Quantum Leap: 10 greatest guest performances


Once again, we’re celebrating great guest performances in one of our favourite shows. We’re defining a guest appearance as an actor who plays a particular character no more than twice over the run of the show. There’s a bit more competition for the list for this show than most – since Quantum Leap only had two regular cast members and nearly every other actor on the show appeared only once!

10. Bruce McGill as Al the Bartender in Mirror Image

Al the Bartender is far from the only mysterious, enigmatic, highly knowledgeable bartender in science fiction and fantasy (Nelson the barman in Life On Mars springs to mind, for one). However, he is a key part of what would turn out to be Quantum Leap’s final episode – not to mention the possibility that he is God, Time, Fate or Whatever. McGill’s performance is the perfect balance of light, witty and enigmatic.

9. Andrea Thompson as Maggie Dawson in The Leap Home Part 2 (Vietnam)

Maggie Dawson is one of those roles where the challenge is that the audience have no idea how important she is until the end of the episode. Quantum Leap was, for the most part, a positive and optimistic show – you can count on one hand the episodes in which Sam was unable to achieve a properly happy ending, but had to leap following a consolation prize of some kind (the most downbeat episodes are probably Lee Harvey Oswald and Raped, both covered below, and in the case of the former they were constrained by real history). This episode, however, is one of very few to end with a real gut punch. After being unable to reunite Al with his beloved first wife, or save his father from an early death or his sister from an abusive marriage, Sam finally seems to get a win when he successfully prevents his brother’s death in Vietnam – but the price is another woman’s life. It’s a tribute to Thompson’s engaging performance that Maggie’s death hits us as hard as it does.

8. Michael Boatman as Billy Johnson in Nowhere To Run

In an episode primarily memorable for Jennifer Aniston’s very green jumper and huge green earrings, providing a sensitive portrayal of a disabled veteran contemplating suicide is no easy task. Boatman pulls it off, though, never losing sight of the seriousness of his character’s situation even in the lighter moments of the episode. His descent into utter despair is truly heart-breaking.

7. Roddy McDowall as Edward St John V in A Leap For Lisa

Al Calavicci is a pretty big personality, so it takes an equally big but totally different personality to drive home the horror of his temporary loss when Sam accidentally gets him executed as a young man. Quantum Leap ran on the chemistry between Bakula and Stockwell as Sam and Al, so replacing him with anyone would have been jarring, but Roddy McDowall’s prim Englishman is the perfect innocently annoying foil to make us cross fingers, toes and everything else that we’ll soon get Al back again.

6. Melora Hardin as Abigail Fuller in Trilogy Parts 2 & 3

Melora Hardin is better known these days for playing Michael Scott’s unstable girlfriend Jan in the US incarnation of The Office, but here she played one of the few girls of the week that Sam Beckett really falls for, and the mother of his accidentally-conceived daughter. What makes Abigail Fuller a particularly unusual role is that the story in Trilogy waits until the very end to fully explain what happened when she was a child that led to the death of another young girl, so although Abigail must be fully sympathetic and we must be rooting for her innocence to be proved as Sam falls in love with her, there also needs to be a constant tension coming from the idea that she just might be hiding a dark secret. Hardin walks that line to great effect as a memorable love interest for Sam.

5. Willie Garson as Lee Harvey Oswald in Lee Harvey Oswald Parts 1 & 2

Although he’s played many roles over the years, Willie Garson is best known as Stanford Blatch in Sex And The City, and to SFF fans as Martin Lloyd in Stargate SG-1. He most often plays comic, slightly socially awkward roles, and had already done so in Quantum Leap itself, in season one’s Play It Again, Seymour. In this season five two-parter, however, he plays a very different role, taking on one of the world’s most famous assassins and presenting Donald Bellisario’s interpretation of him as an unstable loner with Communist sympathies (based on having met him while they were both in the Marines and found him reading Pravda). Watching him play such a different role will make you wish he got the chance to do so a bit more often!

4. Liz Torres as Angelita Carmen Guadalupe Cecelia Jimenez in It’s A Wonderful Leap

Liz Torres’ performance in this whimsical episode is lovingly over-the-top, and rightly so. Once or twice a season, from A Portrait For Troian onwards, Quantum Leap stepped out of the straight drama that usually takes place once Sam has leaped (aside from Al’s intervention and knowledge of the future, that is) and incorporated an added aspect of science fiction or, more often, fantasy into its stories. This often skewed towards horror (mummies, demons, vampires) but here turns the other way (Trump cameo aside) to bring an angel into the show where God may or may not be pulling the strings. Torres’ joyful, just-annoying-enough performance provides a really delightful guardian angel, even if you have to wonder where these angels are the rest of the time…

3. Cheryl Pollack as Katie McBain in Raped

Raped is one of Quantum Leap’s most earnest episodes on a theme of social justice, and at the same time one of its oddest. The show had previously made use of its unique premise to place a white man in the place of a black man, or of a white woman (and, once, a black woman) and highlight the way non-white-male members of society have been treated at various points in recent American history. Usually, this is quite effective, but in the case of Raped, in which the episode centres entirely around a violation of the body of a woman that was not experienced by Sam Beckett, the disconnect becomes rather problematic. The show tried to solve this by blending Scott Bakula’s performance as Sam into a guest performance from Cheryl Pollack as the leapee, Katie, one of very few leapees to be listed as a guest star. Al brings Katie in to testify at the trial and Sam’s parroting of her testimony is faded out so the audience see only her. Without a stirring, heartfelt performance from Pollack, the scene would fall apart, but she is convincing and moving in the role.

2. Tyra Ferrell as Delilah ‘Lila’ Berry in So Help Me God

At the opening of this episode, Sam leaps in at the most dramatic possible moment, as usual, and has to answer how his client, Lila, will plead – guilty or not guilty. It’s the look in her eyes that tells him she is innocent, and that convinces him to continue to try to prove that innocence despite her repeated protestations that she was supposed to be pleading guilty. Ferrell must equally convince the audience that she is innocent despite her refusal to testify until the real, horrifying details of the murder are revealed and they are able to understand whom she is protecting and why. Her performance shows just the right amount of strength and tragedy to pull that off, and to keep the audience rooting for her throughout.

1. Susan Diol as Beth Calavicci in M.I.A. and Mirror Image

Susan Diol has already appeared on one of our lists for her guest appearance on Star Trek: Voyager. She delivers an even more memorable performance in an even more bittersweet love story here, as the only woman Al ever really loved, his first wife Beth. Considering how many women Al talks about over the course of the series, Beth had to be something special, but while the script is excellent, there’s only so much it can squeeze into 45 minutes. Much of Beth’s warmth and appeal has to come from Diol and her performance, and she does it well – so well that this episode always appears near or at the top of lists of the best Quantum Leap episodes, and it was this story that we returned to for closure in the last few minutes of Mirror Image and, therefore, of the series.



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