Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Calamity Lame

Quantum Leap
How The Tess Was Won
Season One, Episode Four

Quantum Leap is TV comfort food.  That’s not to say it isn’t intelligent or important – being set between the 50s and the 80s it plays all the major social reform equality cards, race, sex, disability, sexuality – but it’s about a good through-and-through hero running around helping people out because God (or whoever) wants him to.  You don’t get fluffier than that.  But every now and then it strikes a discordant note.

This week Sam leaps into a shy vet living in Texas ranch country.  He’s not sure if he’s there to save a sick piglet or win the heart of cowgirl Tess.  We like Sam’s determination to rescue the pig.  And we love how it ends, bumping into someone famous in that inimitably Quantum Leap way whilst also sneakily subverting the whole premise of the show.  Genius.

Less successful is the romantic plot beforehand.  It’s unashamedly going for the Calamity Jane story, and Tess is just like Calamity in that she’s tough and dumb, but she hasn’t the charm, humour or romantic spirit of Calamity Jane.  (And not once does she burst into song.)

And here it gets uncomfortable.  Tess doesn’t want to get married, but she has to.  Sam has to prove he’s more man than her.  He consoles her by pointing out that while men are better than women when it comes to physical strength, women are better at having babies.  He’s probably trying to show Tess that being a woman is wonderful and she doesn’t need to want to be a man, but it comes across as incredibly misogynistic and all women are good for is their womb.  He manhandles her a bit, but also manages to be more sensitive and romantic than her, so basically, she’s rubbish both at being a man and at being a woman.

Despite being the antithesis of Sam’s kind of woman (he likes them smart but feminine, or whatever the hell Teri Hatcher was supposed to be) he still randomly falls for her, because Sam always has to fall for the woman by the end of the episode to make it a heartbreak that he’s forced to leave.  And then there’s a neat little twist that you probably aren’t expecting.  Sam doesn’t win the girl.

Trouble is a) Ziggy predicts that Tess is supposed to end up with the man who’s been writing her love letters.  Since when can Ziggy predict random stuff like that?  Ziggy just knows the established timeline and makes logical predictions based on that.  He’s not psychic.  We’re never even told what the established timeline was in the first place.  Did Tess always marry the other guy?  Did she grow old and die alone?  Shouldn’t we and Sam need to know this stuff in order to fix it?  b) Tess marries a guy who is brutish and declares he wants to rope her.  Hoorah, more misogyny.

Dear God, won't someone please think of the children!
And c) Al declares that Sam has a lot working against him and indicates the mirror.  Sam looks and sees a guy wearing glasses.  Gasp – not glasses?!  What exactly the point being made here is, we don’t know.  Men with glasses are not allowed to get married, but thugs who treat women like cattle are all the rage?  Or is it because this poor vet clearly has a pair of glasses GROWING OUT OF HIS FACE, otherwise Sam would be wearing them?  Either way, as a pair of speccies, we don’t think Al – who dresses like a Ken doll who’s bad at paintball – should point fingers.

Speaking of Al, this week Tina has left him, so he’s distracted and leaves Sam in danger to go sort out his personal life.  This is a bit of a running gag throughout the series, but it never feels plausible.  It’s never really clear how important this project is to Al, who tends to wander in and out of it in various states of hangover and sex-exhaustion.  Isn’t Sam’s life constantly at stake?  However, Sam’s sulking makes it well worth it.

So it’s an odd one.  It’s fun, certainly; there are several amusing subplots and the ending’s great.  But it’s also a bit uncomfortable and on the whole, pretty tough to care about.  Yee haa.

The Albert Calavicci Sleazy Files:
  • Lucille.  (In the Energising Chamber during the Christmas party.)

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