Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This is a remake of the USA series The 4400 (2004), created by René Echevarria and Scott Peters. Echevarria came to prominence as a writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987). The premise of the show was a green ball of light appearing over Seattle, Washington, and depositing exactly 4400 people onto a state park. Those 4400 people are all time travelers from various points in the 20th century who were all deemed missing persons. The youngest time-traveler was a little girl named Maia who disappeared in 1938. She was the first to disappear and then re-appear in the present. She traveled more than 65 years. One of the 4400 included a teenage boy named Shawn who disappeared in 2001, which meant he only traveled three years. The mystery of the show was who kidnapped these 4400 people and why. What we learn is that each of the 4400 people now have a special power. For example, Maia was clairvoyant. She could see and predict the future with perfect accuracy. Shawn could heal people who were injured or sick by touching them.
Ariana Jackson (Riverdale and UnReal) developed this remake. One of the major differences is the cast. The 2004 series was a predominantly White cast. Jackson has flipped it, so that the cast here is predominantly Black, focusing on issues particular to African Americans or people of color. There are perhaps several reasons for this change or update. One of which is that if you looked back at the original series, the one actor who became a breakout star was Mahershala Ali. Ali was the only Black cast member at the start of that original series and he was the only cast member who would go on to achieve global fame. Ali is a two-time Oscar winner and is soon to be the star of his own blockbuster, Marvel film. It should also be noted that the characters in the 2004 series were predominantly straight or heterosexual. Here, Jackson has made many of the characters as members of the LGBTQ community.
Brittany Adebumola (Grand Army) stars as Shanice Murray, a lawyer who disappears in Detroit, 2005 and reappears in 2021. She had a husband and a daughter. Her daughter was just a baby at the time. Now, her daughter is 16. If anyone remembers the original series. Shanice’s character is akin to Lily who had the power of empathy. Shanice, however, has a little bit more than that. She’s slightly telepathic, meaning she can read people’s minds by touching them. Her husband, Logan, played by Cory Jeacoma (Power Book II: Ghost), is a White man and has moved on since Shanice’s disappearance. He remarried and now Shanice has to deal with the fact that she lost 16 years and her family.
This is the case with a lot of the 4400 in this updated version. The characters here have to deal with losing time, as they disappear and reappear some time into the future. Speaking of Marvel films, this exact concept was the beginning of Avengers: Endgame (2019). Yet, this series deals with that issue better than that blockbuster film. Obviously, that film was just one narrative and couldn’t really go into too much detail of how people who have magically disappeared and then magically reappeared might deal with that loss of time. However, there have been plenty of shows on Disney + that follow the events of Avengers: Endgame, and I feel those shows haven’t sufficiently addressed the issue either.
Joseph David-Jones (Arrow and Nashville) co-stars as Jharrel Mateo, a social worker in Detroit who is assigned to help the 4400 readjust to present-day life. He’s the most sympathetic to what the 4400 is experiencing. When the government wants to contain the 4400 to a hotel, he shares concerns that there is some ulterior motive and that the government wants to disenfranchise the 4400 in some way. He’s also invested because he believes that his brother is one of the 4400. His brother, Manny Campos, played by Calvin Seabrooks (Games People Play), went missing only a year or so ago, so Jharrel hopes that Manny is part of the 4400 who returns.
The episodes are structured much in the same way as Lost (2004), a series that premiered the same year as the original USA series. Each episode centers around one of the 4400 in the present dealing with their new reality and possible new powers, while flashing back into the past to show their lives before they disappeared and then time-traveled. Unlike Lost, this series never really is able to make the flashbacks as interesting or relevant to the main plot. The flashbacks illuminate interesting issues like racism or even domestic abuse, but the flashbacks never really amount to much.
TL Thompson also co-stars as Andre Davis, a medical doctor and scientist who disappeared from 1920’s New York City and reappeared in Detroit, 2021. He was a part of the Harlem Renaissance. He’s also a transgender man who was closeted for the most part but now can be open about who he is. It’s his focus to figure out what has happened and is part of the group that is actively trying to get answers from wherever they can. His flashback illuminated some great things about the Harlem Renaissance but like with all the other stories, the more interesting stuff is in the present.
The original series never had that problem. The original series never bogged itself down with flashbacks. It pretty much remained in the present. I did enjoy the issues that the characters faced that paralleled to issues that people are currently facing, particularly in the era of President Trump and beyond. This series is as much a critique of Trumpism as it is anything else. Issues such as discrimination, White supremacy, immigration, transphobia and refugees, which were all hot button issues during the Trump administration, are all explored here rather deftly. When the series stays in the present, dealing with those issues, it’s great. When it’s in the past, it’s not so great. The only benefit is that the flashbacks allowed Patrick Flueger who played Shawn in the original series to guest star on the show.
Otherwise, I just wanted to spend more time with the amazing cast, which again is predominantly Black, and too numerous. Shout-out to Ireon Roach, Jaye Ladymore, Derrick A. King, Khailah Johnson and Amarr Wooten who plays Hayden Turner, a teenage boy who is seemingly the “Maia” of this series.
Mondays at 9 PM on CW.
Available on the CW app.