According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only about 1.2% of Utahns are Black. And Black Utahns may not learn anything new watching The CW’s reboot of “The 4400″ — they’ll just be entertained.
The rest of us will be entertained, but also educated about history, by this reboot, which premieres Monday at 9 p.m. on Channel 30. Because this surprising reset of a cult series that didn’t air that long ago is intriguing, engaging and actually has something to say.
The original version of “The 4400″ ran from 2004-2007 on the USA Network. The title refers to the number of people who (a) had disappeared over the previous 50 years; (b) suddenly reappeared near Seattle; (c) had not aged a day since they disappeared; and (d) had no idea where they’d been.
The cast was multiethnic, but primarily white. (It did feature Mahershala Ali, who went on to win a couple of Oscars.)
The premise of “The 4400″ reboot is essentially the same. Over the past century, 4,400 “overlooked, undervalued or otherwise marginalized” people disappeared. Suddenly, they’re dropped — literally — into Detroit. They haven’t aged, and they have no memory of what happened to them.
“We loved the premise of the original,” said executive producer Ariana Jackson (“Riverdale”), “so we are sort of taking what we need to tell our story, and veering off in different directions as well.”
This time, the cast is primarily Black, and that’s no accident.
“CBS [Studios] wanted to reboot this show … and wanted to do it from the Black perspective,” Jackson said. “I really didn’t want to take on something new. But I couldn’t stop thinking about this premise from that perspective.”
She loved “the idea of being able to tell a story that has time travel in it — that’s talking about all these different time periods — and talking about it from a Black perspective.”
The characters include a young, Black lawyer and new mother (Brittany Adebumola) who disappeared in the early 2000s. A trans WWI Army surgeon from Harlem (TL Thompson). A leader of the civil rights movement in Mississippi (Jaye Ladymore). A member of a 1990s televangelist family (Derrick A. King). A D-list reality TV star from 2015 (Khailah Johnson). A free-spirited, 1970s teenager, played by Autumn Best, who describes herself as having a hand deformity and has advocated against using disability as a “horror prop.” And a mysterious boy about whom little is known (Amarr).
The government is trying to figure out what’s going on, and assigns a kindhearted social worker (Joseph David-Jones) and a hardhearted corrections officer (Ireon Roach) to help oversee the time-travelers.
As was the case with the original, the returned-from-beyond characters in the reboot begin exhibiting powers. Paranormal powers. Super powers. Which was part of the attraction for cast members.
“Who doesn’t want to be a part of a Black sci-fi show?” King asked with a laugh. “Sign me up!”
Cast members also raved about their characters. “For a long time, I’ve played a lot of roles. But I’ve never actually gotten to play a character,” Amarr said.
“I have never, straight out of the gate, auditioned for a Black trans man from ‘20s Harlem,” Thompson said with a laugh. “I haven’t seen a fully fleshed out Black trans male character.”
And Best was thrilled with the chance to represent others like her. “I know someone at home that’s like me is going to see me on screen and believe that they can do it,” she said.
But “The 4400″ is not just some kind of woke, do-gooder TV show. The pilot, which was screened for critics, doesn’t hammer its messages home, it just sort of allows them to filter through the plot. But the messages are there.
This is an ambitious series “about racism in America,” Jackson said. “About how we have this history of white supremacy in this country that we just keep repeating. … And sort of this idea that — how do we create a better future?
“It’s not just a story that’s about diversity for sort of diversity’s sake, but it’s really telling the story about how we create a better future and how we create a better future for marginalized people.”
The Big Question may have a different answer
In the original version, viewers found out who kidnapped “The 4400″ at the end of Season 1. There will be an answer in the reboot, but it won’t necessarily be the same, according to Jackson.
The original series also ended on a cliffhanger, which was never resolved when the show was canceled. Jackson can’t promise that won’t happen again.
“Unfortunately, that’s always the reality of television,” she said. “If it were up to us … we would get to tell this story for as many years and as many seasons as we need to tell the story.”
There are no guarantees, it’s true. But The CW does tend to renew shows and let them play out to a conclusion more than most.