On Roswell

Yet another series I watched was Roswell, which “centers around the surviving aliens who landed in the Roswell 1947 Crash and now live among humans,” notably “the lives of Liz, Alex, Maria, Michael, Isabel, and Max. The first three have been best friends for years, and have spent their whole lives in the tourist trap town of Roswell, New Mexico. The latter were thrown together after a tragic accident, and have been in Roswell since 1947 yet somehow look like 16 year olds.” The series was based upon the book series, Roswell High, written by Melinda Metz and edited by Laura J. Burns. Because the series aired during my high school years (1999-2002), it definitely was something I could relate to.

According to io9‘s article, “Roswell: the best late 90s alien teen soap opera on the WB EVER“:

For those of you who weren’t thirteen-years-old and female in 1999, Roswellwas on after 7th Heaven in the pre-CW golden days of the WB, and almost nobody watched it.

That isn’t to say Roswell didn’t have its glory days — the pilot debuted strong but began tanking fairly quickly. Executive producer Jason Katims (My So-Called Life) was good at making shows about teens who stared longingly at each other, but he didn’t know nothin’ about no aliens, so WB execs called in heavy-hitting Star Trek writer Ronald D. Moore.

The two guys must have thumb-wrestled for who got to write episodes and when, because Roswell was an utterly inconsistent miasma of adolescent hormones, stewing in a genre which one might call, very loosely, soft scifi. Soft to the point of flaccidity. And I obviously watched the shit out of it, because…well…fuck 7th Heaven.

To this day, every time I hear Dido’s “Here With Me” it’s like doing an amyl nitrate popper of my own middle school heart.

Yes, Katherine Heigl was on Roswell. Although I’m sure if you asked her about it, she’d probably murder you and then flail away at your formerly inquisitive corpse, weeping tears of blood.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What was Roswell about? Two high school girls in Roswell, New Mexico – the protagonist Liz Parker and her sassy best friend Maria – are waitresses at Liz’s parents’ diner, the Crashdown Café. This is where everyone “hangs out,” like the Bronze from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but for mouth breathers. Liz (Shiri Appleby, who later starred in the Oscar-nominated Swimfan) keeps a diary throughout the series that serves as the show’s main voice-over narration. She’s a “good girl,” or at least literate, as evidenced by her reference to Shakespeare.

Maria, on the other hand, is being raised by a single mom, and it very clearly states in the WB Teen Drama Handbook circa Y2K that girls raised by a single mom are, on average, 60% sassier than those from nuclear families. Below, Maria wears a belly shirt because she doesn’t have a father.

They’re also friends with Colin Hanks. In a typical pilot episode twist (“Oh no, random man we never see again pulls out a gun!”), Liz and Maria and Colin Hanks find out that three of their classmates are extraterrestrials. When they were little, they came out of pods in the woods of New Mexico and got adopted by normal families. The FBI is looking for them, but they’ve successfully blended into high school. Until now.

More importantly, two of them are guy aliens who happen to be totally cute, and Liz and Maria like, totally like them, and they totally like Liz and Maria back.

Max is the ringleader of the three. He and Liz are soul mates, which we’re expected to take for granted from the first moment they lay eyes on each other and keep in mind throughout that their love is True and Important. Maria’s romantic counterpart is Michael, the guy alien “badass.” We know immediately that he’s a badass because his There’s Something About Mary coif in Season 1 clearly indicates his a lack of respect for authority, doy.

Michael and Maria’s tumultuous relationship is the foil for Liz and Max’s pure and relatively chaste love. At first, Michael and Maria hate each other. Eventually they progress to an “on-and-off argue and make out” situation, and Michael stops gelling his hair to reflect his character development.

Amazingly, there are tons of fan videos for Michael and Maria on YouTube set to terrible late ‘90s songs like the one below, because ROSWELL LIVES ON IN OUR MINDS AND OUR HEARTS. Well, at least betwixt the neurons and ventricles of the four of us who watched it.

The third alien is Katherine Heigl, who’s the Meryl Streep of the show because the rest of the cast acts with their hair. She plays Isabel, a cheerleader who dislikes Liz and Maria until Colin Hanks teaches her the miracle of trust.

So Liz, Maria, and Colin Hanks and the aliens are all bound together by this big secret. And the thing about teenage aliens is, since they’re aliens, they sometimes teleport and heal and can’t control their powers. And since they’re teenagers, they sometimes get scared of feelings and act like dicks for no reason. And everything is just, like, so complicated.

