The 4400 Coins the Term â€˜Mainstream SFâ€™
By Kristin Battestella
When USA Networkâ€™s limited series The 4400 premiered in the summer of 2004, the opening teaser said a lot. A little girl abducted; a soldier in Korea disappears; 4,400 abductees get dropped off by a comety ball of light. The Seattle branch of Homeland Security had its hands full, and over 7 million fans tuned in-setting records as the highest-rated and most-watched original cable series premiere to date.
Former Deep Space Nine writer Ira Steven Bear and creators Rene Echevarria and Scott Peters didn’t stop there. Nine-year-old Maia Rutledge (Conchita Campbell) has returned with second sight, Lilly Moore (Laura Allen) has come back pregnant, and Sean Farrell (Patrick Flueger) must go back to school and control his healing powers-which can give but also take life. Taken star Joel Gretschâ€™s Agent Tom Baldwin leads the largely unknown but superb cast. Onscreen, however, Tom’s marriage is falling apart and his son Kyle (Chad Faust) is in a coma. Tom and Home Sec partner Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie) investigate on the front line and deal with the public’s 4400 backlash. Peter Coyote appears as Seattle Homeland Security Director Dennis Ryland, and Helen Shaver not only directs several episodes but also guest stars as anti-4400 reporter Barbra Yates.
So far, several key characters have come and gone on The 4400, and both the first and second seasons haven been nominated for Emmys, including Best Writing for a miniseries, Cinematography, and Outstanding Miniseries. Despite its fantastical elements and the revelation of where the 4400 have been, the seriesâ€™ core is its realistic approach to our current society’s troubles. Interracial relationships, prejudiced, and reintegration into society are just a few timeless subjects on which The 4400 focuses. Recent issues such as terrorism, genetic engineering, quarantine, and government involvement are also addressed.
The 4400â€™s awards and ratings success show there is still a viewing need for â€˜mainstream science fictionâ€™. Sci-fi shows that don’t glaze over our problems but instead hold up a real mirror to our society are becoming few and far between. Season One of The 4400 is essential for tried and true, but not hard-core SF fans. You wonâ€™t find any spaceships or little green men, and special effects on the show are limited. What makes The 4400 worth your time is its character, story and in-tune allegories.
The six episode first season is available on DVD at a very fair price-below $25 at most retailers-but the lack of extras on the first release of The 4400 is disappointing. There are none! Check your USA channel schedule for reruns, and look for the 13 episodes of Season Two on DVD, the tentative release date is May 23rd. Season Three of The 4400 will air this summer on USA. To find out more, you can visit www.the4400.com .