clear his mother's debt with a slumlord. He feigns injury to sit out and Sam tries to figure out how to change things. Al tells him to just quit, too, because Chuey would never try to damage his best friend's life under any circumstances.
Sam: They're that close?
Al: Yeah. Just like you and me.
- Hollywood Atheist: Al is revealed to be one in "Leap of Faith". It's not played to any extremes, either. Al simply doesn't believe because of what happened to his father. According to Al, the last thing his dying father said was to pray for him and that everything would work out. It didn't. When Sam is nearly killed later on and lying there unconscious, Al doesn't hesitate to pray for his friend.
- Hologram: Al is one of these to Sam. He's in a room which projects an image of its contents back to Sam's brain except the official explanation is a vaguer way of saying "Sam's brain" that also allows him to be seen by animals and small children, a common form of Glamour Failure. The room's door is one of the trademark moments of the show, where a bright backlit doorway would open and Al would come in and out. This also meant that the entire world around Sam is a hologram to Al, not limited to what Sam could see, thus allowing him to see behind him, around doors or (as Al was wont to) ladies' locker rooms and restrooms.
- The Homeward Journey
- Hood Hopping: During the climax of one episode, Sam is trying to stop a woman from being murdered, and the taxi he's in gets caught in a traffic jam. Having no time to spare, he exits the cab and runs to the woman's apartment by leaping from car to car. To make things more awesome, at the time, Sam had leapt into Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
- Hurting Hero: Sam. Let's see, his father lost the family farm and then died relatively young, his brother was killed in Vietnam and his sister married an abusive alcoholic. And being the kind of person he is, he feels guilty about all of it - particularly the farm and his sister. The trope is particularly evidenced in "The Leap Home, Part 1," where Sam tries to change his family's future and finds that it's not so easy to do.
- Identical Grandson: A variation. While his great-grandfather, Captain John Beckett doesn't look like Sam in the Mirror, the genetic markers in his DNA are near-identical, which is theorised as being the reason why Sam could leap outside of his lifetime and end up in 1862.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Though his goal is to get home, Sam genuinely loves having the opportunity to help people. However, in several episodes (such as "Catch A Falling Star"), Sam laments not having any semblance of a life.
- I Just Want to Be You
- Usually played for laughs with Al to Sam. Often enough, Sam gets to be in the company of attractive women and Al complains that Sam wastes golden opportunities that he would gladly jump at.
- Played very seriously, though, in "The Leap Home, Part 1," where Sam laments being around his family but being unable to change their futures for the better.
Al: I'd give anything to see my father and my sister for a few days. Be able to talk with them again, laugh with them, tell 'em how much I love them. I'd give anything to have what you have, Sam. Anything.
- Made even more heartbreaking when you remember that Al's mother did a runner while he was young, his father went overseas so Al was sent to an orphanage and due to having Down Syndrome, Al's sister was committed to a mental institution. When his father returned and the family was reunited, he shortly afterwards discovered he had cancer and passed away, which meant Al and his sister were once again sent back to the orphanage and asylum. When Al finally was old enough to become the legal guardian of Trudy, it turns out that she'd contracted pneumonia and died, 2 years previously and they never even bothered to tell him.
- I Owe You My Life
- According to "The Leap Back", Al has saved Sam's life twenty-three times up to that point. It's because of that that Sam leaps to save him.
- From the preceding "Shock Theater":
Sam: Who are you?
Al: I'm Al. I'm your buddy. I gave you your first break. And you're the only person that believed in me when I gave up believing in myself. You brought me on this project.
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Sam. Parodied in "The Leap Back," where the simo-leap exchanged some personality traits between Sam and Al. Al is suddenly far more chivalrous, which he can't stand.
Al: This isn't fair! Sam! A beautiful body like that, and I'm thinkin' pure thoughts?! Damn!
- It Gets Easier: Sam gets told this after killing a murderous character in self-defense.
- Jack Kerouac: One episode featured Sam trying to convince a fictionalized portrayal of the writer to help a young girl in trouble with local gangs.
- Jerkass: In "Runaway", the leapee's big sister harasses Sam throughout the episode and gets a smug grin whenever he gets into trouble (usually her fault). After resolving the main issue of the episode, Sam doesn't leap out until he threatens the girl into being nicer to her brother (by dangling her over and old well).
