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TV Series Review

For decades, people have been spinning tales of alien abductions. Such interstellar kidnappings serve as the starting point for USA Network’s The 4400, a sci-fi mind meld of The X-Files and X-Men that wonders: What if everyone ever abducted—4,400 of them, to be precise—returned at the same time in a ball of light, not a day older than when they had their close encounters? So where did they go? Why are they back? Who took them? And why are The 4400 endowed with special powers?

The series focuses on five pivotal returnees. Maia, abducted at age 8 in 1946, now has precognitive abilities. Eighteen-year-old Shawn, who vanished in 2001, can either heal people or drain the life from them. Lily, taken in 1993, marries Richard, a black Korean War vet snatched in 1951. Finally, charismatic Jordan Collier is determined to unite—and exploit—the thousands of marginalized citizens trying to rebuild their lives.

Monitoring The 4400 are government agents Tom Baldwin (Shawn’s uncle) and Diana Skouris (Maia’s adoptive mother). Their noble attempts at understanding and re-assimilating the returnees is complicated by red tape and society’s fear of the visitors. But paranoid prejudice benefits no one. In fact, these “freaks” may hold the key to mankind’s survival. Last season’s finale revealed that The 4400’s captors weren’t aliens at all, but humans from the future intent on using them to avert a catastrophe. A key figure appears to be Lily’s baby girl, somehow conceived during Mom’s absence.

Mysterious developments keep coming. Each week, viewers meet new members of The 4400 who make brief appearances in the show’s bizarre, occasionally violent story arc. How violent? When Bible-quoting vigilantes hunting down mild-mannered heroes fall prey to telekinesis, one man puts a shotgun under his chin and pulls the trigger. Beyond fistfights and gunfire there have been numerous fatalities and a suicide attempt. Inappropriate language has included the misuse of Christ’s name, while a “g--d--n” or two pop up weekly. And though rare, one-night stands have shown lots of skin, as when Jordan beds a female rock star.

Moral sensibilities haven’t been abducted entirely. It’s good to see characters holding friends accountable for crossing a line. Also, it’s implied that a benevolent source gave The 4400 special powers for the greater good, not for selfish gain. Potent stuff with spiritual parallels. One of the best episodes to date found a school teacher unlocking her students’ potential and Shawn befriending the homeless. Still, if the sex, violence and profanity are signs of where this show is headed, it’s pointless to beam aboard.

Episodes Reviewed: June 5, 12, 19, 26, 2005

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Adam R. Holz

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