Roswell‘s antagonist, Sheriff Valenti, is the stereotypical “I know something’s weird about those damn kids but I just can’t put my finger on it” local cop who hangs around the Crashdown Café trying to overhear the kids’ conversations and follow them around in his station wagon. The fact that a grown man was constantly tailing these attractive, plucky kids instead of oh, solving crimes, always made me highly uncomfortable. If there’s ever a Roswell reunion episode, there needs to be a scene in which Sheriff Valenti proves on-camera that there’s not enough bound-and-gagged teenagers on his police computer to staff a Dairy Queen. You will have saved the purity of my childhood.

No true Roswell scholar can discuss the series without tackling the keystone episode “Sexual Healing.” Because it’s a WB teen drama, sex is a Big Deal. So in lieu of actual penetration, the brain-trust of the Roswell writers room crafted a wonky orgasm metaphor: when the kids French-kiss each other, and it gets “intense,” they suddenly see each others’ pasts in telepathic visions. And apparently it feels just gangbusters.

Max and Liz discover it first. They’re making out, and then Max sees Liz as a little girl in Roswell and Liz sees Max’s home planet. Liz tells Maria about the visions, and then Maria tries it with Michael and it works for him but not for her, but she lies and tells him that it does because she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. GET IT?

As the series progresses, it gets increasingly out there and more focused on the extraterrestrial element. It’s like Ronald D. Moore clocked Jason Katims on the head with a ball-peen hammer and stashed him in a WB broom closet. In brief, Colin Hanks gets his brain sucked out through his ears and dies because he had to go make the movie Orange County. Emilie DeRavin joins the cast as Tess, Max’s “rightful wife,” according to some prophecy we didn’t know about until the first episode in which she appears. Max From The Future visits and tells the kids stuff. It was craziness, and then it was canceled.

Whatever. It was still better than 7th Heaven.

According to the Hypable article, “The top 5 reasons to watch ‘Roswell’ on its 15th anniversary“:

Today marks the 15-year anniversary of the Roswell series premiere, which originally aired October 6, 1999 on The WB.

Roswell is one of the most under-appreciated teen sci-fi shows of the ’90s (see also: Dark Angel) that kids today have almost no reason to go back and watch. If you don’t even bother with actual acclaimed shows like Charmed or Smallville, why would you waste your time on a little-known show that nobody’s talking about?

Well, because we’re talking about it! And because sometimes, the least celebrated shows are the ones that have the most original stuff to offer.

Looking back on it today, Roswell was a sometimes-silly sci-fi show that got cancelled before it had the chance to complete all its great storylines, and which for some reason thought the extremely melodramatic love story about two horny teenagers (who never actually have sex, spoiler alert) was more interesting than the backstory of the four royal aliens who sent two sets of humanoid clones of themselves to earth, so that one day the rightful [clone of the] king might return and rule them once again. Seriously, WB, priorities!

If only Roswell had been on today, network executives might have allowed the writers to focus more on their brilliant, mind-bending backstory and less on hormonal teenagers and their relationship drama…oh, wait, Starcrossed. Never mind.

But despite its missed potential (Isabel and Michael were destined to be together, and had visions of a baby! Yet they chose their human significant others! What would the alien elders say?!), Roswell had a lot to offer. We definitely recommend you check out its first season, and decide if you can stomach the ’90s-ness to get to the good stuff. What is this good stuff? Ah, so glad you asked:

1. FAMOUS ACTORS BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS

Shiri Appleby, Nick Wechsler, Emilie de Ravin, Colin Hanks, Julie Benz, Katherine Heigl. Any of these names ring a bell?

Only Heigl is a proper A-lister now, but all of these actors have gone on to star in iconic and movies and TV series, playing characters you probably know them better as.

In Roswell you get to see a scheming Claire from Lost (or Belle from Once Upon a Time), an adorable Buddhist Jack from Revenge, a lovestruck teenage Cate from Life Unexpected, and a… er, no, actually Isabel from Roswell and Izzy from Grey’s Anatomy are pretty much the same person.

And if you are looking for cute cameos, you can also spot famous guest stars like Octavia Spencer, Jason Dohring, and Terry O’Quinn.

It’s always fun to go back and see actors you like in early roles, pouring their heart and soul into whatever the scripts threw at them.

2. EVIL CLONES AND TIME TRAVEL

This isn’t an ironic point, the evil clones were seriously the best thing ever. You know, Roswell andDoctor Who actually have a lot in common.