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: In "The Camikazi Kid", the leapee's older sister is engaged to a seemingly nice guy that can get very abusive in private (and does regularly hit her in the original history). Sam gets the better of the guy and exposes him for what he is, which leads to the sister almost being assaulted. Sam responds by slugging the guy on the spot.
- Ladykiller in Love: Al remains hopelessly in love with his first wife Beth, even several decades after she got remarried, due to believing he'd been killed in action (he was actually a POW). Its heavily implied the reason he was married several times and why his relationships never lasted long was due to him trying to fill the void left by Beth.
- Let Me Tell You a Story: In "Jimmy", Sam leaps into a mentally retarded man in the 1960s. Eventually he freaks out in frustration, since he's being treated like an idiot all day. Al interrupts him mid-rant: "There was this girl named Trudy..." Sam snaps at him that this is no time for another irrelevant, sleazy sex story -- but this time, the girl in question was Al's younger sister, who was also mentally retarded.
- Lie to the Beholder
- Luke, I Am Your Father: In the final part of "Trilogy", Sam and Al realize that Sam is the biological father of the focus character's daughter, conceived when he lept into the woman's fiancé during sex. However, she apparently never finds out, despite working for the Quantum Leap Project in the "fixed" timeline.
- Magnetic Hero: Sam.
- Make Wrong What Once Went Right: The Evil Leaper.
- Mandatory Twist Ending: Only when the paranormal was involved, Or Was It?
- Mental Time Travel: Or at least it originally was...
- The Mirror Shows Your True Self: Inverted. Sam (and the viewer) sees the image of the person he's "leaped into" in mirrors- otherwise he looks like himself.
- Mission Control: Al and the rest of the Project.
- "Mister Sandman" Sequence
- Mister Seahorse: The episode "8 1/2 Months" had Sam leap into a pregnant woman... and later on, he began to gain the symptoms of pregnancy, despite not really being pregnant. When Sam ultimately leaps out, he's in the middle of giving birth!
- The Mistress: Sam has to save one from suicide in his first leap into a woman.
- The Movie: As of late 2010, under development by Donald P. Bellisario.
- Multitasked Conversation: Sam and Al need to have these occasionally.
- Musical Episode: "To Catch a Falling Star" sort of. The setting is a theater performing Don Quixote and the musical numbers are done in the context of performances/rehearsals. The last act is mostly composed of the final performance.
- My God, What Have I Done?: In "The Leap Home, Part 2", Sam saves Tom, but Maggie -- who Sam insisted on going the mission and survived in the original history -- is killed by a landmine.
"I traded a life for a life!"
- My Grandma Can Do Better Than You: In the episode "Running for Honor", Sam leaps into a track runner, and fails to live up to the guy's previous performance:
Sam: (looking at his time) Is that good?
Coach: Yeah, that's great. If you're my grandmother!
- Naked in Mink: In "Goodbye Norma Jean", Barbara tries on Marilyn's white fox coat, and a pair of her heels, and nothing else.
- Named After Somebody Famous
- Sam Beckett? As in Samuel Beckett? There might be something meaningful in that, but the best we can come up with is that he wasn't always sure why he was where he was, and "Dr. Vladimir Estragon" was too ridiculous.
- Internal to the series, Sam's full name is given as Samuel John Beckett, son of John Samuel Beckett. It seems like the elder was not intentionally invoking anything. Whether or not Bellisario was invoking anything for a laugh is another matter. There was definitely some monkey business behind his mother Thelma Louise Beckett...
- It gets lampshaded in a couple of episodes; in "Honeymoon Express", someone asks Al if Sam is related to the playwright, and Al responds "Not to my knowledge." In "Liberation", when Sam prepares "griddle cakes a'la Beckett", the leapee's daughter assumes that's who he's talking about, but Sam quickly covers by saying he meant "Mom Beckett, the famous chef".
- Name's the Same
- Commander Dirk Riker
- In the teaser for "What Price Gloria?", Sam is happy to find out he has leaped into someone also named Sam. He's less happy though, when he finds out its short for "Samantha".
