The 4400 - Season 2 (2005)
I watched the first short (five episode) season of this sci-fi series (created by René Echevarria and Scott Peters) and enjoyed it but wasn't overly impressed. It had an intriguing concept but there were aspects of the execution I wasn't particularly fond of. There was a sort of superficiality to proceedings, particularly with the government bureaucracy elements, which felt 'off' and lacking in believability. The overall vibe of the show was that of something safe and familiar. It was, however, well made and had some memorable characters, and I'm glad I stuck with it to check out the second season because while some of my complaints haven't been addressed, the story develops in interesting ways that were only hinted at in the first season, and the lengthier 13 episode season allows for far more character development.
'The 4400' tells the story of 4400 people who disappeared from various times during the mid to late 20th century, only to be returned together in mysterious ball of light, with some of them having gained enhanced 'powers'. It turned out that they were taken by humans from the future, modified, and sent back to a point in time from which they could prevent an impending, as yet unknown, catastrophe from taking place. The series revolves around agents Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch) and Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie), who work for a government agency called NTAC that deals with the 4400. Baldwin's nephew Shawn (Patrick Flueger) is one of the 4400 who has the power to heal people, and his son Kyle (Chad Faust) was affected during Shawn's abduction and now has strange blackouts. Shawn and several other 4400s have moved to the 4400 centre, a cult-like organization founded by wealthy 4400 Jordan Collier (Billy Campbell) that is dedicated to both helping the 4400 and also developing similar powers in normal people. Diana Skouris meanwhile adopts a 4400 girl, Maia (Conchita Campbell), who has precognitive powers. 4400s Lily and Richard Tyler (Laura Allen & Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) and their newborn daughter Isabelle are on the run from Collier, who wants Isabelle because he believes her to be important to the 4400.
There's an overarching story about the continued growth of the 4400 Centre, the emerging powers of the returnees and their purpose in the grand scheme of things, and a sinister conspiracy within NTAC. The typical episode deals with these elements as well as the ongoing personal stories and relationships of the main characters, but usually also has a one-off story about a 4400 exhibiting new powers. The thematic elements in play this season are more interesting - in season one it was mostly about the 'mystery' behind the 4400, but in season two it's about their integration back into and impact on society (they are accepted by some and reviled by others), the development of a cult-like group with charismatic public-figureheads that promise salvation for mankind, and the personal problems unique to the 4400 and those around them. These elements were present in the first season, but were less fleshed out.
The focus has shifted more to sci-fi drama from sci-fi mystery / thriller, and there's a sense that it's all building up to much bigger things. This change in focus is apt because the storytelling style of the show definitely favours drama. There's still a complete lack of edginess to the show, but at least now it now feels less 'X-Files-lite' and is all the better as a result. I feel that it ought to be a bit more daring with some of the story elements it brings up (I'm guessing it might do that in season 3, judging how things end in this season). The character aspects of the show are its main strength, with fairly well developed characters and relationships. The '4400 of the week' elements are not as good, but are still interesting in that they go for the approach of 'what would people with these powers try to do, and how would it impact the people around them' instead of the 'chase down the freak' approach; there's also a tendency for each 4400's purpose being examined in the grand scheme of things, which ties into the overall story quite nicely.
Production values aren't particularly memorable in 'The 4400'; visually much of it looks very generic and bland, which is one of the show's shortcomings. There isn't much special in it's storytelling style either - it feels somewhat detached and uninvolved with its subject matter. On the plus side is the cast, which is quite good across the board. It's a real ensemble effort, and while no one really stands out they all gel together quite well. My only complaint is the lack of a strong team dynamic between Baldwin and Skouris, but I guess after 'The X-Files' other special agent duos have a hard time competing.
While it doesn't hold up against the best sci-fi dramas on TV (Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and (so far) Heroes), it fills a niche for more sedate and safe sci-fi; it is entertaining even if it isn't always that thought provoking. I'm anticipating watching the third season, which promises increased friction between the 4400, the government, and the general population, which could result in some of that edginess the subject matter is ripe for.