“Me and 4,399 of my closest friends popped out of a ball of light right about here.”
Season 4 DVD released May 6th. Seasons 1-3 out on DVD. Starring Joel Gretsch, Jacqueline McKenzie, Patrick Flueger, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Conchita Campbell, Chad Faust, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Laura Allen & Billy Campbell.
A group of random, yet connected, people from around the world start developing unique superhuman abilities while a shadowy group tries to figure out why….sound familiar? Well, before Heroes made it big, the smaller, overlooked USA series, The 4400 mined that territory in a much more interesting and compelling way.
The 4400 began life as a 6-episode miniseries before USA expanded it into an actual series which ran for three more seasons before apparently being canceled this year. I don’t want to give much away, so I’ll avoid giving too much plot detail — I’ll may do more comprehensive season reviews sometime in the future.
The two main characters throughout the run are Tom Baldwin (Gretsch) and Diana Skouris (McKenzie), agents for a governmental agency called NTAC, created to investigate an incident where 4400 people mysteriously appear in a ball of light on a lake near Seattle. All 4400 people have gone missing sometime in the last 60 years, and no one knows where they were, who took them or why they were taken, but none have aged a day since their disappearance. Complicating matters is that many of them start to develop abilities when they are released from quarantine, and naturally not all of them are using them for good (and many of the abilities are curses rather than blessings).
Among the returnees are Tom’s nephew, Shawn Farrell (Flueger), who disappeared the same night Tom’s son, Kyle (Faust) fell into a coma, former Air Force Pilot Richard (Ali), young mother Lily (Allen) and 8-year old Maia (Conchita Campbell). They all encounter issues returning to the world — Shawn is now younger than his younger brother, Richard has no family left, Lily’s husband has remarried and her daughter knows nothing of her and Maia is now an orphan.
A typical episode of the show mixes the character development of the returnees with a case that Tom & Diana are following which usually is resolved by the episode’s end. Each season also has an ongoing arc that is resolved by the season’s end, and the show gets stronger as the seasons go forward, especially the acting and character development.
As opposed to Heroes, The 4400 gave its characters more subdued abilities and didn’t have about 7 characters with absolutely unstoppable powers, and actually had their characters use their abilities in intelligent and realistic ways. And unlike Heroes (the king of the anti-climax), each season of The 4400 built up to a thrilling, satisfying season finale. Yes, yes, this is a review of The 4400 and not a rant about how bad the writing on Heroes is, but it’s frustrating to know that if The 4400 had the same hype and budget to go along with its superior storytelling, it would still be on the air.
The heart of the show throughout the series is in the relationships between the characters, particularly between Tom, Kyle and Shawn. Gretsch does solid work as Tom, particularly in Season 4 which took his character in a totally different direction. Flueger as Shawn and Faust as Kyle are both fairly weak in Season 1 but both start to come into their own as their characters do and they too, peak in Season 4. McKenzie struggles at first but becomes more believable as time passes. Billy Campbell as Jordan Collier, the millionaire leader of the 4400 is excellent throughout the run of the series.
Another thing this show does way, way better than Heroes is integrate new characters throughout its run, seamlessly bringing in new blood as the storyline advances. Additionally, the minor, recurring characters are some of the more interesting ones and are well-developed for how little screen time they get.
If the end of season 4 is the end of the show, it does a good job of wrapping up a lot of the series-long stories with probably the best episode of the whole series in its finale. If you never saw the show, you should start with Season 1, but it won’t be too hard to pick it up in the middle. If you’ve seen the show before, definitely pick up Season 4, it’s the highlight of the show’s run (though Season 3 is pretty strong as well). It’s too bad it won’t be coming back.
Grade: B+ (Season 4 – A-)