It’s 2009. Ben Leaps into the body of Kamani Prasad, a young Indian woman who is trying to keep her family’s restaurant afloat despite a mountain of difficulties. The family owes money to the landlord and has to face divisive splits between the various members and a string of bad luck. Addison tells ben that the establishment burns down in less than twenty-four hours and he’s here to save the family’s dreams. But Ben feels a special connection to this Leap given that he lost his own mother at an early age… and he’s determined to see it through.
But with set-back upon set-back, can Ben find a way to not only create food for thought, but also set the table for some reconciliations?
On one hand, this episode of Quantum Leap plays to the classic emotional strengths of the original series (with the idea that sometimes the importance of a Leap is very family orientated rather than saving the world) but on the other it also shows that a lukewarm story really doesn’t help engage as well as it could. In that sense, Family Style really is a mix of the right, tasty ingredients but not best prepared or laid out to best effect.
Ben’s Leap into into Kamani Prasad (Lara Shah) feels more personal to him this time because it’s about a family staying in business and also keeping a family together… and we already know of his trials and tribulations that he lost his own mother at an early age and still harbours some guilt on the matter. Unlike Sam Beckett, Ben Song also has a specific insight into the immigrant experience which comes into play here. With the family owing a lot of money to a landlord that’s now given up any niceties in demanding their outstanding dues, Kamani/Ben has to find a way for the restaurant to at least make a significant gesture in repayment and hopefully more. But Ben is in tune with the family tensions and finds that Kamani’s mother Sonali (widowed the year before) is so stuck in her ways that she might see the business go under rather than listen to new ideas. Addison points out that in this case Ben can do a lot more than when he was a child and his own mother died suddenly.
This is an entry in which everything that could go wrong does go wrong, to an almost ridiculous extent. Kamani’s sister walks out after their mother won’t listen to her menu ideas, one worker keeps falling asleep because he’s a new father, another goes off to buy new shoes and Sonali (Nandini Minocha) herself injures her hand. To be frank, the cascading obstacles are so over the top it starts turning a drama into a farce. The seeming resolution then feels too easily achieved about halfway through the episode – an overdue family sit-down seems about to sort things out – but (because it is only halfway through the episode) it starts to fall part again: the whole restaurant then burns down even earlier than in the original history. (It turns out the landlord isn’t only impatient but crooked). What now? The real solution….. Ben/Kamani somehow creates a massive ‘pop-up’ experience instead (with a full-on marquee, chairs, decorations, food for hundreds etc.) and even when an investor fails to show, the assistance of the wider family decide they can invest the needed money. It’s not quite a biblical-sized miracle or even a conversion on the road to Damascus, but it’s all very… convenient, simplistic and unlikely enough for an active eye-roll.
Side-dish thought: One of the tweaks and possible inconsistencies of Leaping is exactly how a Leaper occupies the body of the person they Leap into. The original series established that Sam didn’t Leap into their bodies but that everyone simply saw him as the original person (for instance Sam could walk even when he entered an amputee). So does Ben Leap into their bodies or just their clothes – yes and no. It’s best not to think about the logic of it too much. There’s nothing as obvious here, but it’s interesting that the second Ben leaps into Kamani, he’s immediately wearing a nose-stud that even Addison can see.
Back in 2023, the mythological aspect of the series continues as the team tell Ian (Mason Alexander Park) about the fact that their recent investigations indicate he’s the Leaper who set Ben on his unscheduled Leaping. Ian’s mystified – he’s not a Leaper. At least… not yet. Is alerting him really the best course of action? Ian says he’s shocked and it seems genuine and he’s dizzy about the implications. “Nobody here believes you’re a risk,” says Magic… which should be ridiculous because however much they want to believe that Ian isn’t some sort of traitor to the Project, there’s certainly enough circumstantial evidence to prove that Ian is somehow intrinsically involved in the events (whether he knows how/why or not) that lead to Ben’s Leaping. Yes, the cause and effect / effect and cause aspects could give anyone a quantum headache but it would be essential to put some prudent safeguards in place – a trust but verify stance. That’s all underlined when a confused and frustrated Ian goes off to think and deliberately meets up with an old flame/partner, Rachel (The Sinner‘s Alice Kremelberg, who is also Park’s real-life partner) who complains that Ian still never opens up about their work (classified though it is). Is Ian, hours after finding they might compromise the Project start spilling secrets to someone outside the Project? Turns out he’s just looking for validation and assurances – though one wonders if we’ve seen the last of Rachel. But in another example of simplicity, Ian walks back into the Project saying he believes they all need to work together to solve the bigger problem. All sorted! Group hug! (Of note, Georgina Reilly’s Janis Calavicci is nowhere to be seen, which somewhat underlines the problem with making a character important to an arc and them simply ignoring them when they should be there).
Except for Ian’s maelstrom of conflicting emotions (which would be the same internal stress and mess had any of the team had been implicated), this feels like a filler episode, albeit one that plays into both Quantum Leap‘s ‘everyman trying to do the right thing’ motif (always welcome) and also into Ben’s specific personality. It would have been better had the restaurant problem been less contrived, but at least Raymond Lee’s acting conveys how much it matters to Ben. It is interesting to note that this entry is directed by Deborah Pratt, one of the creators and mainstays of the original show – and the original voice of Ziggy – and she keeps the story moving if its premise seems a bit generic. (She’s also indicated in interviews that the mythological aspects of the story will gather traction as we head into the last stretch of the first season).