When a beloved franchise is rebooted, the risks almost always outweigh the rewards. This is especially true for a television series.
For every Battlestar Galactica and One Day at a Time there are 10 Magnum P.I.s and Knight Riders, with the latter reimagined twice and each version failing spectacularly. Despite most reboots having a history of success only acceptable for a Major League hitter, The CW is wading into the waters with another franchise near and dear to many: 4400.
The original series, titled The 4400, debuted on the USA Network in 2004 and ran for four seasons. It had pedestrian ratings but was a critical success and acquired a cult following, with fans viewing the series as a mix of The X-Files and The Twilight Zone. The cast was also loaded, with Peter Coyote, Billy Campbell, Garret Dillahunt, Summer Glau, and future Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali playing pivotal roles. A 14-year gap between the first series and the latest iteration provided producers with a chance to put their mark on the franchise, which they’ve certainly done in the pilot (the only episode available for review).
The new 4400 follows the same premise as the original, but with significant tweaks. A group of 4,400 people who vanished over the past 100 years suddenly reappear in a city park. The returnees, who haven’t aged a day, come from around the world and from different past time periods but have no memory of what happened to them. For this group, they were in their original timeline one minute and 2021 the next.
The series opens with Shanice (Brittany Adebumola) getting ready for work. A lawyer about to go back into the office after being on maternity leave, she’s leaving behind a doting husband who is staying home to care for their infant daughter. She kisses her family goodbye, gets in her car and is driving to work when her radio stops working while at a stop sign. A green light suddenly appears, her door opens, and she’s lifted out of her car as if a giant vacuum cleaner has scooped her into the sky. The next instant, she’s being dumped from a portal into a park in her native Detroit along with thousands of others. And just like that, within the first three minutes of the pilot episode, you’ll likely feel just like Shanice, wondering what the hell is going on but certainly curious as to where this series plans on taking you.
From here viewers meet some of the other key characters who have also returned. Andre (TL Thompson) is a World War I army surgeon from Harlem. Claudette (Jaye Ladymore) is an influential member of the Mississippi civil rights movement, and Isaiah (Derrick A. King) is a preacher from 1990s Chicago. We also get to see how things play out with the government officials who’ve herded together a small contingent of the 4400 that the audience will be following into a Detroit hotel.
Jharell (Joseph David-Jones) is a kind-hearted social worker trying to make the adjustment to 2021 as easy for the 4400 as possible. His partner, Keisha (Ireon Roach), is a corrections officer whose experience has taught her that trust has to be earned. The pair frequently clash as their approaches to the same problems are usually at odds. The pilot for 4400 sets itself up well for drama and offers little slices of intrigue and the type of sci-fi curiosities the original series was known for. There’s clearly more to the titular 4400 than meets the eye, which makes them interesting to watch.
While at first glance 4400 has potential, there are several red flags that should make viewers proceed with caution. The dialogue is clunky, with some lines bordering on parody, particularly for any character from a time period more than 20 years in the past. There are dubious plot choices, starting with how the 4400 quickly learn from a guard what year it is. Amazingly, they take the news relatively well, which is quite strange. The apparent antagonist in this series, the government officials quarantining the group, seem to be understaffed and disorganized. While that last point might be realistic, it also illustrates the show’s overall ramshackle and dated feel. Somewhat ironically, 4400 feels like it was made in 2004, with characters quickly pigeonholed into specific archetypes and a plot that’s easy to poke holes through.The pilot is disjointed, which will remind hardcore fans of one of the original series’ most nagging issues.
With around 500 scripted series airing every year, the premiere of any new show has to be an attention grabber. The pilot for 4400 doesn’t scream for your attention, it asks politely. But even though the reboot stumbles out the gate, its clever premise and subtle hints of its true potential will likely be enough to keep fans tuned in. At least for now.
4400 premieres Monday, October 25th on The CW.
Terry Terrones is a Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Association member, licensed drone pilot and aspiring hand model.
When he’s not avoiding inopportune time travel, you can find him hiking in the mountains of Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.
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