Tuesday, June 19, 2007

“Last night our valedictorian wrote 500 words on how Graham Holt is the most important spiritual leader since the time of Christ.”: The 4400

What is it about The 4400? It’s a popular enough show that gets good ratings (especially for the USA network) and has a clever premise which is broad enough that the show could run for over ten seasons and still have plenty of stones left unturned. Of course, this would be incredibly boring, and The 4400’s writers clearly appreciate this. Rather than maintaining the show as a sci-fi procedural with a different 4400 each week, they have made a conscious effort to keep things interesting and vary their storylines. So why is the show generally dismissed by critics and only half-embraced by audiences? Maybe it’s because only some of the writers’ efforts have been successful. For instance, the introduction of promicin reinvigorated the show just when it was getting tired; but on the flipside, all the scenes involving troubled teens Shawn and Kyle continue to be dreadfully dull.

First, though, the good. Billy Campbell has been added to the main cast of the show this season, a great move as he has a rousing presence no matter what role he’s in. His Jordan Collier is also the least moralistic and therefore the most enjoyable character of the ensemble. Another new introduction is Meghan, the new boss at NTAC, whose scene with Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch) was an enjoyable bit of back-and-forth and a welcome relief from the main storyline. Lets not forget Gretsch either, who I have admired since his fantastic powerhouse performance on Taken. His character on The 4400 is not all that interesting, but he serves well as a lead and Gretsch brings all the necessary humanity to the role.

The season opener, “The Wrath of Graham”, was built around a very fun premise, involving a teenager called Graham Holt who takes promicin and becomes a god in the eyes of everyone around him. He soon finds that everyone he meets become his slaves (kind of like Professor X if he were evil). This situation escalates from thumb-wrestling in gym class to an attempt at world domination. Graham’s power is to some extent the ultimate wish-fulfilment for a high school teen who feels inadequate and unremarkable, making him more of a sympathetic character than an evil one. Cameron Bright (Thank You For Smoking, Birth) was well cast in the role, believable both as an outcast teenager and a power-hungry maniac. The only big problem was the conclusion, which felt rushed and not totally believable (the story could perhaps have worked better as a two-parter). Regardless, I’d like to thank the show’s writers for opening with a mythology-light episode – I’m still having trouble getting to grips with all the story and characters.

On the negative side, while the ideas of The 4400 are often sound, the characters are lacking. Tom and Diana are no Mulder and Scully, Shawn and Kyle are (as stated) unforgivably boring, Isabelle should have been dumped after last season’s finale effectively concluded her arc, and Collier’s partners in crime Tess and Kevin, despite the best efforts of Summer Glau and Jeffery Combs (both of them performers I like) are annoying moaners. It remains to be seen if good plotting will be able to overcome The 4400’s lack of an engaging ensemble.


Todd VanDerWerff said...

I watched The 4400 for a season and a half, then tried to catch the "big" episodes in the back half of season two and season three. It's all right, but it suffers from having a LOT of sci-fi on that does the genre MUCH better.

Joey said...

Yes, that's something I should have added - with series like Battlestar Galactica around, there's arguably little point in spending time on The 4400. Still, it's definitely got more to it than, say, The Dead Zone.

Carrie said...

I've watched from the beginning, even though it is only intermittently good. I can't quite seem to give it up. The thing that kills me is how they waste such a great premise with completely shoddy execution. It's a shame.

page said...

i like 4400 well enough to keep watching. it's got a great concept, i keep waiting for them to live up to it. this will be the make or break season for me though. they need to deliver more consistent episodes or they'll loose me but for now i'm there. one thing which fascinates me is the theme i see across tv of "strangers among us" "special" powers and catastrophic events creating "families" out of strangers. all, to me, clearly themes which sprang from our experience on 9/11. it's pretty interesting and one reason i continue to watch 4400 because while it's not always a great tv series, it's nevertheless a creative sublimation of national horror.