Opening Thoughts: While I've just recently become a fan of The Dead Zone (thanks to the first three seasons being availible on DVD), it's easy for me to say that The Dead Zone is one of the most underrated shows currently on TV. I'm very interested to see what the producers had in store for Season 4 after everything that happened in the previous season. As I'm writing this review, Season 5 of The Dead Zone is currently in the middle of its run on USA Network. That means the show must have done well during Season 4, right?
Movie: Season 3 of The Dead Zone left a lot of unanswered questions for Johnny Smith and company. Would Johnny have brain surgery, could he still be a suspect in Rebecca's murder, what role would Johnny Smith from the future play, who really killed Rachel Caldwell, what would happen to Reverend Purdy, would Rebecca kill Greg Stillson and will Johnny be able to avert the apocalypse. Phew... You'd think that would be a tall order to tackle in a mere 11 episodes. Surprisingly The Dead Zone manages to do just that in pretty much one episode.
The first episode (and most pivotal of the season), "Broken Circle" is essentially part 2 of Season 3's final episode, "The Tipping Point". Congressman Greg Stillson and Johnny's visions of the Apocalypse are at the center of the episode, but there's a lot more than just that. There's also the vision of Rebecca (Johnny's semi love interest) killing Greg Stillson, because she thinks he killed her sister. To complicate things even further, Johnny is once again a fugitive for being a suspect in the killing of Rachel Caldwell. By the end of this episode, which effectively sets up the rest of the season, many changes transpire. We find out who really killed Rachel, Johnny is no longer wanted by the law, Rebecca leaves possibly for good, Purdy is back more powerful than ever and Johnny throws away his cane thus severing all ties to his future self.
After the ramifications of the first episode, you can definitely see that the producers wanted to take the show in a slightly different direction. This apparently even included changing the theme song used from seasons 1-3. During the remaining 10 episodes of Season 4, 8 are completely stand alone, with little or any ties to pervious storylines. This was perhaps brought on by USA Network executives to make the show more accessible to new viewers. Unfortunately, this is a fairly common tactic used in television (see
Alias Season 2
Angel Season 5). While I initially found this somewhat discouraging, most of those 8 episodes hold up very well. Notable episodes include "Double Vision", "Babble On" and "Heroes & Demons". "Double Vision" was especially interesting as it introduced a female psychic, who ended up getting close to Johnny. Much to my dismay, she doesn't stick around as I thought she's make a great addition to the show.
The episodes "Vanguard" and "Saved" both tie in with the ongoing Stillson/Apocalypse storyline. "Vanguard" features guest star Danny Masterson playing one of Johnny's former students, Alex Conners. Alex develops a scientific breakthrough in synthetics which garners the attention of Congressmen Stillson. Johnny eventually becomes aware that his students research will be used for WMDs and tries to help him change the outcome. In the season finale "Saved", Stillson's girlfriend Miranda disappears from her boat (or so he thinks) and asks Johnny for help. Surprisingly in a new vision, these events reverse the Apocalypse caused by Stillson and Johnny attempts to him the cold shoulder. But inevitably, Johnny's big heart complicate things and he ends up getting involved more than he'd like. Even more unfortunate is by the end of the episode, his actions lead to several unwanted results. Lastly I'd like to mention the "A Very Dead Zone Christmas" special, which despite being a little sappy was excellent. I've heard this episode catch a lot of flak from people and that's fine. It must be tough to live their lives like a Grinch.
Anthony Michael Hall continues to dazzle in his portrayal of Johnny Smith. Just like his character has gone through many changes, Anthony Michael Hall is constantly evolving his acting. Although not used as much this season, Chris Bruno and John L. Adams always bring great performances when on screen. The same goes for Nicole de Boer, who only appears in about half this seasons episodes. This is partly due to the nature of the individual episodes, which result in rarely having several main characters besides Johnny on screen together. We also can't forget the rock solid guest stars Sean Patrick Flanery and David Ogden Stiers. Both actors provide immeasurable amounts of validity to their roles and really help hold the series together. One of The Dead Zone biggest assets is its production values. Having only 11 episodes a season and shooting in Canada certainly helps get a lot of bang for their buck. Most notably the visual effects improve every year and never get to the point where they seem to be over utilized. The sets and locations also seem to always look impressive, most likely rivaling shows with much bigger budgets.
The Dead Zone still remains strong in its 4 Season because it falls back on its strengths. I'm eager to catch up with Season 5 to see how the show has progressed. The word from producer Shawn Piller is that the show will probably get a 6th and 7th Season. Now that's the kind of news I like to hear.
Below are summaries (from the DVD liner notes) of all 11 Season 4 episodes, plus the holiday special :
- BROKEN CIRCLE - June 12, 2005 - Johnny (Anthony Michael Hall) fights to stop Rebecca (Sarah Wynter) from killing Greg Stillson (Sean Patrick Flanery), whom she believes is responsible for her sister's murder.
