As anyone who watches with any regularity can attest, television viewing can be something of a crap shoot during the summer months. In the summer absence of the hit shows we all got hooked on during the fall — 24, Lost, and after this past season, Heroes all come to mind here — summer is that notorious time that the networks trot out their replacement fare.
For television, this usually means that the summer months are relegated to something like a science experiment. Since presumably no one is watching anyway, the networks will often use this time to try out the shows they weren't so willing to take a chance on during the fall season. Generally speaking, these replacement programs will fill space for a few weeks before becoming completely forgotten by the time the big guns are rolled out for fall.
One summer series which has refreshingly bucked this trend is USA Network's The 4400. Now in its fourth season, the sci-fi drama has drawn not only decent ratings, but has even developed something of a devoted fan base. Set in Seattle, the show's premise revolves around a group of 4400 individuals who mysteriously vanish, then are returned unharmed, unaged, and newly gifted with various paranormal abilities.
Early on in the show, the implication was that these people had been abducted and returned by aliens. More recently, this assumption has shifted somewhat to where it now appears to be a future version of ourselves who took these folks. They have also been tasked with a mission to save mankind from some unknown future calamity.
Since my personal nitpicks about this show number so few, I'll dispense with those here and now. As I said, the show is set in Seattle. But as someone who was born and raised here, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the show isn't filmed anywhere near Seattle.
Since becoming everybody's favorite hippest town in the world — between Microsoft, Starbucks, and grunge in the nineties — many movies and shows now have stories and plots that originate in Seattle. Some, like Greys Anatomy for instance, do it right by either filming here or at least getting the local references correctly. The 4400 occasionally gets this part right too. More often though, they miss the mark.
Personal hometown gripe aside though, The 4400 has become a major summertime guilty pleasure for me. I've always been a sucker for sci-fi anyway, and over the course of four seasons now, this show has taken some very interesting twists and turns.
Take the series' two principal characters, Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch) and Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie), for example. Working as investigators for a government agency called NTAC (National Threat Assessment Command), the pair are tasked with keeping tabs on the 4400. It seems however, that Baldwin and Skouris also have more than a few personal ties themselves.
Tom's son Kyle was rescued from a coma by his nephew Shawn, a 4400 who has the ability to heal. Tom also fell in love with, married, and subsequently lost Alana, a 4400 with the ability to transport herself and others in and out of time. Meanwhile, Diana has adopted Maia — a pre-teenaged 4400 who has sometimes disturbing visions of the future — as her own daughter.
For its first few seasons, The 4400 mainly focused on the perception within certain corridors of government that this group somehow posed a threat. Last year, the show took off in some interesting new directions though. Jordan Collier, a 4400 who was "assassinated" in the first season (by Tom's son Kyle in another of this show's numerous twists), came back to life looking more than ever like a prophet, if not an actual messiah. Meanwhile, Isabelle Tyler grew from an infant to a full-grown, full-fledged female antichrist sort of figure over the course of a few weeks.
Three episodes into its fourth season, the shocking new developments continue unabated. Jordan Collier has offered 4400-like abilities absolutely free to anyone willing to inject themselves with the ability-producing drug promicin. Although many take Collier up on his offer — including Diana's sister — the government is not happy about this since taking the shot involves a fifty percent risk of death.
Shawn has also re-embraced his healing abiltiy, and boldly defied the government by reopening the former 4400 center as a healing foundation — with a standing offer to heal anyone who shows up at his door.
Meanwhile, Baldwin's son Kyle — who has also taken the promicin shot — has developed a most interesting ability himself. This "ability" manifests itself in the form of a beautiful young woman who may or may not be actual flesh and blood. Nonetheless, she leads Kyle to an obscure religious cult with a manuscript of holy scripture prophesying Collier as the Messiah and Kyle as his shaman.
Will Diana find her sister? Will the Republican party put a stop to Shawn's plan to put the pharmaceutical industry out of business? Will Kyle claim his destiny as John The Baptist to Jordan Collier's apparent Jesus Christ? One thing is for certain, there is never a dull moment and The 4400 is not your typical summertime replacement series.
Of course, if you have cable (and who doesn't these days?) you can tune in to find out for yourself. The 4400 airs Sunday nights at 9:00 PM in most time zones on the USA Network.