The 4400: Season 1 Review

The Twentieth century will be a spiritual one, or maybe it won't
André Malraux

With his son Kyle in a deep coma and a marriage in tatters, FBI agent Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch) has lived through the most trying three years of his life. It all started when his nephew Shawn took Kyle on a late-night booze trip up by the lake. Shawn disappeared and Kyle was left in his current state. The plot thickens when a comet appears in the near vicinity of Earth, seemingly ready to collide. Despite all the efforts made to destroy it, it continues its relentless course until it arrives and disappears. However, at the point of impact, 4400 missing people suddenly reappear - some have been missing for 60 years yet they are not a day older than they were on the day they dissapeared. Immediately quarantined, the 4400 seem to be completely unaware what has happened to them in the intervening years and the US government does their level best to find out.

The outside world however is less amazed by the strange phenomena than deeply worried by this bizarre reappearance. When it turns out that some of the 4400 have also developed unusual gifts, some tabloid journalists see in the 4400 some convenient scapegoats. When they are released from quarantine, the anonymity they have been granted now seems paperthin when many already bear a seething hatred for them...

It seems that the US public just can't get enough of these tales of the supernatural - despite the X-Files coming to an ignominious end, we have had Spielberg's Taken two years back whereas at the other end of the spectrum, the Left Behind series, which panders to the theology of the Rapture, has spawned a multi-million dollar business. Unsurprisingly, the 4400 has been a huge hit and is set for a second season next summer (stateside).

The pilot and the first episode kick the episode off rather shakily - the dialogue is at times poor, the characterisation stumbles on relatively easy ground and the driving feature of Tom and Diana as the FBI agents investigating paranormal phenomena seems a little overused. To the credit of the producers, they rapidly manage to redress the balance thanks to many interesting subplots emerging bringing in their wake good acting performances and better written secondary characters. This in turn allows Diana and Tom to become more comfortable in their leading roles and some of their less-than-inspired-acting (especially in the Pilot) becomes a distant memory.

As with all these series, what keeps the viewers tuning in week after week is an over-riding narrative arc - without it the X-Files would have not been half the series it was - and the 4400 have obviously understood that the series survival is linked to their creation of mythology of the 4400. The finale brings some interesting elements to light, paving the way for the next season, but doesn't give half as much away as most viewers would be wanting. But as Lynch ruefully remarked about the demise of Twin Peaks, you shouldn't kill the golden egg laying hen too soon in your series. They may not be breaking much new ground in the 4400 but at the end of the day, that's not what most viewers will be looking for. It's an entertaining series with some decent performances and some good use of special effects. At the price, it's well worth investigating...

The DVDs:
All five episodes from the first season are featured across two DVDs weighing at around 40 minutes a piece.

The image:
Generally, this is a solid transfer but the occasional issue appears in the shape of some occasional spurts of interlacing betraying some NTSC origins. The colour palette is quite muted but with the occasional flurry of colours depending on the scene. Some of the episodes feature too many night-by-day scenes and they look more like blue-tinted film than night. The original 16:9 screen ratio is respected with an anamorphic transfer.

The sound:
The 5.1 mix is good enough but not really used to full effect. The occasional surround effect can be found but generally I only noticed the music and some ambient noise being piped through the rear speakers.

The extras:
Nothing at all which is somewhat surprising given that they probably had enough time to do something for these discs.

The 4400 is a decent enough series that manages to compensate for its' lack of originality with some good plotting and storytelling with the finale showcasing the best aspects of the series. At the moderate price of £15 and no terrestrial screening on the cards, it's well worth the buy.

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