When something on television is successful and popular the executives at all the other networks bang their fists on their desks and demand some of the same. ‘Let’s give the public more of what they want,’ they scream, while often not being prepared to give the makers the budget they need to ensure quality.
So after the Fox Network had a massive hit with The X-Files, producers at rival networks were told to give the public more earth-based Sci-Fi and intelligent, spooky, Scooby-Doo-style mystery adventures. Along came Strange World, The Outer Limits (1995), Burning Zone, Carnivàle, Special Unit 2, Mysterious Ways, Dark Skies, Threshold, Taken and The 4400. Most were big fat lame ducks that suggested if there was intelligent life out there it certainly wasn’t working in American television studios. But The 4400 (along with Carnivàle and Taken) deserves to be regarded as more than just a hungry seagull following The X-Files’ trawler.
Pay attention, because here comes the science bit: when a passing comet abruptly changes course and hurtles towards earth, there is widespread panic. People fear the end of the world and prepare for Armageddon. However, the comet does not crash: instead, it slows down, hovers, and eventually lands on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. It’s not a comet, it’s a transporter from which 4,400 people emerge in a dazzling white light. They are all from different ages and from different walks of life, and they have all been presumed dead or missing. None of them, however, look a day older than when they were last seen. It’s as if a giant time capsule of people has been opened up, unaltered and untouched by the years. Each had disappeared at various points starting from 1941 in a beam of white light and now they’re back with no memory of where they’ve been.
But it turns out that they have changed. The 4,400 have each returned with a special power and they unwittingly begin to exhibit abilities including superhuman strength, healing touch, and clairvoyance. They want to reunite with those they left behind and try to re-adjust as those acclimatised to living in various eras of the past are forced to deal with the new challenges of living in the present.
This kind of thing can’t go unchecked though and, as you’d expect, a new federal division agency of Homeland Security called NTAC (National Threat Assessment Command) is formed to follow The 4400, led by Tom Baldwin, (a crime investigator), and Diana Skouris,
(a bio medic). Yes, this does sound a little familiar doesn’t it? A male investigator and female medical expert investigating a paranormal happening does scream ‘Mulder and Scully’, but you soon get over this because the abducted people are the real story here.
Creator Scott Peters said: ‘It’s about what happens when people’s lives are interrupted in an extraordinary way. How do they go about putting themselves back together? How do they deal with suddenly being part of a new minority? How will (some of them) reconcile the fact that almost everyone they knew has lived their lives and are now gone, but they haven’t aged a day. What if you were Rip Van Winkle?’
As a quick side note, early marketing for the series in American included stencilled graffiti in public places across San Francisco, Houston, and Boston. Naturally the locals were displeased to see ‘4400’ stencilled around their neighbourhoods, but such guerrilla marketing campaigns helped raise intrigue about what the number meant and what it related to. Accordingly, there is intrigue in the series and as it goes on the truth comes out – things, it may not surprise you to hear, are not what they seem. The NTAC learn more and more about the nature of the people, about why they were taken, and by whom. Eventually, the shocking truth is revealed in a rather cool twist.
Just like IT, sci-fi often gets an unfair reputation as the domain of sad nerds who need to get out and do something less boring instead. The 4400, however, is a decent series that should hold your attention and entertain. It’s not quite out of this world, but certainly well worth investigating for yourself.
For Time Out Magazine – Click here for original PDF