If Judge Eric Profancik were abducted by visitors from the future, he'd ask them when the next Star Trek will hit the air.
Our reviews of The 4400: The Complete Third Season (published May 16th, 2007), The 4400: The Fourth Season (published May 16th, 2008), and The 4400: The Complete First Season (published May 25th, 2005) are also available.
I'm a latecomer to The 4400, and it holds a unique distinction in my pantheon of television viewing. As it oddly turns out, this is the only show that I have watched in its entirety on DVD. I've never viewed one episode on television. Not that I tried. One day I had this urge to watch the series, and I went out and bought the first season. By luck, the USA Network was doing a rerun marathon of all of the season two episodes it had aired thus far. Knowing I wouldn't be able to sit still that long, I set my VCR to record the shows. Oops. I did something wrong and recorded it incorrectly. (I know, the perfect reason to get TiVo, but I won't do it!) But now here's the second season on DVD and here I am playing catch up again. I wonder if I'll do this again for the next season.
Facts of the Case
Over the past 60 years, 4400 people were abducted. Last year, all of them were returned without aging a day. Now, some of them are beginning to show special abilities. Jordan Collier (Billy Campbell, The Rocketeer), is the leader of "The 4400." Before he was abducted, he was a powerful businessman. Using that acumen, he created "The 4400 Center" to give the returnees a safe haven, but it's also there to begin preparations for the future. We've learned that "future humans" abducted the 4400 and returned them to help them make changes in the present to fix the future.
Reaction to the 4400 has been mixed, some embracing them and others hating them. Overseeing the returnee situation is the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) and its two lead agents, Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch, Minority Report) and Diane Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood). Being at the forefront of the investigation, they are also personally tied to the 4400, as Agent Skouris has adopted a 4400, Maia, and Agent Baldwin's nephew is a 4400, not to mention his son was in a four-year coma because of his nephew's abduction.
It's a dramatic year of change and evolution in the Pacific Northwest as the 4400s begin to cause the ripples that the future humans desired.
The 13 episodes in season two are:
I like this show. It's a strong entry into the sci-fi genre with an interesting premise, interesting characters, and an interesting twist. The series is slowly unfolding into a compelling drama with a wide-ranging cast of characters. That's really what I like about the show: the multitude of characters. Each week, we have the opportunity to meet another 4400. Though that person is normally just around for one week, it brings instant diversity to the show. And, if the series were to maintain its popularity and momentum, giving us about 44 new 4400s per season, this show could last a very long time. Created by Scott Peters and René Echevarria, The 4400 would have a quick change at the top. René brought in his old friend Ira Steven Behr in the beginning, and Ira assumed René's executive producer role almost from day one. What's interesting to remember about René and Ira was their involvement with Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Why should we do that? Because DS9 is the most diverse, compelling entry into that franchise, and its series was filled with dozens of characters, weaving a rich tapestry of interaction. This ensemble mentality is obvious in The 4400, and it is its greatest strength. There should never be a dull moment.
What has taken me some time to get used to with the show is our lead male character, Tom Baldwin. Even after two seasons, every time I see him I can't help but see Captain America or Dudley Do-Right. With that perfectly coiffed hair, piercing eyes, and granite chin, he's Mr. All America. And with that granite chin comes some stiffness in the acting and personality. I don't quite buy into Tom Baldwin because of Joel Gretsch. He is getting better, especially with the introduction of Alana, but he's too starched for the part. (That whole Mulder and Scully vibe is covered in our Season One review.)
Season Two is a diverse season. In one interpretation of that statement, we have some phenomenal episodes ("The Fifth Page") that evolve the mythos and give our characters some great new places to go. On the other hand, we have a few clunkers that don't work because of a weak story ("Carrier") or because they're traipsing into the land of sci-fi cliché ("Lockdown"). In another way to look at that statement, it's a very delicate and polite way of saying that the season starts of riveting and fresh but ends up feeling a tad stale.
