Surely, there are original and intriguing stories to be told on the topic of alien abduction, but on the basis of the two-hour premiere for USA’s summer mini-series, The 4400, it doesn’t appear like we’ll be viewing any this season. The series is an amalgam of bits from other UFO trip takes:
- the Scully & Mulder-esque pair (Joel Gretsch & Jacqueline McKenzie) of mismatched investigators (working this time for Homeland Security, which apparently has more serious genre cred these days than the F.B.I.),
- the broadscope casting and suitably mournful theme song that reappears whenever we need to be reminded how hard it is to be a returning alien abductee in this cold cruel world – which we also got in 2002’s The Taken
- a preternaturally knowing little girl (this ‘un given to precognitive pronoucements), which we also saw in The Taken, plus
- Peter Coyote, the man who abducted E.T.!
The plot revolves around a small town’s worth of average Joes & Jills from around the world, who are dumped by a brightly lit UFO in the woods of Washington state. These abductees all return at the same approximate age they were when they were taken, though the earliest ‘un we see was snatched away from her parents back when big band was radio fodder, with no memory of their experience and powers-and-abilities-beyond-mortal-men. They’re held in quarantine by the government until friends and family file a lawsuit against the government asking for the 4400’s release, and – quicker than you can say Jose Padillo – they’re allowed to return to their homes to fend for themselves in a much-changed world.
The show follows several of these returnees – little girl Maia Rutledge (Conchita Campbell), who freaks out her foster parents by telling ’em where they’ll eventually be buried; Richard Tyler (Mahershalalhazbaz Ali), a black soldier from the early fifties; Lily Moore (Laura Allen), a white housewife who turns out to granddaughter of the black soldier’s lover, and sullen high-schooler Shawn Farrell (Patrick Fleuger) – as they attempt to readjust under the watchful eyes of the gummint. Michael Moriarty (who’s fun to watch in most anything, though I personally made a point of steering past his telemovie performance as Mayor Giuliani [No wait . . .that was James Woods, wasn’t it? I always get those two confused – which one starred in Q again?]) gets to heavily emote as a pissed-off insurance exec named Orson Bailey (blending the radio War of the Worlds with It’s A Wonderful Life?), who returns with the ability to mentally crush the skull of an obnoxious young punk who’s stolen his business from him. When Bailey appears outside his nemesis’ gated home and starts throwing a telekinetic tantrum, I was hoping we were gonna see some serious head exploding. (We need more exploding heads on television, I think – especially on the news pundit shows.) While we don’t get that, we do see a guy impaled on a pricey modern table leg, which is entertaining in its own right. Would’ve been cooler to have Bailey go all Scanners on the yuppie scum, but you can’t have everything.
4400 may not cover any new ground, but it’s watchable summer fare that promises to be much less unwieldy than the “epic” Taken. If you’re like me and missed the highly rated opener when it debuted, don’t worry because the net’ll most likely be reruning the whole thing all summer. (Caught the pilot, for instance, when it was rebroadcast last Sunday afternoon.) I’m planning on picking up the other missed eps – at least while Moriarty’s character is still a part of the plot: I’m still holding out hopes for a good blown-up head. . .