“Over the last 60 years 4400 people have been abducted. All at once they were returned, with no memory of where they’ve been. They haven’t aged a day. And some have returned with new abilities. All are trying to reconnect . . . with a life interrupted.”
So begins The 4400, a series which ran from 2004-2007. Each episode opens with the haunting melody and lyrics from “A Place in Time”, sung by Amanda Abizaid and written by Robert Phillips and Tim Paruskewitz. Some viewers said it was the music that drew them to the series and they bought the soundtrack. The music and words are haunting enough, but it plays to images of
— an old weathered park bench, empty except for an open and abandoned book;
— an old-fashioned claw-foot tub, soap floating and water overflowing, with no one in it;
— from another era, the receiver from a black dial telephone on the wall dangles from its cord – no one’s there to listen;
— a car has run off the road and lies in tall grass, its lights still shining, as if patiently waiting for the driver to return;
a cigarette lies beside an uneaten meal, burning to ash down its length;
— a crack runs down the side of an old outside wall, beside it a window with faded curtains askew and box flowers long unattended.
When the displaced thousands are deposited on the shores of a lake near Mt. Ranier, confused and disoriented, Homeland Security takes them in hand. Top agents, Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch) and Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie), are investigators under their director Dennis Ryland (Peter Coyote). The agency, a branch of HS, is the National Threat Assessment Command, or NTAC.
The nugget of the plot is not just the alien abductors theme, but how these people, with chunks of time ripped from their lives, return to society. They haven’t aged since their abduction. One is a little girl from the 1930s. Some are teenagers and must return to high school. Some are wives and mothers who return home to discover they no longer have a home, and have been ultimately forgotten. One was snatched from a military encampment during the Korean War – and was in the midst of his own social upheaval at the time. One young woman takes up an old relationship that happened years before she was born. It’s the family dynamics and social themes that glue this science fiction together into one awesome series.
And unlike many series, where the actors take a year or more to get into the skin of their characters, these performers hit the ground running. I believed each one as a distinctive individual, and when Peter Coyote was relegated to occasional appearances after the first year, I had a fit — I mean . . . I was terribly disappointed. An odd thing occurred when I kept saying how much the main actor, Joel Gretsch, reminded me of Mark Valley. Though there were differences, Gretsch looked enough like Valley to be his brother. But we looked him up and found no relationship. Then, a few episodes later, the real Mark Valley showed up in the series — and I kept getting them mixed up. I wonder if anyone else remarked on this unusual and serendipitous event?
A favorite actor, who portrayed Orson Bailey, one of the returning 4400, was Michael Moriarty of Law and Order. His character was introduced and portrayed over the first three episodes. Bailey’s last known act was opening the door to get in his car. He was about to join his wife at a restaurant to celebrate their wedding anniversary. He had also left his place in time a wealthy man, and returned impoverished, his wife in a down-at-the-heel nursing home with Alzheimer’s. Moriarty’s performance was riveting, his emotions so real they drew sobs from my visiting viewers and me. I’ve watched it twice and cried each time.
But Moriarty himself walked and talked haltingly, as if he’d had a stroke. When I looked it up, I found that, since Law and Order, he had battled raging alcoholism and finally sobered after several debilitating years. He’d had “open-heart surgery and the lingering effects of serious injuries sustained during a savage beating at a Maple Ridge tavern in 2002″ – http://www.cinemaretro.com/index.php?/archives/6032-WHATEVER-HAPPENED-TO-MICHAEL-MORIARTY.html. But even considering his personal and health problems, Moriarty is a force to be reckoned with on any screen, big or small. In fact, they may have contributed to the depth of his performance.
We’ve just recently discovered this series, which ran for four seasons, on Netflix, and we’ve already got another family hooked on it. How it flew completely below the radar in our neck of the woods, is a mystery. Talk about silent running. We missed the previews, we missed any commercials, we missed the whole thing. And talk about well worth watching. Even if you’re not a science fiction fan, you might love it for the music and the interaction of ordinary human relationships in these extraordinary circumstances. We love it. And I highly recommend it.