- Narrating the Present: Sometimes Sam gives a past-tense narration in voiceover, although it's unclear when he would have found time to go back and write any of these events down. Especially given the ending of the series. There's one particularly odd moment in the episode "Play It Again, Seymour:" Sam catches himself using hard-boiled detective slang in the narration, and Sam-on-screen reacts to this, leading to the Fridge Logic conclusion that Sam just walks around mentally narrating his own life in the past tense.
- Newspaper Dating: Once Per Episode.
- Nice Guy: Sam, he's not quite The Messiah but he friendly never takes advantage of women and well the fact of the matter is he always wants to help people he's around even when they annoy him.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In "A Leap for Lisa," Sam inadvertently alters history so that a young Al stands trial for a rape/murder case and faces the death penalty. Originally Al didn't go to trial because he had an alibi thanks to the young nurse he had been with, who told his lawyer, who tells the court after she dies in a car accident. When Sam leaps in, he asks Lisa not to talk to anyone, meaning she takes the alibi to her grave and he does stand trial. In a mild subversion Al is okay with this, because it means people won't be spreading rumors about Lisa over her grave (and presumably because he trusts Sam to fix things).
- And this ends up becoming completely subverted by the end due to Lisa not dying.
- Nitro Boost: In "Camikazi Kid", Sam rigs up a nitro boost to win a drag race.
- Notable Original Music: "Somewhere in the Night" (not to be confused with the Barry Manilow son of the same name) from "Piano Man" which was written and performed by Scott Bakula and was a minor hit in the 80's.
- Not That Kind of Doctor: Averted. Sam is a medical doctor, just one of six doctorates he holds.
- Nothing but Hits: Just about any tune that you hear playing on the radio or performed in front of an audience will be an instantly recognizable tune from the era contemporary to the date of the leap. The same goes for movies and television.
- Obfuscating Disability
- In "Blind Faith", Sam leaps into a blind concert pianist and has to keep up a pretense of blindness throughout the leap. The mother of the leapee's girlfriend catches him during a moment in which he's let the pretense drop, and assumes that the leapee is a fraud; when she tries to expose him publicly, however, Sam has recently been blinded by an inconvenient flashbulb and passes her impromptu "test."
- Happens again in "Nowhere to Run," where Sam leaps into a Marine captain that had lost his legs in a landmine explosion. Similarly to the above, Sam can walk with no problem, but he has to pretend otherwise for obvious reasons. (He stops pretending, though, to beat-up an abusive orderly and later to save a man from drowning himself.)
- Offstage Waiting Room: Literally. Averted in some later episodes (primarily from the fifth season), where viewers got to see Al interact with the leapees.
- Oh Crap
- In one episode, Sam leaps into a man on the electric chair, just before he's given a last-second stay of execution. Sam's Once Per Episode "Oh boy" is understandably replaced with a panicked "Oh God."
- In "Mirror Image," Sam finds himself in a quiet town bar. As he settles in and gets his bearings, he looks in the mirror -- only to see himself. "Oh boy" indeed.
- Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Among other disciplines Music, Medicine, Physics, Archeology, Ancient Languages, Chemistry, and Astronomy. Not to mention hobbies like 7 modern languages. In the cases he doesn't know something, Al knows. Though it's implied he didn't know all that when he started..
- Once Per Episode
- A mirror-view of Sam's host except for "Blood Moon," when Sam -- since he's leaped into A VAMPIRE -- discovers he doesn't have a reflection
- "Oh boy."
- Also, Al walking through something.
- Almost every episode ends with the start of Sam's next leap. There are exceptions, such as the premiere (when broken up into two parts), "M.I.A." (Al's final scene with Beth) or "Dr. Ruth" (Dr. Ruth leaping out of the waiting room and being replaced by that vampire mentioned above).
- One Steve Limit
- The trope was purposefully invoked in the finale, where Sam -- much to his surprise -- encounters a bartender named Albert, a man named Gooshie and a miner nicknamed Ziggy. This all plays into his discovery that there's something special about this leap.
- Also comes up in "Shock Theater", when Sam leaps into a man named Sam Bederman and Al points out that Sam can use his own name for once.
- Subverted in "What Price, Gloria?" where Sam hears his name called upon leaping in. He thinks he gets to use his name this time - only to realize that "Sam" is short for Samantha.
