Quantum Leap season two, episode five is set in the early 1990s. Our time traveler, Ben Song, portrayed by Raymond Lee, inhabits the body of an 18-year-old Asian man working in a downtown L.A. shoe store owned by his father. Things take an intriguing turn as he must prevent an incident that has the power to alter the lives of many, coinciding with the announcement of the Rodney King verdict and the eruption of the L.A. riots. With the assistance of Magic, played by Ernie Hudson, Ben endeavors to navigate through this turmoil, ensuring he can continue his journey, inching closer to his eventual destination.
Taji Mag had the opportunity to converse with director Tamika Miller and writers Benjamin Raab and Deric A. Hughes, all integral in creating this compelling episode. They shared insights into how they collaboratively crafted this impactful story.
Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): Could you share the creative process behind Sam’s journey to the 90s during the Rodney King incident and how the characters were developed?
Benjamin Raab (BR): Certainly, when selecting a time period, the primary goal is to swiftly immerse the audience within that era. Our intention for this season was to explore various countries, and as a result, we aimed to create an intriguing opening that might momentarily mislead the viewers into thinking “are we in Korea?” for a moment. Of course, the music is a powerful tool to anchor the audience into the chosen time period. However, the key shift lies in the realization that, in fact, this isn’t Korea, but rather Koreatown. This twist served as our way to draw the audience into the moment. It was executed exceptionally well by Tamika. Our objective was to ground everyone in the specific location of the episode, which predominantly takes place in the shoe store. We wanted this setting to feel genuinely lived-in and organic. To achieve this, we included recognizable elements, such as LA Gear shoes. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen an LA Gear sneaker, and the moment when the character picks up the Jordans instantly conveys the time and place. No need for overt exposition. By the end of our teaser, when we conclude with the revelation that this is the day the Los Angeles uprising began, it becomes evident what the story will entail. We used these carefully chosen details to set expectations and then surprise the audience with what they could anticipate in this episode.
Tamika Miller (TM): Absolutely, music plays a pivotal role. As a director and storyteller, I hold a deep appreciation for the post-production process. To clarify, I love the post-production process, which encompasses not only the editing but also the musical aspect. Music, in particular, is a powerful tool because it not only anchors us in a specific era but also firmly roots us in a particular emotional atmosphere. I consider myself fortunate to have access to some 90s music that seamlessly transports us to that era, enhancing the episode even further.
Deric A. Hughes (DAH): Definitely, the choice of music, especially opening with “Poison,” was a fantastic way to set the tone. It instantly triggers nostalgia and makes you think, “Yes, I remember that. That was my era”. The 90s were such a significant time, and it’s essential to capture that essence. The music contributes to the experience by evoking those memories.
Additionally, the incorporation of shoes and creating the mystique and desire around them was an enjoyable aspect. It’s relatable because many of us can remember that strong desire for a pair of Jordans. Everyone seemed to have them, but getting your hands on one, whether it was LA Gear, as Ben mentioned, or any other brand, was a challenge. It marked the early stages of what would become a somewhat addicting obsession.
DDF: Benjamin, you previously mentioned that this episode revolves around the L.A. riots. Could you elaborate on the research involved and how much of it drew from your own experiences of being there during the announcement and the events as they unfolded?
BR: Yeah, I wasn’t in Los Angeles when these events took place. I was still in college in Michigan at the time, so I was watching it unfold on the news. Given that I’m neither Korean nor Black, I felt somewhat removed from the communities directly affected by these events. To approach telling a story like this, I had to lean on my writing partner, who had both Black and Asian backgrounds. I heavily relied on research and made every effort to respect the reality of the situation within the context of the drama we aimed to create.
I had to educate myself on various aspects, particularly focusing on the timeline. We wanted to emphasize the significance of the verdict in the Rodney King trial as the moment we realized the story’s broader scope. What may appear as a family drama set in a Korean shoe store is actually part of a much larger narrative. We incorporated snippets of real footage and used elements like Korean radio broadcasts to capture the essence of that time period, despite my absence from those events. It was a learning process for me, to say the least.
TM: Yeah, like Ben, I wasn’t in Los Angeles at that time. I was actually in Miami, Florida, and it seemed like everyone across the country was captivated by the events. No matter where you were, you were glued to what was unfolding on the news. So, I had that general awareness, but after reading the script and understanding the task at hand, I embarked on my own research journey. This involved watching documentaries, delving into reading materials, and truly immersing myself in the events of Los Angeles in 1992. I needed to comprehend what had led up to those events and what had happened in the preceding year. All of this background research heavily influenced my approach to executing this episode.
