Time-traveling problem-solver Dr. Sam Beckett experienced plenty of bizarre situations over five seasons of Quantum Leap, but certain episodes stand out as pushing the boundaries of weirdness to the extreme. They are, of course, our very favorite QL episodes, and with a little help from Ziggy, we’ve gathered them here.
As a wild n’ crazy 1950s radio DJ tasked with helping a station owner (future Home Improvement star Patricia Richardson) keep rock and roll alive, conservative advertisers be damned, Sam meets an upstart named Chubby Checker, who’s just trying to get a little ditty called “The Twist” some airplay.
The episode—which cheerfully and openly acknowledges its debt to Good Morning, Vietnam—isn’t exactly one of the weirder overall Quantum Leap entries, but it does contain one of the series’ weirdest scenes. As if the sight of Chubby Checker (circa 1989) playing Chubby Checker (circa 1959) wasn’t off-putting enough, this episode also features the unlikely happenstance of Sam teaching the crooner his own signature dance move. (season 2, episode 6)
And then there was the time Sam, as a pimply teen whose family troubles resemble ones from Sam’s own youth, shows a young Michael Jackson how to moonwalk in a public restroom.
Sam leaps right into a graveyard and the early-1970s life of a tweedy Stanford parapsychologist helping a troubled woman (Deborah Pratt, wife of show creator Donald P. Bellisario) who believes her late husband is reaching out from beyond the grave. In one of Quantum Leap’s many examples of fantastical science, Sam and his sharp-dressed colleague Al (who appears only to Sam in hologram form) use one of the professor’s ghost-detecting doohickeys to make Al’s voice audible to people other than Sam.
Of course, Al uses it to pretend he’s a g-g-g-ghost. The whole episode takes place in and around a rambling old mansion, complete with sinister housekeeper and a haunted painting—and a twist at the end. It’s as gothically campy as an episode of Dark Shadows, with a generous helping of Scooby-Doo, too. (s2, e11)
Sam wakes up as a young, pre-fame Elvis Presley, in one of several episodes throughout season five that saw him embodying or interacting with real famous people.
As a huge fan of the King, Sam feels extra pressure not to fuck up music history. He manages not to ... though the saxophone solo that gets added into “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” as sung by Scott Bakula/Sam-as-Elvis-at-Sun-Studios, is not entirely accurate. (s5, e21)
Sam becomes 1980s sex therapist/pop-culture icon Dr. Ruth Westheimer, while the real Dr. Ruth, ensconced in the body-swapping “waiting room” at Sam’s lab during his leap, offers her expertise to someone else who really needs it: Al. (s5, e14)
When electroshock therapy elaborately scrambles Sam’s usual levels of post-leap confusion, Al has to step up and help complete the mission; fortunately, Sam’s fellow mental patients are able to see and hear Al. Most of the episode is rather dark, save this one moment, in which—long before Tupac’s Coachella resurrection—Al became history’s first rappin’ hologram. (s3, e22)
Archaeology fanboy Sam is delighted when he wakes up in 1957 Egypt, having just discovered the tomb of an ancient pharaoh. Too bad there are some equally ancient complications (see: episode title). As a side note, this Indiana Jones-esque excursion (with a little wink at Boris Karloff) is as close as Sam ever gets to really traveling far back in time, since he can’t actually leap beyond the years he’s been alive on Earth. (s4, e20)
Another Dark Shadows-type tale in which Sam (resplendent in crushed velvet) mayyyybe leaps into a vampire, and/or an eccentric artist with a fondness for gothic cosplay. (Al, noted fraidy-cat, fully believes Sam’s “a bloodsucking ghoul from hell.”) Are vampires real? The episode has fun suggesting that they are, despitethe damning evidence to the contrary seen above. (s5, e15)
Sam finds himself as the chauffeur to Marilyn Monroe (Susan Griffiths, who played the legend multiple times in her career) on the day she hires a fresh-faced new secretary with secret All About Eve tendencies. Curiously, he doesn’t really prevent Monroe’s imminent death—but he does buy her two more years and at least one more movie role. (s5, e18)
As “Tonic,” lead singer of King Thunder, a suspiciously KISS-like band, Sam must evade an unknown assassin from the many hangers-on around him with ample motive. That’s on top of the fact that Sam is a huge nerd who has no clue about rock-star stagecraft. Fortunately, he’s also a genius, so he pulls it off with a little coaching from Al, the coolest cat in any dimension. (s3, e17)
Sam played women multiple times, but only once did he leap into one—a small-town Texas teen in the 1950s—who was mere days away from giving birth. Somehow, he experiences all of the physical aches and cravings of pregnancy in the process, while the young mother-to-be (whom we only glimpse in the mirror, per the show’s usual custom) and her unborn child wait in the future for Sam to leap out of their lives.
All Quantum Leap episodes involve a race against time, but the stakes are unusually high here, as Sam struggles to figure out his host’s dilemma before she goes into labor; as Al warns, a baby born in Sam’s timeline might have to stay there, separated from its mother forever—Quantum Leap logic at its finest and most pretzeled. (s3, e12)
This two-part episode sees Sam traveling to Dallas just before the death of John F. Kennedy and leaping into the lives of various people connected to the event, including Lee Harvey Oswald. Sam doesn’t end up changing the history that the world remembers—the twist is that he prevents the death of Jacqueline Kennedy—and the episode, which came out the year after Oliver Stone’s JFK, is completely conspiracy-free aside from some dialogue discounting it. This is attributed to creator (and scriptwriter for these eps) Bellisario’s personal views; apparently, he had met Oswald while the two were both in the military, and was a strong believer in the lone-gunman theory. (s5, e1-2)
SAM LEAPS INTO A SPACE CHIMP NAMED BOBO.
It was the only time he had a non-human host. And he wears diapers the whole time. (s4, e7)
Sam leaps into the body of a 1960s horror author as he’s setting up a Halloween haunted house and immediately hits his head, leading into a murder-filled episode that may or may not be mostly a dream. But what an episode, filled with satanic imagery and probably the scariest scene in the Quantum Leap files, as Sam faces down someone who looks like Al but is revealed to be an evil time-traveler with devilish intentions.
Since this is Quantum Leap, the show can’t resist planting at least one corny Easter egg, placing the author in Maine and giving him a teenage buddy who happens to be named “Stevie”... whose last name is of course King. (s3, e5)