- Only the Pure of Heart: Children around the age of five and below see Sam as himself and can even see and hear Al. It's explained that they are in a sort of "Alpha State" that allows them to see through the "aura" Sam projects when he leaps into someone.
- In Reality, it is a case of Real Life Writes the Plot since you can't tell a five year old to pretend that Al wasn't really there
- The Other Darrin: Sam's father was usually played by Scott Bakula, except in his first appearance where he's played by a different actor.
- Our Time Travel Is Different: According to Word of God, not merely Sam's mind/soul, but his actual body displaces that of the "leapee," while that person's "physical aura" stays the same. This is a matter of some consternation both in and out of the show, as Sam's hosts are not always the same size as him... most notably in "Nowhere To Run," where Sam leaps into an amputee and actually stands up despite having nothing below the knee. In one case his host wasn't even the same species -- in "The Wrong Stuff" Sam leaps into a chimp. It becomes very important in "Trilogy", as in the second part Sam leaps into a man having sex with his fiancée, meaning that the daughter who appears in the third part is actually his.
- Our Vampires Are Different: A group of...eccentric people in England call themselves vampires and make human sacrifices (and drink their blood) to the "Blood Moon" and wear false, vampire teeth. Turns out at least some real vampires may exist, as Sam cannot see a reflection in a mirror.
- Panty Shot: Teresa in "Double Identity".
- Peggy Sue
- "The Leap Home, Part 1"
- Al by proxy in "M.I.A.".
- Percussive Maintenance: Al often smacks Ziggy's portable terminal when trying to retrieve information.
- Politically-Correct History: Averted in "Justice", where Sam leaps into a man who's just joined the Ku Klux Klan and is forced to denigrate blacks and call them "nigger", which obviously pains him a great deal.
- The show always averts Politically-Correct History, sexism, racism and prejuice are frequent topics in episodes set before the 1970's.
- Powers That Be: Sam thinks that they are controlling his time travel. Actually, Sam himself is doing it subconsciously. God tells him so in the last episode.
- Pretty in Mink: In "Goodbye Norma Jean", Marilyn has a few furs shown: a white fox wrap, a white fox coat, and a white mink jacket.
- Pro Wrestling Episode: "Heart of a Champion"
- The Professor
- Prophecy Twist: In "Nowhere to Run," Sam's main mission to prevent a disabled veteran from killing himself, but he also has to ensure another part of history plays out. According to Al, the amputee Sam leaped into had a son (who will save a lot of lives during a Gulf War battle), and he has to ensure he will be born. They initially think they have to repair the amputee's rocky marriage, but it turns out they didn't have to do anything. The mother turns out to be the nurse that Sam met at the start of the episode. Al acknowledges that he never bothered to check the mother's name.
- Proscenium Reveal: On more than one occasion, Sam leaps into a strange situation, only to discover that he's an actor in a play/on a soundstage.
- Pro Wrestling Is Real: In one episode in which Sam leaps into the body of a wrestler playing an Evil Russian, it's confidently declared that wrestling actually is staged -- except for the title matches, and Sam and his partner's refusal to take a dive in a tag-team title match is the main conflict of the episode.
- Resigned to the Call
- In "To Catch a Falling Star," Sam encounters an old crush and the leap turns very personal. He even openly considers not "setting right what once went wrong" (in this case, saving a Jerkass actor) to avoid leaping anymore. Obviously, he gets over it and the following exchange echoes the trope (as well as further shouting out to Don Quixote.
Al: Are you gonna be all right?
Sam: What matter wounds to the body of a knight-errant, for each time he falls, he shall rise again and woe to the wicked! Al?
Al: Here, your grace.
Sam: My armor, my sword!
Al: More misadventures?
Sam: Adventures, old friend.
- A very sad example in the finale. "Home. I'd like to go home, but I can't, can I? I've got a wrong to put right for Al."
- Retroactive Precognition
- Revolvers Are Just Better: In "MIA", when Sam leaps in, he cowers in the middle of the gunfight he's caught up in. When it's revealed that he's a male cop in drag and not a woman, his partner asks him if his pistol jammed again. One of the other cops tells him "Get a revolver, Jake. You'll live longer."
- Ripple Effect Indicator
- While Al would usually just tell Sam what's changed, one episode featured Al being outright replaced because of Sam's actions during a Leap into Al in his younger days.
