Monday, March 24, 2008

Where My Shows At?...

The time has come for primetime favorites to filter back on our television screens with their first new post-strike episodes, but as the updated lineups are announced, I can't help but notice there are still two great voids: The 4400 on USA and Army Wives on Lifetime. Neither are shows that innately screamed "Danielle!" in their initial promos; I am not usually one for sci-fi, nor rah-rah America programs, but both won me over within the pilot episode, and now I am hooked.

The 4400 started out as just another episodic, with each week taking a look at another newly returned character and the ability he or she has developed. I admit it only crossed my radar during an evening of rogue channel-surfing when I landed on a scene with Patrick Flueger (who has only gotten better with age) and the always-yummy Mahershalalhashbaz Ali. Psychics, mind-readers, and telekinetics were all equally intriguing, but where the show really picked up its pace was in it's second season, when instead of giving audiences more of the same, they completely (and surprisingly) revamped the structure and began to look more closely at a smaller ensemble. The show's most recent seasons have focused on the consequences of the early days of quarantine and voyeurism of the chosen few as if they were monkeys in the zoo. Due to that, doubt has been cast on who were the good guys and who were the true villains-- proving that nothing is black and white, especially when other forces are at work. The 4400 married religion, science, and the supernatural; taking on (in a tongue-in-cheek way) Scientology, the Patriot Act, and corruption that seemed to mirror that of our own current government. Characters may have traveled through space, time, and dimensions, but through all of that, The 4400 manages to stay a very grounded drama about how fear of the unknown serves to divide. It is both timely and timeless in that way.

Army Wives appeared to be just another suburban melodrama at first-- only with a group of four women bonding over a birth instead of a death. And sure, the Desperate Housewives parallels are definitely there, but Army Wives very quickly proved to stay true to the same kinds of friendships Housewives built but then abandoned in episode three. And sure, the first season had its soapy (and campy and pretty much chick flick TV) moments, and I'd call it a guilty pleasure if I weren't so shameless to just admit how much I love things. And I did love this: I cried every week, like a baby, and it felt like a therapeutic experience when the tears finally stopped falling. Army Wives moved at a perfect pace for the now-all-grown-up MTV generation, zigzagging between characters and events and never dwelling too long on any one, unlike the daytime counterparts. The show has tackled everything from young love to infidelity to the fear of mortality. They brought the reality of war home, into our living rooms every week, with a look at how it affected the one thing Americans care about most: themselves. Is it the most accurate slice of life? Of course not, but the show had one thing going for it that even the news media ignored: it showed that those on our front lines are husbands, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends, and of course, wives.

Neither of these shows have ever had to adhere to traditional network schedules due to their cable distribution, but this time their absence just feels severely prolonged. Though some other cable programs (including others on USA) announced their return alongside the networks, The 4400 was nowhere to be found. In fact, the cast is already picking up other gigs, most likely assuming the worst. Thankfully, Lifetime has announced the return of the Wives in June, but it is increasingly looking like the long-over fourth season of The 4400 will be its last, making it just another show that never got a chance to say their proper good-bye. I guess one out of two ain’t bad, though, right (especially these days!)?

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