DAH: I would add to the complexity by mentioning that while I wasn’t in Los Angeles, I was stationed in Southern California at the time. However, my military deployment had me located elsewhere when these events unfolded. This situation had its own unique perspective as I, along with many of my black friends, was closely monitoring the situation, pondering its potential impact on us, particularly regarding our base. We were concerned about potential ripple effects, and the safety of our friends and family in Los Angeles added another layer of worry.
It’s worth noting that over the years, having numerous friends in the entertainment industry, I’ve heard firsthand accounts from those who were present during those events, like Ray and his family, which underscores the importance of telling this story. Their experiences were far more immediate and profound than my own. Still, we aimed to infuse this episode with our unique perspective and diligent research. As Ben often emphasizes, accuracy is paramount. There’s no room for sugarcoating, especially when you’re dealing with such a complex and emotionally charged narrative. With limited time to tell the story, we had to focus on the essential aspects and provide a window into a perspective not frequently seen on television. This was a core priority for us.
DDF: Magic (played by Ernie Hudson) has a great presence in this episode. Can you talk about the decision to have him be in this episode and how he fits within the storyline without giving too much away? And Tamika, at the end of that, can you really give us insight on how you were able to direct Ernie Hudson and hold the camera on him during these emotional moments?
DAH: Absolutely, it all begins with the opportunity to write for Ernie Hudson. We couldn’t be more thrilled about it. Ernie is not only a fantastic actor but also a generous collaborator. Working with him is a real pleasure. This story holds a special significance for us, as it allows us to connect with it personally. Moreover, it provides the chance to delve into the realm of Magic in a way that we’ve long desired but haven’t had the opportunity to explore. The placement of this story within the episode and the broader season made it the perfect moment to bring this narrative to life.
BR: I echo all of that sentiment. One of the things that sets our show apart from the original series is the depth of our supporting cast. They’re not just background characters; they have lives and are integral to Ben’s adventures. Taking the opportunity to delve into their stories is crucial, especially when we have such a talented ensemble of actors. Ernie Hudson is a prime example of that talent. With the three-year time jump between seasons one and two, we’ve strategically planted hints that provide insight into what these characters have gone through, revealing that their journeys may not have been as straightforward as they seemed. Magic’s character, who serves as the team leader and a father figure, grappling with the loss of a surrogate son, presented the perfect moment to explore a story of this magnitude. When we intertwined this with his past trauma, it became a golden opportunity to delve deep into character development, and we embraced it wholeheartedly.
TM: It was a remarkable experience. This was my first time collaborating with Mr. Ernie Hudson, who not only proves to be a remarkable actor but also a remarkable human being. During my preparation process, I had the privilege of having a conversation with Ernie to gain insights into both his character, Magic, and his personal experiences. It was a chance to understand where Magic stands in this episode and how Ernie, as a Black man, relates to the character and the broader context.
I discovered that Ernie had his own profound experiences, particularly during the 1967 uprising in Detroit. This realization added depth and authenticity to our work. It’s truly gratifying to execute a script like this and have Ernie fully commit to portraying Magic, even delving into challenging emotional territories. Together, we considered the balance of how much we should reveal of this decorated, yet vulnerable, Black man’s pain.
I was particularly mindful of portraying Magic as a man profoundly affected by his experiences while also showcasing his remarkable career achievements. I hope that, with Mr. Ernie Hudson’s exceptional contributions, we’ve succeeded in bringing this complex character to life in a way that resonates with the audience.
DDF: I have to admit this is one of my favorite episodes from the franchise.
DA: Unfortunately, on behalf of our actors who are still actively engaged in their respective endeavors, it’s somewhat bittersweet. They would genuinely relish the opportunity to engage with you and be a part of this experience, especially for Ray (Raymond Lee, who plays the lead character, Ben Song). This episode holds profound significance for him, and he has openly expressed its deep personal meaning.
This episode is a must-see, boasting exceptional writing and storytelling, complemented by standout performances from Raymond Lee and Ernie Hudson. Titled “One Night in Koreatown,” it is a gem in Quantum Leap‘s second season. Tune in on NBC every Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET, or catch it on Peacock to watch both seasons one and two.