This is going to sound unfair, especially considering these episodes aired in 2005 yet I'm only viewing them in 2006, but I found myself comparing The 4400 to the X-Men movies. The arc of those three movies is the distrust between Homo sapiens and Homo superior. What do these mutations mean, and how will they affect society? Where will this distrust lead? Will it simply fester into general discord and anxiety or will it escalate? How far will it escalate? As of this writing, we are still a few days away from the opening of X-Men: The Last Stand; however, we all know from the trailers that a war between the two sides is about to happen. With the storyline of The 4400, it appears that we are mirroring the movies. We have the returnees who have special abilities (mutants) from the future, and they are now distrusted and persecuted by a large portion of the rest of the world (the Homo sapiens). Little clues have been planted throughout the second season that Jordan Collier has been preparing for some major confrontation. His 4400 Center appears from the outside as a benevolent institution of education (Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters), yet NTAC and Collier's protégé Shawn believe there are deeper things going on behind the scenes. By the end of the season, the word "war" lingers in the air.
I like The 4400, but do I really? Is it that I enjoy the show for what it is or because it reminds me of something else I like? It is the former, and, in fact, I'm very dismayed to realize how much the show is a mirror of the X-Men. I do hope that whatever happens in Season Three that it differentiates itself from its blockbuster sibling. I know Ira has it in him, as he made DS9 the only truly different show in the Trek franchise. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the future.
Lastly, "Mommy's Bosses" is not the episode it could or should be. The previous weeks had stellar buildup and suspense, but it fizzled and everything was fixed too quickly in this season ender. The complications warranted at least a two-hour episode, with things not so perfectly resolved. The writers need to stop ending the seasons with such nice resolution.
The Season Two DVDs from our friends at Paramount are some of the nicest transfers I've seen for TV on DVD. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen print displayed no significant errors and the colors were accurate and rich, blacks were deep and true, details sprung from the great sharpness and contrast, and the picture was realistic where you could believe you are looking at something happening right in front of you. Audio is strong for a television show. Available are either a Dolby 5.1 or 2.0 mix. I didn't listen to the 2.0, and I thought the 5.1 track has clear, hiss-free dialogue, and moderate use of the surrounds and subwoofer. For an action, science fiction show, I felt the sound was a bit too front-loaded, needing more balance to the other channels.
Per the packaging, there are only three bonus featurettes included on the discs. "Creating the Ball of Light" (8 minutes) is a quick and dirty look at the genesis of the show. It has good information, but it's clearly too brief. "Return of the 4400" (11 minutes) talks about the arc, changes in the second season of the show, and how things changed once the big "future human" twist was revealed far earlier than originally planned. Lastly, "A Stitch in Time" (9 minutes) talks about time travel and the real science involved (per Einstein) and the role it plays in the show.
Oddly, the packaging fails to mention that there are three audio commentaries. All of the commentaries are done by Joel Gretsch, Jacqueline McKenzie, Ira Steven Behr, and (episode co-writer) Craig Sweeny, and they are included on "As Fate Would Have It," "The Fifth Page," and "Mommy's Bosses." You'll like these commentaries, a fun and friendly mix of stories, technical info, and gossip.
Also included on disc one are preview trailers for The Brady Bunch, Charmed, and MacGyver on DVD.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The first few episodes of Season Two—actually the first half of it—can be called the Richard, Lily, and Isabel show. While I like these characters, too much time was spent on them and their run from NTAC and Collier. It took too long to get them settled into place, so we had to keep talking about them. Finally, in the last half of the season, they could fade back into the overall tapestry and let the plot complications grow and unfold on a larger scale. Let's just hope that the big Isabel cliffhanger doesn't set us up for another overdose of the Tyler family.
The miniseries Season One of The 4400 was an invigorating jolt of storytelling when it premiered. Not knowing what was going on and why left you wanting more. The big reveal of the twist at the end of the season stole a bit of the show's thunder, helping to make its sophomore season not as tantalizing. Regardless, The 4400 is a good show. If you haven't had a chance to watch it, then I'm sorry that I've revealed too many surprises and key points for you at this point. Still, take a chance and pick up the discs. I'm confident you'll enjoy what you see. For fans, do you want to buy these discs? Certainly. They look great, sound pretty good, and have at least a few interesting bonus features to make it worth the money.
The 4400 are found guilty of rippling on other people's property.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary on Three Episodes
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