Written by Hombre Divertido
What if 4400 people who had vanished over the past sixty years were suddenly returned in a ball of light from space to Seattle?
Perhaps a better question would be: What if the USA network launched a serialized science fiction series with an ensemble cast two months before ABC launched Lost?
The 4400 actually began as a five-week miniseries on the USA Network in July of 2004. After strong ratings, it was renewed for a full season and would run until September 0f 2007. On October 28th, 2008, all forty-two episodes were released on DVD in well packaged box set.
More like a cross between The X Files and X-Men than Lost, The 4400 started strong with a simple premise ripe with possibilities. Creator Scott Peters (who too often brings in music from his Outer Limits series) presents us with 4400 people who have returned from absences ranging from months to years, who have not aged, and, except for one exception, seem to have no idea where they have been. So, where have they been? More importantly, what is to be done with them? How will they fit back into society? Agents Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch), whose nephew was one of the returnees, and Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie), who takes in one of the youngest returnees, from NTAC (National Threat Assessment Command) are assigned to keep tabs on the 4400 and hopefully answer the many questions.
In what would prove to be an excellent choice in character development, Baldwin, who seems to be channeling Marc Singer from his days on the early eighties science-fiction series V, which 4400 creator Scott Peters happens to be working on bringing back to television, but I digress; Baldwin is more sympathetic to the plight of the 4400 than his by-the-book partner Skouris. Even though she adopts one of the young returnees.
Baldwin and Skouris are sent out each week to follow up on interesting circumstances involving the 4400. Said interesting circumstances are often the result of the unique powers that the 4400 would slowly begin to display. Within each episode we are also updated on the continuing stories of certain returnees. Had the writers stuck to that premise, there was a minimum of 4400 stories to tell. Unfortunately, things got a bit off track.
The 4400 had a big hurdle to leap when it was picked up as a series. Since it was originally written as a mini-series, huge plot points were given away in the finale. Most of which, as confirmed by some of the wonderful bonus material in this new release, the writers would have preferred to save for later revelations.
As season two begins (The five episode mini-series is considered season one); a year has passed (which is often annoying to viewers) since the 4400 appeared, most have begun to develop powers, while other non-returnees are being impacted by what is termed the “ripple effect.” The ripple effect indicates how the 4400 are changing things, and is extremely thought-provoking to the viewers. Unfortunately, the ripple effect is one of many attractive aspects of the series that would slowly get lost over the course of season two and three, as the writers take the series in a direction that would eventually lead to the demise of the show.
It is the writing that keeps the audience coming back to Lost, and probably would have sustained its core audience, and attracted new viewers to the USA Network series had it maintained the level established in the mini-series. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The series fails to “Dance with the one that brung ya” and heads away from the format established. Even that detour might have worked, but the writers seem to show a lack of respect for the audience. Characters disappear and are replaced with little or no explanation. There are plot points and obvious solutions ignored, and episode story lines that do little to move the series along..
The new release of the entire series contains excellent bonus material, within which, you get some insight to the choices made by the writers. In the material the writers display an arrogance and seem oblivious to the how their choices lead to the downfall of the show. Peters seems more in touch as he discusses where things went wrong. Along with several documentary pieces, the bonus material also includes deleted scenes, blooper reels, episode commentary, and more.
Recommendation: Serialized science fiction is a tough sell for television these days, and was even more so in 2004. For The 4400 to have lasted as long as it did was an accomplishment. The show looks great, for the most part is full of strong performances, includes stellar special guests, and even has a catchy theme song (Music from the series is available on CD).
The bonus material makes the set a must for fans of the show. True science-fiction fans will enjoy this for a while, but staying with it through season three may be a challenge. The final few episodes leading up to the end of season four are well crafted and do create excitement. Unfortunately what the audience is waiting to see is the war between the two factions and how the battle of abilities will play out. We never get The 4400 equivalent of X-Men III, and that will always be a huge disappointment.