Starting life as an X-Files-inspired mini-series, The 4400 transformed into a super powered soap with some strong episodes and a cracking storyline when it went into full production.
4400 people are abducted by mysterious beings. They’re snatched from different places and at different times throughout the 20th and 21st century. Then, one balmy evening, a glowing ball of light disgorges the kidnapped folks at the side of a deserted lake. Every single one of them. Soon after, the returnees begin to manifest special powers…
Agents Tom Baldwin and Diana Skouris of NTAC (the Department of Homeland Security in season one) are tasked with finding out why the 4400 were taken and, more importantly, why they were brought back.
Coming on like a cross between Fox Mulder and Dirty Harry, Tom Baldwin is an act first, ask stupid questions after kind of guy. If he was a real NTAC agent, he’d have been ‘retired’ in episode three – but as this is fiction, he’s inexplicably allowed to keep his job despite having a son who’s a murderer, a wife who aids members of a terrorist cell and who habitually throttles a series of his superiors.
Diana Skouris and the X-Files‘ Dana Scully share more than similar names. They also have the same dress sense, a dry sense of humour, endemic scepticism and a medical background. And like Dana, Diana is very much the second fiddle to the male lead.
Slimy Christ figure Jordan Collier is a former property tycoon who gains fame as an advocate for the 4400 returnees.
Shawn Farrell, nephew of Tom Baldwin, is blessed with the power to heal any affliction (except, it transpires, those affected by the mystical substance that gives the 4400 their abilities). Shawn is the show’s unlikely moral centre. With an unswerving desire to do good, he is frequently the programme’s most slappable character.
Kyle Baldwin is Tom’s inconsistently portrayed, banana-faced son. He spends most of season one in a coma – and seasons two to four would have been better if he’d stayed there.
Chimp-eyed child freak Maia Skouris is both the oldest and youngest of the 4400 – taken in 1946 aged 8. She sees the future in visions that are murky, unreliable and inconsistent enough to push the narrative forward while keeping her adoptive mother, Diana, largely in the dark.
Alongside his wife Lily, Richard Tyler is a key returnee whose story we follow closely in early seasons. At some point the actors playing them asked for too much money and were written out – but worry not – their story is pleasingly wrapped up. Isabelle Tyler is their daughter, boasting a mixed bag of 4400 abilities – and a tendency to cause trouble.
Why we like it
At its best, The 4400 channels classic sci-fi shows like The X-Files and The Twilight Zone, within a soapy serial structure. It feels curiously old fashioned and slow for a program cancelled a mere two years ago, but the seasons are short, internal characterisation is consistent and – though there are occasional good ideas – it’s undemanding on the brain. Early on, fans will enjoy spotting cult character actors popping up in supporting roles: Summer Glau, Sherilyn Fenn, Jeffrey Combs and Lexa Doig all get a chance to chew some scenery.
Why it sucks
There’s a tendency towards the kind of expositional sci-fi dialogue that went out of fashion with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Not surprising when you consider that The 4400 was developed by Trek alumni. Also, when the show strays from the main story arc (which it does for several episodes in the middle of every season), it stinks.
The opening 90 minute episode appears to blow the special effects budget for four full seasons. Telling the story of the 4400’s abduction and return, it can be enjoyed as a cheesy chunk of B-movie sci-fi thriller.
The New And Improved Carl Morrisey
Episode 2 is so close to early X-Files that you fully expect it to cut to Mulder’s basement rather than NTAC’s hi-tech hub. Introducing the idea that the 4400 have supernatural abilities, it does so while telling a poignant story of an ordinary man made extraordinary.
In a second season episode reminiscent of TNG‘s The Inner Light, Tom Baldwin wakes up in a world without the 4400 and with a new wife…
Tom and Diana have to make peace with ghosts from their past. Literally.
The Great Leap Forward
The 4400’s season finale is a master class in how to successfully wrap up a cult TV show.
Nuke the fridge moment
In Season 4, Tom Baldwin’s new manager is a ditzy blonde with a penchant for art-house cinema. Meant to be a sensitive, artistic love interest for Baldwin as well as his hard-nosed boss, the inept and badly drawn character fails to convince as either.
What happened to it?
One of many victims of the 2007 writer’s strike, The 4400 couldn’t recover from a rating’s slump and was cancelled after four seasons. But never fear if you want to catch up on DVD – many loose ends are wrapped up in the season finale.
You’ll like The 4400 if you like: The X Files Heroes Millennium Taken