overthinking the idiot box

June 27, 2005

Rejected Column Titles: "Kirk Wouldn't Stoop That Low", "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot," "Resistance is Futile," and "some sort of Locutus pun?" This one goes out to all the nerds in the hizz-ouse.

Holographic wow
Second Chances for Cable Sci-Fi

by Alison Veneto

Hit Me Baby One More Time: by that, I'm referring to USA's original series offerings. I will attempt to give shows I had long since given up on a deserved second look.

You'd look creepy too, if you could see the future.
The 4400
Some time last year there was a mini-series on USA called The 4400. Far be it for me to watch a mini-series on USA, so I thought nothing of it. Then it turned out to be successful enough to spawn a series, and before long I started hearing talk from its fans. So I gave it a chance. After about an episode and a half, I was thinking that The 4400 and I just didn't click. I found the episodes to be slow and the characters cold. But I know that sometimes it takes more than an episode or two to get into a serialized plot like this. It took me four episodes or so to actually get into Alias and Firefly, two shows I wasn't that hot on at the outset.

Now I find myself at the beginning of The 4400: Season 2, which premiered two weeks ago, and I've decided to give it another chance.

Jumping in mid-flow instead of at the season premiere or some introductory type episode, I am already at a disadvantage. At least from having watched a couple episodes previously I know who a few of these characters are, and what the basic premise is.

The backstory is easy to remember — people have been abducted by aliens for decades, and one day they all come back, all 4400 of them. No one knows why they're back or what happened to them while they were gone. The task now is to re-integrate them into society; a job made more difficult when many of them begin demonstrating strange powers. On top of that, the 4400 haven't aged while their friends and family have, making things even more problematic.

The show focuses on the government personnel who are in charge of the 4400 'problem,' and also on the plights of several of the abductees. Some of the 4400 are regular characters, while others only show up for a cameo from time to time.

The particular episode I've tuned into focuses on a time share salesman fortunately played by Robert Picardo (the holographic doctor from Star Trek: Voyager) — I say fortunate because a Picardo appearance is a plus in my book. The previous episode evidently focused on a telepath played by Sharif Atkins (ER) and the episode before that featured Summer Glau (River on Firefly). So the guest appearances are good. They've got my interest.

It also features a recurring character played by Billy Campbell, who is some kind of cult leader. Religion was an aspect of the show not present in the little bit I watched last season, leaving me curious as to where they plan on going with it now.

Anyway, back to Picardo. It turns out his saliva is a catalyst for weight loss. That's the set up for the episode which is established ten minutes in, and I have to admit, I'm impressed. Whatever episodes I watched last season didn't have this much plot in the entire hour they ran. Maybe I just caught a bad egg?

The guests are fine, but that still leaves the question of the regular characters — can they hold my interest? There are the two childhood best friends, one of whom was abducted while the other watched. Now they both have their own subplots. I like the concept, but both the actors seem pretty blank.

Then there is the interracial couple. On the one hand they're not very interesting characters, but on the other I'm sympathetic to their on-the-run plight because they seem like genuinely nice folk.

And then of course there is the eerie little poster girl. In season one she was flat out creepy, but now, having been adopted by one of the government agents, she seems somewhat normal. Oh wait, she's still creepy. Ok, I'm still intrigued.

The episode itself was interesting, tying in a case of the week with the serialized elements of the plot. It's a nice formula that I think serves the show well.

I found as I watched that I'd be wondering 'oh, what about...' and moments later, they would address the Episode . A lot of shows with good concepts ignore all the possibilities, which drives them into implausibility. But so far, The 4400 is fleshing things out pretty well.

The show seems to be doing a good job of exploring as many areas as possible of the original concept. I found as I watched that I'd be wondering 'oh, what about...' and moments later, they would address the Episode . A lot of shows with good concepts ignore all the possibilities, which drives them into implausibility. But so far, The 4400 is fleshing things out pretty well.

Prognosis: I'm not hooked or anything, the characters still seem to be the low point, but the show certainly seems more interesting to me now, and I'll at least give it another episode. There's still a chance for me and The 4400.

The Dead Zone
Johnny (Anthony Michael Hall) was in a coma for six years. When he woke up, things had changed. His wife was remarried and raising his son with another man. Oh yeah, and when he touched folks or their stuff, he could see their futures or pasts.

After the show started, I gave it a shot. It seemed alright, but it wasn't particularly serialized so I didn't have any real reason to tune in every week.

Those are some creepy future-seeing eyes, right there.
I did try to watch it more than once or twice, if not just for Anthony Michael Hall all grown up, but it seemed like every time I turned it on, it was the same episode where he's on the jury.

Eventually I threw in the towel and haven't watched it since. The time has come to give this show another chance as well though.

This week's episode focused heavily on Johnny's ex-wife Sarah and her cop husband. She notices a girl missing from wherever it is she does her good charity work or something. Johnny, with his seeing the past/future powers, finds that this girl has been kidnapped. They try to hunt down the perpetrator and there are a couple cute plot twists. They make great (if not excessive) use of Johnny's gift for visions, with the powers behind the show managing to both use their favorite visual and narrative device frequently and also keep the plot easily understandable for the masses.

Prognosis: The episode was pretty solid, but the show is still an every now and then thing for me. If there's nothing else on and I feel like watching TV, a rerun of this show would be a likely candidate. Although, if I managed to get hooked by The 4400, I could easily be persuaded to leave the channel on this show. The prognosis on Anthony Michael Hall is that he may not have aged entirely well, but he's still the man.

USA has a nice little sci-fi block. It deserved a second look. The shows are trying to appeal to a wider audience than what the Sci Fi Channel original series are going for. Therefore, they tend to tune down the science and amp up the thriller aspects. Still, the shows are certainly well done and I'll keep you updated on how long they manage to keep me interested.

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