Reboots and revivals are not everyone’s cuppa. A lot of people I know dislike the 4400 on The CW specifically because it’s a rehash. And while I happen to be a super-fan of a reboot (I still miss my beloved One Day at a Time), I can be a pretty hard sell on them overall. I loved the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and I enjoyed it’s reboot, but it wasn’t the same for me. Catching lightning in a bottle twice is incredibly hard, after all.
The CW has picked up a number of reboots recently: Walker, Charmed, Roswell, New Mexico, Kung Fu, and 4400 make up the majority non-superhero genre content on the network. Which means you’re looking what is basically a 99% non-original IP (I think In the Dark is their only content not based on either another series or a book!).
Reboots Embrace “Nostalgia Porn”
I think that the reason reboots (and revivals) do so well right now is that the world is up in the air, where everything is weird and uncomfortable. It’s the same reason as why a lot of people love rewatching The Office. We need something safe and comfortable. Personally I skew towards ‘cozy British mysteries’ where the stakes are low, the acting is more amusing than anything else, and they wink at the absurdity.
But given the state of the world, I am not going to fault anyone who wants to watch and rewatch the comfy old classics. If you can find them, and they make you happy, then you should watch them and enjoy them. End of story there.
TV Execs are not unaware of this phenomenon. They can see the ratings, how many people watch are rewatch classics, and from that data they determined that what we want is updated versions of the old thangs. This can be a hit or a miss, depending on how easy it is to adapt the source matter.
While I had hopes for Head of the Class, I found it a mediocre high school sitcom without much to make it ring true. Maybe a second season could have tweaked it, but it was canceled. Meanwhile, Kung Fu grabbed its existence by the horns, cast the right people, and didn’t ignore the current state of affairs. What’s it like to be the first-generation American Born children of immigrates today? How is it different than the 1980s? What are the different pressures?
4400 Succeeds by Embracing Its Quirks
This brings us to the newest reboot on the CW: 4400.
The concept is the same as the original series The 4400: Over the last century at least four thousand four hundred people who were overlooked, undervalued, or otherwise marginalized vanished without a trace off the face of the planet.
Unlike the original though, which certainly had a lot of minorities, this case is 100% chock full of them. The majority of the 4400 are PoC, and the rest are queer, disabled, or otherwise cast to the fringes of society. Mildred Bell, for example, only has a thumb on her left hand (the same limb difference the actor, Autumn Best, has). And unlike shows in the past, where they asked for someone with a specific sort of difference, Autumn said:
That’s right when I got the breakdown for my role on “4400.” Mildred was described as a girl from the ’70s with a complicated past and a big heart who was also a time traveler. The breakdown additionally said she was disabled, and that the writer planned to adjust and tailor the character to the actor who was ultimately cast. It felt like exactly the sign I had been waiting for—that there are people out there right now who want to write stories that I can fit into.‘4400’ Changed What Autumn Best Thought Was Possible as a Disabled Actor
By turning slightly to the side and saying “Let’s tell the story for people we don’t get stories of on TV,” the CW found a solid foothold.
We have a trans-man from the 1920s, who hid who he was and now looks at the world 100 years later and marvels that there are not only words for what he is, but groups of people who will embrace him. Can you imagine what the Queer Pride movement would look like to your grandparents, if you picked them up at 20 and plunked them down today?
Instead of just having people fit in, and only be weird because they’re time-traveling, 4400 grabs on to that ‘otherness’ we as queers are all so familiar with. We don’t fit into the boxes, we aren’t the way TV and movies and books show us, but we are here and we are awkward. The conflict of our otherness, combined with the obvious and overt that everyone else can see (i.e. being part of the 4400) changes the dynamic.
It’s Not Woke Lip Service
That’s the big thing. This show isn’t just saying ‘here are some PoCs and queers, hah hah!’ They are aware of the discomfort and they lean into it. The characters all face struggles being believed and accepted, both in their past and in their now, and are desperate to be heard and seen. To be believed.
As one of the creators, Ariana Jackson, told Entertainment Weekly :
[the series will explore] the history and legacy of white supremacy in our country and how it hasn’t been fixed, and how that has led to where we are now.
Watch 4400 on the CW on Monday the 17th, when it returns for the back half of the season. And if you need a binge, check out the first half on the CW app.