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Saturday, April 30, 2005

I'm watching the pilot of The 4400. Really nifty concept. Bad writing. They're going for all the gimmes. The go-to plot turns.

The idea is 4400 people who disappeared -- abducted by aliens, whatever -- suddenly reappear inexplicably. And they have to reintegrate into a society that's moved on since they were away. They'll all the ages they were taken, so they're younger than the people left behind -- sometimes much younger.

And so one old man goes to the old age home to find his long lost wife, and she recognizes him, but she's forgotten that he's been away, 'cause, see, she has Alzheimer's.

And one woman goes to her husband and daughter and the husband says he's married now, "You have to understand, I didn't think you were coming back" and she walks away sad.

And the black guy (abducted in racist 1951) goes to his old neighborhood in Missouri and it's been leveled for a freeway. And there are some white bums who shoo him away.

And it's irritating the hell out of me because these plot turns are the least interesting choices, and they violate the truth of the characters, the latter more fatal than the first. Just because the husband's remarried doesn't mean the woman would walk away from her daughter. And no way the husband hasn't thought over a million times what would happen if Mom ever reappeared. It's not like there's no paradigm for dealing with having a new wife. It's called divorce, and joint custody. He's hidden the truth from his daughter. Why? Because it's less work for the writers than anything from reality.

The way I'd've written the old guy showing up at the old age home is -- well, if I'm 95 and my beloved wife who disappeared 26 years ago shows up, looking exactly the way she did when she disappeared -- I'm thinking she's an angel sent to fetch me. I'd probably drop dead on the spot. Happy.

I think that'd've been a more interesting choice than the Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is pretty much the go-to for a dramatic scene there, isn't it? And the guy being married again is the go-to as well.

How about -- the young woman was abducted just before she was going to split with her husband and she comes back after 12 years to discover that he's waited for her all this time! How do you divorce a guy who's waited for you for twelve years? Much more interesting situation, I think. And more like real life.

How about the black guy goes to find white bums hanging out under the freeway, and the white bums say "please sir, could you spare some change?" And the black guy is absolutely floored to have poor white guys calling him "sir." How about, when the black guy finds himself being treated with regular courtesy everywhere he goes, he's pinching himself because he can barely believe the world he's come into?

You can find fresher scenes and plots if you just look for the truth of the character. Instead of going for the easy dramatic scene, try to figure out what the real drama of the situation is. As written this is pretty much the Touched by an Angel of UFO sci-fi. And that's not a good thing.

Later on, the returnees turn out to have superpowers. This makes it more science fictiony, but I was kind of more interested in how the characters dealt with being out of place. Superpowers makes the whole thing less interesting, not more. Especially because it forces the writers to violate some more truths. The moment one returnee turns out to have deadly psychic powers they're gonna lock up every last one of them until they figure out what they've got. Instead of which we're supposed to believe that in a paranoid, loudmouth, still largely free society like the US, the Department of Homeland Security is able to keep people from talking to the newspapers by making vague threats.

Did the later eps get any better?

3 Comments:

I think that later they did find some character truths Alex, but they also found some soap opera along the way.

This is a show that had its moments and I really like the fact that is was done in a six episode spurt that ended on a cliffhanger -We learn who took them and why the 4400 are back.

I would like to see this come back with six more episodes.

A yearly serial????

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 12:44 AM  

The show returns in June for 13 more episodes. I didn't consider it appointment TV but I did like it.

By Blogger Jeff, at 2:05 AM  

It is a great idea, and it really did eventually take a closer look at the ripples created by the 4400. Thankfully, the character issues took priority over the "powers" and while sometimes they weren't that well done, I commend the writers for not trying to copy Smallville or some other U.S. show.

By Blogger Jason Sanders, at 1:19 AM  

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