Dial '4400' for smart, original sci-fi series

Pulverized by remakes, sequels, cookie-cutter makeover shows and "reality" clones, will viewers recognize an original idea when they see one? "The 4400" (8 p.m. Sunday, USA) is a five-part limited series based on a novel idea filled with good performances and genuinely creepy situations.

The title refers to the number of people abducted by aliens (or somebody) over the past six decades who suddenly reappear all at once somewhere outside Seattle. They arrive, as if from a scene in "Night of the Living Dead," dazed and confused and completely unaware that any time has elapsed since the moment they vanished.

One minute Shawn (Patrick Flueger) is drinking beer with his cousin in 2001, and seemingly the next he's stumbling across a crowded field; he has no idea that his cousin has been in an abduction-related coma for the past three years. Just 8 years old in 1946, Maia (Conchita Campbell) returns to find that her parents are long dead. Button-down insurance executive Orson Bailey (Michael Moriarty) disappears on his way to a quiet anniversary dinner with his wife in 1979.

Like the returnees themselves, "The 4400" is open to various interpretations. Is it science fiction, a thriller or political allegory for our jittery post-9-11 moment? One thing is certain: It's a good, old-fashioned miniseries with a startling and original story that grabs your attention and never lets go.

  • Six contestants, skilled in the arts of decorating, entertaining, gardening and interior design, vie for a TV contract on "The Great Domestic Showdown" (8 p.m. Sunday, ABC). Adam Carolla ("The Man Show") is host. I'd rather watch Martha Stewart tenderize Carolla like a piece of veal.

Tonight's highlights

  • Two hours of globetrotting on "Amazing Race 5" (7 p.m., CBS).
  • Olympic track and field trials (7 p.m., NBC).
  • Marlon Brando won his first Oscar for his performance in the 1954 drama "On the Waterfront" (7 p.m., Turner Classic Movies).
  • A teacher stands accused on "Crime & Punishment" (8 p.m., NBC).
  • Scheduled on "48 Hours" (9 p.m., CBS): a 10-year-old witnesses the murder of his family.
  • A repeat "Saturday Night Live" (10:30 p.m., NBC) presents "The Best of Will Ferrell, Volume 2."

Sunday's other highlights

  • Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (6 p.m., CBS): a joint interview with Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards.
  • Olympic swimming trials (7 p.m., NBC).
  • Peter Fonda guest stars in a "Mystery" (8 p.m., PBS) of Tony Hillerman's novel "A Thief of Time."
  • An angry and confused blast from David's past on "Six Feet Under" (8 p.m., HBO).

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