- During "Honeymoon Express", Al is at a Congressional oversight trial and funding for the Project is in danger. In the past, Sam is helping the leapee's new wife study for her legal exams. He corrects her on a key fact, which she said getting wrong could've caused her to fail and damaged her career. Back in the present, Al (and the audience) sees the official leading the charge to cut off the funding replaced by an older version of the woman, who grants the Project further funding.
- Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: There are times when Sam explicitly remembers how history originally played out even after he changed it.
- In "Rebel Without a Clue", he remembers that Tom originally died, but that he "got him back."
- In "Honeymoon Express" history actually changes around Al with only him noticing the difference.
- Rubber Band History: The episode where Sam saves Kennedy from being assassinated... Jackie Kennedy -- or saves Marilyn Monroe from overdosing... just long enough to make The Misfits.
- San Dimas Time: In effect from the moment Ziggy finds where and when Sam's leaped.
- The Scottish Trope
- The third season's Halloween Episode, in which Sam encounters the devil himself posing as Al, is believed to be cursed, causing equipment malfunctions (VCRs, TV stations, ...) and even mentioning the episode title is believed to cause trouble and hence frowned upon. Plus during two separate airings in California, two strong earthquakes occurred.
- The trope itself is invoked in "Future Boy," where Moe Stein chastizes Sam for saying "MacBeth" as he considers it bad luck.
- Series Fauxnale: "Mirror Image" was written and filmed as a season finale. When the series was cancelled afterwards, some last-minute editing was performed to ensure the series would have some kind of an ending. They didn't even manage to spell Sam's last name right, stating "Dr. Becket never returned home"
- Six Is Nine: In a Halloween episode, Sam leaps into the body of a horror writer whose street address is 669. Near the climax, the 9 flips upside down to reveal that the devil is amongst them.
- Skepticism Failure: Somewhat mitigated by the fact that this series named another trope.
- Smite Me Oh Mighty Smiter: After three and a half seasons, God owes Sam a favor in "A Single Drop of Rain".
- Spirit Advisor
- Split Personality: Happens to Sam a few times, where his mind would merge with a leapee's. Sam would subsequently pick up their habits or knowledge, and sometimes act as they would without a second thought.
- "Shock Theater" really exploited this. After Sam is given electro-shock, he keeps shifting to different people he's leapt into -- Samantha Stormer ("What Prince, Gloria?"), Jesse Tyler ("The Color of Truth"), Herman "Magic" Williams ("The Leap Home, Part 2"), Tom Stratton ("Genesis"), Kid Cody ("The Right Hand of God"), and Jimmy LaMotta ("Jimmy").
- In "Return of the Evil Leaper", Sam is influenced by Arnold Watkins, The Midnight Marauder and suffer from bouts of Chronic Hero Syndrome.
- A particularly dark example in "Lee Harvey Oswald", where Sam leaps into the infamous assassin. Throughout the two-parter, Sam feels Oswald's influence and a Split Personality Takeover slowly ensues. They just barely avoid Gollum Made Me Do It. This episode also shows the reverse, where Sam's personality briefly influences Oswald.
- Sympathetic Criminal: Sam leaps into one of these.
- Take That
- The "Lee Harvey Oswald" two-parter was this to Oliver Stone's JFK. Bellisario (who had actually known the real-life Oswald while in the U.S. Marines) considered the movie "crap" and did the two-parter to show another take on the real-life event.
- In "The Leap Back", after Sam has to deal with Ziggy, he grumbles "Why did I have to give him Barbara Streissand's ego?"
- Talking to Himself: One episode featues Sam leaping into a younger Al. Al speaks to his younger self in 1999, with Dean Stockwell's voice dubbed over for the younger actor.
- Tear Jerker: "Mirror Image", all of it.
- Teen Pregnancy: Sam once leaps into a pregnant girl -- and barely makes it out before the birth.
- Temporary Blindness: "Blind Faith"
- Thanatos Gambit: In the final part of "Trilogy", Abigail is accused of murdering the woman who's been harassing her for years (said woman having been convinced that Abby murdered her daughter and husband). Sam, as her lawyer, eventually realizes that the dead woman killed herself with the intent of framing Abigail and getting "revenge", having long since crossed the Despair Event Horizon.
