Ahhhhh, alien abduction. There is a certain fascination with it. Countless films and TV shows and series' have been made with this one basic premise. Of course it all stems from the belief that we are not alone in the universe; that through out all of its unimaginable size we alone, on the planet Earth, are the sole inhabitants. Why then such aliens would come and 'probe' us or come to destroy us remains the stuff of imagination, since surely, as we are explorers hell bent on proving we are not alone, it stands to reason, an alien race would have similar goals.
With that in mind we move to The 4400, the latest in a long line of well made and believable science fiction TV shows. This one though takes a slightly different approach, instead of concentrating on the aliens and their abductive techniques, we are treated to the idea of a large number of abductees that are returned to Earth; and we follow their fortunes for better or for worse. Possibly taking the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the successful format of the X-Files as their inspiration, we are introduced to two (F.B.I.) Homeland Security agents, Tom Baldwin and Diana Skouris assigned to work with the 'returnees'; i.e. four thousand four hundred people that have been missing for a length of time (some for over 60 years and not looking a day older than the day they were taken) and returned to Earth. There arrival was first thought of as a comet on a collision course, but turned out to be a huge ball of light that exploded leaving behind the bewildered returnees. Baldwin has a personal stake in the titular 4400 as his nephew was one of the people taken, and since that night his son has been in a coma.
Over the five episodes (the pilot is a double episode) which follow a simple 'monster of the week' format are interwoven with a complex arc about the stories of a selective few returnees. As the episodes progress so does the tension between the returnees and 'normal' people, as it becomes obvious that some have been returned with extra-ordinary powers, even Baldwin's nephew. It is this overall story arc that is the most compelling viewing, you get to know the characters and care about their fate. The 'ripple effect' argument is an interesting one especially when you consider the twist at the end of the series which while it does answer some questions, leaves the inevitable open ending for a possible (now confirmed) sequel.
When is all said and done this is a highly enjoyable series, with enough grounding in real science and character to make it truly engaging. Once the principles get to grips with their roles the acting improves greatly. The scope is large, but the shooting does sometimes belie its TV origins, especially the awful 'day for night' shots that look so bad as if to be coloured by computer afterwards. Though once past these minor gripes there is a truly interesting premise and one I hope to see much more of in the future.
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