I don’t buy many television series on DVD, mostly because of the few I have I actually never get the time to watch (I promise I’ll open my Arrested Development DVDs soon, Mom!). So when I discovered what was about to expire on my Netflix Watch Instantly, I dropped everything to rewatch seasons one and two of the WB series Roswell. See, Roswell holds a special place in my heart as it was the first “teen” series I decided to jump in and watch on a weekly basis. I’ll get into that in a second, but in rewatching the series, coming up on ten years since it ended, I noticed something funny….that every teen series on now has tried to emulate Roswell and failed!
For those who don’t know, Roswell was based on a series of popular teen books called Roswell High. The show followed a group of teenagers living in Roswell, New Mexico. The pilot opened with waitress Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby) getting shot accidentally. She would have died if she wasn’t saved by the mysterious Max Evans (Jason Behr). He waves his hands over her and saves her life, end of story right? Well as the series progresses you discover that Max, his sister Isabel (Katherine Heigl pre-Grey’s Anatomy and subsequent fame), and their best friend Michael (Brendan Fehr) are aliens, whose ship crash-landed in 1959. Throughout the show’s three seasons we saw the burgeoning ups and downs of a romance between Liz and Max as well as the trio trying to find out about their alien roots and hide who they are from people who would seek to exploit them.
With fresh eyes it’s easy to see the connections to other shows we have now. The alien/human romance of Max and Liz is reminiscent of Bella/Edward and whatever the hell those characters are on The Vampire Diaries. I keep asking myself as I get through the episodes of Roswell, how have all these other shows and movies been so bad? It’s because Roswell never tried to cater to the teens, it tried to cater to anyone watching the WB. Yes there once was a time when the WB/CW wasn’t all about the under 18-set. As evidenced by their star child, Buffy, the WB tried to provide exceptional sci-fi, horror, dramatic content that was well-written and well-developed.
I remember watching my first episode of this show, it was actually episode five of the first season. I was laid up in a half-body cast due to a surgery and had nothing to watch, so I simply stopped on the WB (the CW as the kids call it today). The WB was known for exceptional teen fare like Buffy the Vampire Slayer…and not much else. I was instantly wrapped up in the show’s blending of secrecy and everyday teen issues. A lot of what makes Roswell incredibly watchable is the writing. Show creator Jason Katims and his band of writers made every episode intriguing because they kept the mystery going. Season One focused on the group trying to hide their alien origins from an evil alien hunter played by Julie Benz and the town sheriff played by William Sadler. Season Two was the best, in my opinion, as we learned all about who Max, Isabel and Michael were including their past lives on their home planet and another race of evil aliens known as the Skins (led by post-Pet Semetary’s Miko Hughes). This was a show that wasn’t trying to cater to teens looking for angst and romance; it provided a solid mystery and sci-fi adventure on par with something like The X-Files. Roswell didn’t shy away from discussing the alien’s home world and their life, including how Isabel was a traitor on her home planet, responsible for the killing of her brother and everyone else. You can still tell how lovingly in-depth back-story is with this show.
The cast was all fantastic for its time, and I was a little sad to discover the majority of the Roswell teens haven’t done a whole lot to be proud of. Shiri Appleby has gone on to other CW fare (most recently Life Unexpected), but here she was the epitome of the wide-eyed innocent as Liz Parker. Her relationship with Max wasn’t filled with lip-biting and lingering looks, the two actually had conversations and chemistry…you know that thing that all these other shows gloss over? The show also felt the need to discuss the on-going factors of their relationship, including sex, in an adult manner. Brendan Fehr and Majandra Delfino were the quirky characters, the angry Michael and the holistic Maria. The true stand-out though was Heigl as the bitchy Isabel, I miss her! Heigl actually had some serious dramatic scenes in this show and her character was incredibly complex as the series went along. Aside from her, there were also big roles for Lost’s Emilie de Ravin as the missing alien Tess, the supposed “true” love of Max that made a convincing triangle, and Colin Hanks! In hindsight this had a lot of burgeoning stars at their peaks.
Sadly the last season of Roswell was a total let-down, relying on a few too many “gimmick” episodes that we seem to see on every show. They never did a musical, but they did do a spoof of Bewitched that didn’t work. Their best episode in this vein involved the group going back to the 1940s and showing the original Roswell crash, seriously the best episode of the series and a well-done throwback episode. The last season just felt like a crawl into home with new characters that never connected and Max searching for his kid that felt like a poorly planned Jerry Springer episode. But we have the first two seasons that provide more entertainment than anything the CW is currently showing.
Rewatching Roswell always makes me return to my 11-year-old self, laid up in bed and discovering the adventures of a group of teens who were aliens. I’m sure a lot of factors contributed to my love of the show, not just limited to Jason Behr being adorable I’m sure. Instead the show was complex, intelligent, and fun, something that I hadn’t noticed with other shows. It’s enough to make me pull out my DVDs of Season One and buy Season Two (I’m an idiot for not owning it already) and continue to rewatch the show that made me enjoy television. If you watched an episode and abandoned it (or couldn’t figure out when it was on, due to the frequent hiatuses and time changes), add it to your Netflix queue. It’s an intelligent sci-fi show with a few actors that went on to bigger things (I won’t say better, since Katherine Heigl is squandering her talent).
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.