Basically, our three teen heroes Max (Jason Behr), Isabel (Heigl) and Michael (Brendan Fehr) discover that they were not the only set of alien babies to hatch on Earth: their home planet created a “backup” set of royal clones, which were dropped in the middle of NYC and basically grew up to be a humanoid, self-serving version of the Ninja Turtles.

As this amazing storyline progresses, we begin to wonder which set is actually the “original” and which is the faulty batch. While it becomes pretty obvious that our heroes are the proper set, there are a lot of hints that the duplicates actually resemble the original royal family more. So were they actually the originals, and the heroes are the “flawed” (but improved) copies? The ambiguity is great, because it gives us a lot to think about.

3. DUSTY DESERT HIGHWAYS AND SMALL SLEEPY TOWNS

Unless you actually live in the Southwest, watching Roswell will provide you a nice dose of escapism. There’s something both eerie and beautiful about the vast, empty desert spaces, and the show takes advantage of the New Mexico scenery whenever possible.

Of course actual New Mexico residents can probably tell that the show was filmed in California, with Vasquez Rocks serving as the wild south country. But it’s all about suspension of disbelief when you watch ’90s television, and at least they faked it really well.

4. REALLY IMAGINATIVE STORYTELLING

When Roswell worked best, it was when one of its writers had a crazy idea and they went for it (…and then there was that one time when the characters randomly stumbled upon a Nelly Furtado concert and totally lost their sh**).

There was an entire town made up of aliens wearing paper-thin, fragile layers of human skin to disguise themselves. There was an episode in which every human in Roswell was erased from the world, and the last remaining human characters must save the day before they perished (the humans rarely got to be the heroes, so it was a big deal).

As far as emotional wringers go, we had the Christmas special in which Max performed the biggest god damn miracle ever seen on television. And of course, the huge character death episode that broke all of our hearts. There were also some really good romantic storylines, especially after the characters began to mature, and realised that discovering their alien identities might be more important than sneaking away to rendezvous with their teenage crushes.

5. THESE AMAZING (SEASON 2) EPISODES

We know you’re probably not going to go and marathon this series (unless you’re really, really bored). But maybe you have time for just five episodes, arguably the best that Roswell has to offer.

You’ll find that these are all from the first half of season 2. There’s a lot of good material in season 1, but in retrospect it spent too much time setting up the relationships, and introducing secondary villains that weren’t as important as they appeared to be.

Start with season 2 to see the show in its prime, and watch the first 10 (or just these five, if you’re very busy) episodes to find out why Roswell had a lot of things worth tuning in for:

  1. “Summer of ’47′” (season 2, episode 4)
    It’s a flashback episode to the day of the crash, starring the main cast in different roles! It’s a really unique (if a little contrived) way to tell a flashback story, and to allow the actors to show off their versatile skills and to interact in new and unexpected ways.
  2. “The End of the World” (season 2, episode 5)
    This is where the time travel comes in. In the future, the world is ending, and Max travels back in time to convince Liz (Appleby) that she needs to end their relationship. It’s as heartbreaking as it sounds.
  3. “Wipeout!” (season 2, episode 7)
    In which the humans get to be the heroes. Only Kyle (Wechsler), Liz and Maria (Majandra Delfino) are left standing after an alien device erases all the humans in order to find the aliens hidden among them.
  4. “Meet the Dupes” (season 2, episode 8)
    The clones are introduced, when they travel to Roswell to collect Max, so he can help them convince the alien council that they are the “real” heirs to the throne.
  5. “A Roswell Christmas Carol” (season 2, episode 10)
    Isabel shines in this episode, it allows us to see a more relaxed, fun side of the characters… and Max does something that might just make you tear up.

15 years later, Roswell holds up as a cult genre show worth a second look. If there was ever a show that deserved a reboot it’d be this one — so many brilliant story ideas that could’ve developed into something truly amazing.

But we’ll take what we got, and go re-watch the series one more time!

And if you want more Roswell, there’s a fun Brendan Fehr connection: later this year, he’s starring in a movie called Roswell FM, as a radio host who tunes in to an alien space channel.

Of course, I was still in my teens when the show was airing, and so I did develop a crushes on two of the actors in the show, Jason Behr and Brendan Fehr:

jason-behr-max-guarda-brendan-fehr-michael-nella-serie-tv-roswell-119523

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2 thoughts on “On Roswell

  1. Pingback: On Final Destination | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Charmed: Season 8 | The Progressive Democrat

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