The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
emember the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” where all the alien abductees came out of the spaceship and it turned out that some of them had been abducted decades earlier? It always seemed like cruel and unusual punishment to offer up such a concept at the tail end of the movie, knowing full well that it was never going to be explored. Which is perhaps why the initial descriptions of “The 4400” seemed so intriguing. Whether “Close Encounters” was a direct inspiration or merely a spiritual one, it’s fair to say that “The 4400” never could’ve existed without it.
The series begins by offering up flashbacks to various mysterious abductions, stretching back as far as 1946, but when things settle into the present, precisely 4,400 people appear from out of nowhere at Highland Beach, in Washington. Each of them is the exact same age that they were when they initially disappeared, and none of them remember anything since the moment they initially vanished. It’s an odd situation, to be sure, and given the number of individuals involved, it’s no surprise that the government entered the picture almost immediately. The National Threat Assessment Command (a division of the Department of Homeland Security), is placed in charge of dealing with the return of the 4400, and, boy, is that a task and a half. It’s hard enough for them to deal with the changes that have occurred in the world since their departure, but it soon becomes evident that many of the 4400 have developed strange abilities.
Although the concept of “The 4400” is a fascinating one, there are a lot of flaws with the series, not least of which is the too-soon reveal of the identity of the 4400’s abductors. It’s the kind of secret that’s usually saved for several seasons and then dropped as a long-awaited bombshell, but here it’s offered up before the end of the first season. Granted, this is possibly because the show began as a mini-series and was later expanded into a proper series, but even then, you’d think it would’ve been saved for a sequel rather than giving up the ghost almost immediately.
The episodes of the series bounce back and forth between the regular characters , consisting of members of the 4400, their families, and members of the NTAC, with only three people managing to appear in all of the episodes: abductees Maia Skouris (Conchita Campbell) and Shawn Farrell (Patrick Flueger), and FBI Agent Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch). Maia is a consistently fascinating character, gifted with the ability to foretell the future, while Shawn now possesses the ability to heal, but – what a coincidence! – Shawn’s uncle is Agent Baldwin! There are plenty of other regular 4400 members appearing throughout the run of the show, of course, but while following the storylines of Richard, Lily Tyler and their creepy baby is interesting, it must be said that the more enthralling tales tend to be one-off appearances by heretofore-unseen 4400s. An example: Trent Appelbaum (Robert Picardo), whose saliva possesses the ability to hasten metabolic reactions and make people lose weight in dramatic fashion. It would’ve been nice if the series could have sustained a spin-off that focused on these other 4400 members, leaving the main series’ focus on the regulars, but that was not the case.
Throughout its four-season run, “The 4400” was consistently interesting, particularly when focusing on Jordan Collier (Billy Campbell), a high-profile returnee who founded The 4400 Center, a place where he and his fellow 4400s could live together. Unfortunately, the series jumped the shark with the introduction of a pharmaceutical compound known as Promicin, which could not only jumpstart the superhuman abilities of the 4400, but could potentially give such powers to non-members. Additionally, the character of Collier did a sort of disappearing act in Season Twp, returning later in the run of the series without any explanation ever being offered for how he was able to return.
If you like your sci-fi full of cool ideas but you can restrain yourself from grousing too much when those ideas don’t always live up to their promise, then you’ll enjoy “The 4400.” When it’s good, it’s very, very good. It’s just not always as good as it ought to be.
Special Features: If you’re concerned that CBS/Paramount is simply recycling the special features from the previous sets, then, well, you’re partially right. The good news is that the material from the earlier single-season releases has transferred successfully onto “The Complete Series,” so if you’re new to the world of “The 4400,” you’ll have a wealth of commentary tracks, featurettes, and deleted scenes to absorb. Well, starting with Season Two, anyway. For some reason, the first year of the show was released in barebones fashion, but this release remedies at least a tiny bit of that, offering up a new commentary from creator Scott Peters and star Joel Gretsch on the pilot episode. Peters remains sufficiently enthusiastic about the series to contribute a new video introduction to this set as well, while writers Ira Behr and Craig Sweeny provide new commentary on the series’ final episode, “The Great Leap Forward.” Also added: a new featurette entitled “The 4400: The Ghost Season,” previously unseen deleted scenes from Seasons Two and Three with optional audio commentary, and the faux news footage and advertising offered up as part of a viral campaign for the show (“Promicin: The Moral Choice”). In other words, there’s enough new stuff here to really make “4400” fans grumble as they plunk down the dough to purchase this set, but, oh yes, they will purchase it.