- Thriller on the Express: "Honeymoon Express"
- Timeshifted Actor: Happens all over the place in "Trilogy", a three-parter where Sam helps out a woman named Abigail Fuller at ages 10, 21, and 35, and his leapees each appear in the preceding part. Following this trope more closely, Abigail is played by one actress at age 10 and another at ages 21 and 35, while the first actress is in third episode as her daughter Sammy Jo.
- Time Travel
- Timey-Wimey Ball
- Tomato in the Mirror: Turns out that in the Leap 'verse, vampires are apparently real. As well as ghosts, aliens, bigfoot and a few other supposedly mythical creatures.
- Twenty Minutes Into the Future: The series was initially vague on when the present-day was (though it couldn't be that far ahead due to Sam leaping within his own lifetime). Eventually, the series set the year to 1999.
- Two Roads Before You: In "Mirror Image," Sam is essentially told that he can either continue leaping (where he will face even tougher challenges) or go home. Sam chooses to leap so that he can save Al and Beth's marriage.
- Unstuck in Time
- Unusual Euphemism: "Nozzle" for anyone Al doesn't approve of.
- Very Special Episode: "Raped"
- Walking the Earth: But substitute "Timeline" for "Earth".
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Sam.
- Wham! Line
- In the episode "So Help Me God". Sam leaps into a laywer in the deep south during the 1950's, defending a black woman accused of murdering a white man. She openly admits she killed him and Sam spends the entire episode trying to prove that it was just self-defense or an accident. Eventually, he is able to get the sole witness, the victim's mother, to testify who recounts the incident before saying "That's when I picked up the shotgun..."
- An example from "The Leap Home, Part 2" doesn't really affect the plot (as it comes at the end), but is notable in how it affected the fandom's experience and what the possible implications mean. Tom celebrates surviving the day it was alledged he would die on, telling Sam, "And it's all thanks to you, little brother."
- What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?: In the Elvis episode, Sam's actions accidentally cause Elvis not to get discovered. Al checks the changes to history and says that "Heartbreak Hotel" gets recorded by The Monkees and "Blue Suede Shoes" by Tony Orlando and Dawn, to which he responds by miming throwing up.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Sometimes, Sam leaps out before Al can tell him (or the audience) about the leapee's life post-episode. This is often given a Hand Wave with a line like "Everything turns out okay".
- Where Are They Now? Epilogue
- The one that was infamously tacked on to the final episode.
- Also usually happens at the end of an episode, with Al telling Sam how the positive effects of the leap have helped the people in question.
- Where Da White Women At?: In Black on White on Fire Sam leapt into Ray, a black medical student in the 60's who was engaged to a white woman. Neither of their families approved (although Ray's mother was more concerned about Susan's safety -- the episode took place during the Watts riots -- than disapproval of her son dating a white woman.)
- Wife-Basher Basher: Sam becomes this in "The Cam-ikaze Kid", where the leapee's sister is in an abusive relationship. At the end of the episode, after the guy gets rough with her in public and punched down by Sam (not to mention trying to run Sam over after losing to him in a car race), his bully friends walk out on him.
- Woobie of the Week: Along with Walking the Earth, the show's premise.
- Word of God: Bellisario stated that despite Sam changing history to keep Al and Beth together, the Project would still exist and that Al would remain a crucial part of it.
- Working on the Chain Gang: Sam leapt into a prisoner who was subject to this. He was there to establish another prisoner's innocence and expose the fact that the warden had been keeping them there for too long (Sam's character was only supposed to be serving a nine-month sentence but had been there for years).
- Wrong Genre Savvy: In "The Colour of Truth", where Sam keeps forgetting that given the rampant racism prevalent in the Deep South during the late 1950's, a black man doing minor things like sitting at a diner counter and drinking from a fountain were Serious Business.
- Year Outside, Hour Inside: According to the pilot, whereas time in-between leaps is instantaneous for Sam, it can take days or weeks for him to arrive somewhere, plus some time for the Project to get a lock on him once he gets there, although that part appears to happen in real time. This wasn't touched on much in the rest of the series.
