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4400 uses time travel and super powers to explore modern societal issues

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‘I’ve never seen sci-fi with this much melanin’

Characters from the CW show 4400 Photo: The CW

People often praise science fiction works for being “made for our times” when they feature futuristic dystopias or heavily-altered presents that elevate a collective anxiety about global or national issues. Although the CW’s 4400 (a reboot of The 4400, which ran for 4 seasons in the mid-2000s) isn’t a show about the current Covid-19 pandemic, there’s a plan to address it in the story, which focuses on lost souls displaced out of time.

Executive producers Ariana Jackson and Sunil Nayar, and actors Joseph David-Jones (Jharrel), TL Thompson (Dr. Andre), Autumn Best (Mildred), Brittany Adebumola (Shanice), Khailah Johnson (Ladonna), Cory Jeacoma (Logan), Ireon Roach (Keisha), Jaye Ladymore (Claudette), Derrick A. King (Rev Johnson), and Amarr (Hayden) dropped in virtually at the 2021 New York Comic Con to share details about their characters.

Rebooting and reimagining the 2004 CBS Paramount Network Television sci-fi created by Scott Peters and Renee Echevarria, 4400 sees over 4,400 people across various time periods vanish without a trace. One day, they are miraculously returned to modern-day 2021 Detroit, with no signs of aging nor memory of their disappearances. The time-displaced 4400 discover that they have “upgrades,” or special powers. They try to find purpose and connection in an era unfamiliar to them.

The cast and crew are hush-hush about which specific powers — or not — their characters will have. Nayar complimented the cast for their performance, “​​The way that you are playing these characters isn’t that you’re suddenly superheroes. There are real human consequences to [the powers].” Then he seemed to hold back and said, “Well, those of you with powers. Those who don’t I can’t spoil.”

The presence of the 4400 and their social issues challenge those in the present day. Jharrel, from present-day Detroit, is an advocate for the people trying to function under government rules. “I feel like I rarely get to see someone for the people navigating a system that’s not for the people,” David-Jones said. “But seeing someone navigate that also gives you the chance, and a different perspective on what that’s actually like. A lot of us do want to find ways and solutions for a lot of the issues that we have, but things get tied up in bureaucracy.”

Also from the present-day, Keisha is “like Jharrel, doing her best to hold it down in 2021,” Roach said. She added, “She’s a huge advocate for the 4400.”

Cory described his Logan as “a plebeian” living in 2021. He admires Logan’s commitment to empathy, but “it bites him on the chin once in a while. But he takes a lot of hits on the chin. Me reading the script, I thought, this guy got a steel chin.”

One of the unwitting time travelers, Ladonna, comes from 2015, only a few years away from 2021. Johnson said that Ladonna’s “life is struggling with balance.” As a person in her 20s, Johnson relates to the struggles of Ladonna. “She heightens one part of herself to feel control.”

King plays Rev Johnson, a man who hails from a powerful and rich family in the 90s. “He’s divided,” said King. “Then all of a sudden, he’s taken from that internal battle then put into another internal battle to be reacting to this new time and new era. He’s battling how he feels versus how he’s supposed to feel. By description, he emerges into a natural leader of the 4400.”

There are travelers stretching back several decades. Ladymore shared that Claudette, a preacher’s wife from the ‘50s, “has a fierceness and a fire within when she was in her own time. She has an intense loyalty to the people that she loves and cares about.”

The chess-playing Hayden is from the 1930s. Amarr said, “He really underestimated himself by far. He starts to see more of what he can do. He isn’t shy, he’s more reserved, thinks before he speaks. He’s operating on a different level than anybody else but he doesn’t know how to express it.” Hayden will face tribulation: “When something happens to his mom, he learns to fend for himself. His family isn’t necessarily the best and he’s institutionalized as a test subject.”

The reboot features a majority Black cast, and the commercial and premise indicate that the show will engage in various dynamics among Black people from different periods. Thompson, who plays the character Andre from 1924, said, “I’ve never seen sci-fi with this much melanin.” They continued, “I’ve never seen sci-fi based on our current time. A lot of sci-fi is worldbuilding. It is so beautiful that this is our world.”

The first episode of 4400 will premiere Oct. 25 on the CW.