I really wanted to like The 4400. It has a killer premise – 4400 people who vanished during the last 50 odd years are returned from the heavens by a big ass ball of energy, and at least some of them seem to have powers of some kind. With such a premise, you can do most anything. X-Files type detective work, Comics-Superhero inspired stories. And the creators seem to want to do just that. And it's been a good while since a genre show came along with this kind of potential. Even the late, lamented Wonderfalls and Firefly, which were both a million times better than this, didn't have such wonderful potential for a variety of great stories.
The cast is able, the show looks good, and the basic idea is terrific. But the writing, the writing… The dialogue is stunted, the (many, many sub-)plots are predictable and, for the most part, annoying. A third of the way through the third episode, I said the seven deadly words (I Just Don't Care About These People) and stopped watching.
However, outside the confines of genre television (and away from network television), there is good news to be found. I found two shows I really, really like.
Entourage is an HBO show, which is pretty much an automatic guarantee of quality these days. It's a comedy about Hollywood, featuring a young rising star and his buddies from home. And it's based on Mark Wahlberg's real life entourage. There are so many ways this show could suck. It could have gone for easy laughs. It could have been needlessly vicious. It could have been, well, stupid. But it isn't, and it's all about the writing. It's clever, well cast, and just fun. It also feels REAL. I got the sense that young Hollywood stars and their pals actually live like this. And Jessica Alba's guest appearance in the second episode convinced me that she could pull of her recently announced role as Sue Storm in the Fantastic Four movie.
I checked out Rescue Me for one reason – Dennis Leary. I've been a fan of his work since a friend got me to listen to No Cure For Cancer, and I was sorry I never got to watch his cancelled cop show The Job. The premise here was really dangerous territory – New York firemen in a post 9/11 world. Even with Leary onboard, the potential for cheese was scary. But the show is nearly cheese free. It certainly doesn't portray the firemen as heroic men of steel. Instead, the heroes are flawed. Hell, for these guys, "flawed" is something to aspire to. These are seriously messed up people. And you know what? After watching dozens of your friends and co-workers die, and after failing to save people you were supposed to rescue, you WOULD be fucked up. It's also a funny show, and you could even make the case that it's a genre show, as Leary's character, Tommy Gavin, sees dead people. Though it is probably likelier that Gavin is just seriously disturbed (as if the constant drinking, spying on the ex-wife, and general all-purpose ANGER weren't indications enough.) Rescue Me is broadcast on FX, which used to be the Buffy Reruns Channel, and then turned around and produced The Shield. It's the best new show of the year, as far as I'm concerned. Also, the second episode featured Dean Winters as Tommy's brother. And it seems like the Dean Winters I used to watch on Oz, not the neutered version from Law and Order – SVU.
Mentioning Dean Winters reminds me that there only a couple of episodes of The Jury are left in the can, and no news since filming stopped a month ago, things don't look good for one of the best shows on TV, now relegated to the TV hell known as Friday.