- This is possibly overlooked in the episode where the funding the threatened, as someone makes the claim there's no evidence that Sam is leaping, because Sam's body is still there as far as anyone can tell, and it's just as likely that he's simply gone insane and taking on random personalities. While that might explain his behavior when his body is there, it doesn't explain how that body vanishes for days at a time and reappears out of thin air once Sam gets somewhere and displaces a person. OTOH, this was probably just an excuse to make the project "prove it" and alter the past in the way the government wanted, and no one actually disbelieved it was happening.
- Yet Another Christmas Carol: Zig-Zagged.
- You Can See Me?: Originally, only Sam could see Al, but this was extended to young children, animals and the mentally disabled.
- In "Another Mother" and "A Tale of Two Sweeties," the youngest children of the leapees sees both Al and Sam.
- In "The Leap Home, Part 2", after being fatally wounded, Maggie looks up at Al before she dies. Al has this reaction.
- In "Shock Theater," Tibby (a young adult that's a patient) can see both Sam and Al, as well. Some of the other patients can at least see Al, also.
- In "A Little Miracle," Blake is able to see Al because his neurons and mesons are very close to Sam's.
- In "It's a Wonderful Leap", Angela can see and communicate with Al because she's an angel.
- You Can't Fight Fate: The painful lesson of "The Leap Home, Part 1," where Sam tries to prevent his father from dying early, his brother Tom being killed in Vietnam the next year and his sister Katie from marrying an abusive alcoholic. As Al tells Sam, he's not changing their futures; he's only making their present miserable. Partially subverted in the next episode, where Sam leaps into Vietnam and manages to save Tom's life.
- You Can't Go Home Again: Played painfully straight in "The Leap Home, Part 1." Sam is thrilled to be back in his hometown as his sixteen-year-old self, but his failing efforts to prevent the tragedies that befell his family terrify them and sends him into a Heroic BSOD.
- You Look Familiar
- Carolyn Seymour plays Priscilla in "A Portrait for Troian" and evil hologram Zoe in Season 5. The series can actually get around the similarity in this instance because (aside for brief moments) Sam and Al never see what Zoe looks like.
- "Mirror Image" is partially built on this trope, with Sam encountering people that look like ones from previous leaps -- John D'Aquino (Tonchi for Frank) and Richard Herd (Ziggy for Moe Stein). Notably, while Bruce McGill played both Weird Ernie and Bartender Al, Sam doesn't notice any familiarity.
- Willie Garson appears in "Play It Again, Seymour" as the titular Seymour and in "Lee Harvey Oswald" as Oswald.
- Olivia Burnette plays the older daughter of Sam's housewife leapee in "Another Mother" and Sam's sister Katie in "The Leap Home".
- Charles Rocket plays Michael Blake in "A Little Miracle" and Commander Riker in "A Leap for Lisa".
- You Would Make a Great Model: In "Miss Deep South", an unscrupulous photographer talks a beauty pageant contestant into a "tasteful" photo shoot by promising that he can get her modeling work. Then he gets her drunk and persuades her to take off more clothing, reassuring, "I won't shoot anything that will embarrass you." The photos show up in a nudie calendar a few months later, ruining the girl's career (unless Sam can stop it from happening).
- You're Just Jealous: The girl's answer to Sam, when he was trying to stop her.
- You Wouldn't Hit a Guy with Glasses: In "The Cam-ikazi Kid", Sam leaps into a dorky teenager who is harassed by bullies. He protests, "You can't pants a guy with glasses!" The bully replies, "What glasses?", takes the glasses, and pantses him anyway.
- Young Future Famous People. Bellisario had a name for these: "kisses with history".
- In "It's a Wonderful Leap", Sam is driving around a man and his son, and tells them some vague bits of information about New York's future in real estate. At the end of the cab ride, Sam finds out the passenger was a young Donald Trump.
- There've also been episodes in which he meets a young Stephen King and Martin Luther King Jr's great-great-grandfather.
- In others, he shows moonwalk to kid Michael Jackson or give young Sylvester Stallone boxing tips.
- In "How the Tess Was Won," the whole point of the leap turns out to be giving a young Buddy Holly the inspiration for the song "Peggy Sue."
- In another, he was backstage at a talent show when "Little Billy C. from Hope, Arkansas" goes on with his saxophone.
- ↑ but not in this episode