In the original “The 4400,” characters who’d long been missing suddenly return from an unknown alternate dimension, all at once. As the title suggests, the group of returned individuals numbers some 4,400 strong. The franchise itself now does something similar: After leaving USA Network in 2007, the show returns, having shed an article in its title — it’s just “4400” now — and picked up a lightness of touch that feels breezy and fresh.
In its CW incarnation, “4400” promises drama without heaviness, and the pilot sets up various story points without feeling too portentous. One plotline concerns the government response, with a social worker (Joseph David-Jones) and corrections officer (Ireon Roach) working together in the midst of a government response we increasingly see as punitive. Elsewhere, Shanice (Brittany Adebumola), who was ripped away from her husband and daughter in the early 2000s, finds that they’ve moved on, and grown up, without her. Elsewhere, the dislocation of disappearance and reappearance seems to have lent special powers. Claudette (Jaye Ladymore) experiments with her seeming ability to heal instantly.
The pilot pushes up against certain limits: Its budget strains when trying to convey the scope of the reappeared, all of whom are supposedly being sequestered together by the government. (It might have been easier to call this show “The 44.”) And the show’s hand with the historical-fiction sketches it produces can feel unsteady: Characters from the more distant past can, in “4400’s” first installment, feel more like broadly drawn types than like people for whom we are meant to feel.
The first of these, viewers on the show’s wavelength can likely get past; the second, the show likely will. The pilot’s culture-clash elements don’t consistently work, but there are glimmers of moments in which characters from different historical eras work together to figure out the mess they’re in; if “4400” leans into its curiosity about what relationships between these characters can look like, and not just how they might needle each other, it will be on to something.
And its look at Shanice’s state of mind feels rooted in potential to do something at least somewhat ambitious for a teen-centric network. There are big, teenage-sized emotions here, but also adult ambiguity, as Shanice had been grappling with regret and desire to perhaps walk away from her family before she was taken. It may read as faint praise, but the mere fact of postpartum insecurity being an element of an often gleefully big and unapologetically goofy sci-fi serial suggests it’s a show with more than one might suspect on its mind.
“4400” premieres Monday, Oct. 25, at 9 p.m. on the CW.