- THE COLLECTOR - June 19, 2005 - Johnny's (Anthony Michael Hall) visions of a young girl's abduction lead him on a life-and-death race to find "the collector" (Brian Markinson), a disturbed man who kidnaps and indoctrinates young women.
- DOUBLE VISION - June 26, 2005 - Johnny's (Anthony Michael Hall) ability to alter fate is put to the test when he meets a young woman (Jennifer Finnigan) with psychic abilities of her own.
- STILL LIFE - July 10, 2005 - Johnny (Anthony Michael Hall) becomes embroiled in a murder mystery as he searches for the missing daughter of a famous artist.
- GRAINS OF SAND - July 30, 2005 - Johnny (Anthony Michael Hall) faces a difficult decision after saving an infant from a dangerous ring of human traffickers.
- VANGUARD - August 7, 2005 - When Johnny touches a former science student and sees Armageddon, he sets out to find how this student - now a gifted researcher for a biomedical company - could be working on something that's connected to a weapon. The truth puts Johnny and his prized protégé in the crossfire between Greg Stillson and destiny.
- HEROES & DEMONS - June 17, 2005 - An autistic boy seeks Johnny's (Anthony Michael Hall) help to save his father (David Neale), a tough cop awaiting execution for the murder of federal DEA agent.
- COMING HOME - August 21, 2005 - Residents at a Cleaves Mills retirement community are dying at an unusual rate, and the old folks there speak in whispered tones about a Shadow Man that creeps the halls in the dead of night. It's a macabre tale that ultimately threatens to swallow Sarah's beloved father, Bruce, and possibly Johnny himself. Meanwhile, JJ manages to put aside his fears and preconceptions about the elderly and connect with his cantankerous old great grandfather by helping to unlock the little boy inside the old man.
- THE LAST GOODBYE - July 24, 2005 - Johnny goes on the road in search of a rock and roll legend - a man who has been dead for many years. His trail will lead him down a path where he becomes the rock star, and through his visions he will relive the last few days leading up to the rock star's mysterious disappearance.
- BABBLE ON - August 14, 2005 - Johnny visits a noted local psychiatrist to seek treatment for his persistent nightmares. After his first session on the couch triggers a cryptic vision of an impending homicide, he is thrust into an investigation that will not only reveal the murderer's identity, but will ultimately uncover a family secret buried in the deepest, darkest regions of his subconscious.
- SAVED - August 28, 2005 - In a bizarre turn of events, Stillson (Sean Patrick Flanery) begs Johnny (Anthony Michael Hall) to help him investigate the disappearance of his girlfriend, Miranda (Laura Harris).
- A VERY DEAD ZONE CHRISTMAS - When female psychic Alex Sinclair (Jennifer Finnigan) pays Johnny (Anthony Michael Hall) a surprise Christmas visit, the two work together to solve the mystery of one very lost and confused Santa.
Video: Shot in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen using HD Digital 24P format, The Dead Zone Season 4 looks amazing on DVD. The digital-to-digital transfers are packed full of detail and the colors are vivid and accurate. Black levels look remarkably good with the exception of a few low lit scenes. While there are a few drawbacks when shooting with 24P HD digital cameras, the overall outcome is what speaks loudest. It's hard to believe that The Dead Zone could look any better except in High Definition.
Sound: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack for each episode are simply on par with the best I've heard from a Television Show. All five channels are used extensively and even the LFE gets a workout frequently. The surround channels are used exceptionally well and the separation of the front and center channels are excellent. While there aren't any optional subtitles included, CC is available.
Extras: While not nearly as packed as some of the previous seasons of The Dead Zone, Season 4 still has a decent array of special features. First up are two audio commentary tracks on episodes "Broken Circle" and "Saved". Executive producers Llyod Segan, Shawn Piller and actor/producer Anthony Michael Hall contribute to both tracks as well as writer Michael Taylor for "Broken Circle". Both tracks are very informative and the commentators interact very well together to create a fun experience. Spread out over the three DVDs are 12 deleted scenes, most of which have optional commentary tracks by Shawn Piller. For the Episode "Broken Circle" there is also a optional "Introduction by Co-Executive Producer Shawn Piller". On the 2nd disc there is "Production Design of the Dead Zone" which runs 17 minutes in length. This informative featurette covers many of the logistical issues that the crew of The Dead Zone deal with making each episode. Last, but far from the least important extra is on the 3rd disc is a "Tribute to Michael Piller". This extra pays tribute to producer/writer Michael Piller who sadly passed away in November of 2005. Besides co-creating The Dead Zone, Piller also worked on several of the Star Trek series including co-creating one of my favorite TV shows, Deep Space Nine.
Despite all the changes in The Dead Zone universe, not much has actually changed in the show. While that's good and bad in some respects, the bottom line is that Season 4 of The Dead Zone delivers 12 quality episodes that look and sound amazing on DVD. Fans of the show will mostly likely want to pick this up, especially considering the low price point. If you're new to the The Dead Zone, I recommend at least picking up the first season on DVD. You'll get hooked just like I did.