For those of you who’ve been around long enough to remember watching “Roswell” on the WB network as an adult, you may be surprised to learn that there’s a new Roswell, “Roswell – New Mexico” to be exact, and it’s got nothing on the original.
Sure, you might expect someone who watched the original to feel that way; often the first of anything is the best, even if it’s just for sentimental reasons. But I’m not just being sentimental. I’m stating what is to me, fact. While art is often subjective, quality of anything has some distinct characteristics that cannot be fudged. And so it is with the new “Roswell…” and all the ways it tries but fails to measure up.
Now, if you’re not familiar with the original, the story centers around three teenagers who were found when they were six years old, wandering the desert, naked. They had no memory of where they had come from, and after a brief investigation by authorities, were put into the foster system. Max and Isabelle were adopted by the Evans family and Michael was sent to a foster home.
Fast forward to the present where they all live in Roswell; they all go to Roswell High (The book’s original title by Melinda Metz) and they all know that they’re “not from here”. In short, they’ve remembered that they woke up in underground pods and that they came here on the ship that crashed in 1949. They are also able to manipulate matter in various ways and Max can actually heal people and animals who are injured or dying.
What’s So Good About It?
Well, for starters, the show does what a story should do. It creates an environment, a home, a familiar setting we can all return to week after week. Even better, it creates an environment we want to return to every week, Roswell High School, The Crashdown Diner, this is where our story takes place.
Next the characters sound and act like who they’re supposed to be – teenagers. The parents look and act like parents. The police act like police (for the most part). Everyone is clearly defined. Liz is the sciencey yet adorable 15 year old sophomore who says things like, “What did Max Evans mean when he said ‘I’ll see you in school.’? Was it ‘I won’t be able to breathe until we meet again’?” You instantly love her! I remember thinking things like that in high school. I remember saying things like that in high school!
Max Evans is the boy who saved her life when she was shot in her family’s diner. The result of this is that now she knows his secret and our story begins. It’s full of teenage angist, love, rejection, joy, skipping school, hanging out, driving around town – The things we all remember and later hold in a kind of stasis in our minds, like an insect in amber. Liz Parker would approve of that analogy, trust me.
The other characters are also lovable, relatable, and reminiscent of people you knew in high school. When I first started watching, I had a character for almost every important person in my life from high school. My best friend Michelle was Liz, smart, responsible (for the most part), really going places. I was her wacky, dramatic, fun friend Maria. Liz is in love with Max who reminded me a bit of my friend Eric. Maria falls for the charismatic, tortured bad boy Michael, remarkably similar to my first love. And the list goes on…
What’s particularly striking for prime time television, even twenty years ago, is the innocence of the characters. No one is on drugs. No one is sleeping with anyone. They are concerned with grades and not breaking curfew. At the most Michael skips a lot of school (bad boy, remember) and breaks into the police station to find out what the Sheriff has in his UFO files. The crazy UFO, aliens among us plot works seamlessly with the innocence of youth and the discovery of the big world beyond high school.
There Are Consequences for Their Actions
Something often missing from tv shows about teenagers is the real world consequences we face when we make choices. This show actually has them. When Max and Liz spend the night in the desert, even though nothing of real consequence happens between them, they still face their angry, worried parents. They still get lectured. They still get grounded.
When Michael skips school, he gets the attention of the new school guidance counselor and is in danger of being expelled. Granted she is an undercover FBI agent investigating the kids as aliens, but still, he is almost expelled.
Their Lives are Real
No one is driving a Mercedes. Liz rides with Maria who drives her mother’s car (cue my life in high school) a Jeta with no real air conditioning and a lousy radio. Michael doesn’t have a car. Isabelle and Max share an old army jeep.
Liz lives with her parents above their diner. Max and Isabelle have a more middle class life with both parents at home and a regular house. Maria lives with her mom in an apartment; her dad took off long ago. And Michael lives with his alcoholic foster dad in a trailer. The story takes the time to develop these secondary characters and places just enough so that we feel we know them just as the kids do. That development makes the story personal and grounding.
Cue the New Roswell, New Mexico
If you’re in the mood for soap opera drama with a thin and unimaginative plot, this is the show for you! Run, don’t walk! Of course I would recommend that you run the other way. There’s such a thing as too real; overly real, that makes you just want to cut and run.
In the new “Roswell…” we meet up with our original characters from ten years ago (tv time). They’re grown ups now with real jobs and a high school reunion to attend. Unfortunately the story’s writers have decided that instead of actually picking up where the show left the characters twenty actual years ago, they would just make up a new ending. A new story really. Liz Parker is now Liz Orcheto. She now has a sister, Rosa, who died in a car crash Liz’ senior year. Liz’ family is too real; her sister was a drug addict who brought her family’s reputation down and stigmatized them forever in the eyes of the town. Her alcoholic mother ran off and it’s just her father, God love him, the only really sympathetic character in the show, who’s now holding down the diner. At least they still have the diner.
Her wonderfully quirky and talented friend Maria is still named Maria, but that’s where the similarities end. Now she runs a bar, drinks copious amounts of her own liquor and does psychic readings on the side. You know that original Maria who wrote her own music and had a promising career ahead of her? Yeah, she never existed. Granted, she did end up running away with Michael and the others to escape government agents in the original but still, I had high hopes!
Max, who could have done anything ends up being a cop. I’m sorry if this offends anyone but that’s just ridiculous. An alien cop. Because, as he so dully put it, ‘I wanted to help people.’ And there’s no other way apparently. Besides, if you watched the original, you know how implausible that is for his character. And the Sheriff’s actual son is not a cop because that would make too much sense. He’s a doctor! And a terrible actor! Again the Kyle we all knew in the original would be rolling around in his police car laughing.
As for the other alien characters, Max’s sister Isabel is just a bitchy, blond, skinny girl who apparently has no job, and Michael is a layabout petty criminal whose brilliance has gained him nothing in life. He lives in a trailer in a junk yard. That’s right, a junk yard. He was living on national land but the state bought it so…And he’s gay. Surprise! I guess that whole love affair with Maria also never happened. He’s gay mostly because someone at the network had a checklist and that was on it. ‘Let’s see, Latina character, check, her family check, multi-racial character (Maria), check, gay character, check, gay guy’s boyfriend who happens to be a character who was killed off in the original (Alex), check, hey, that’s two gay guys, female sheriff (Kyle’s mother) who also happens to be Latina, we are just killing it!’ Checklists just don’t make for great storytelling. Apparently, they just make for happy network execs.
It would probably make it easier for the actors if the writing were better and I did feel for them at times. Max is sleeping with his partner at the station, a woman who says things like, ‘Don’t get me wrong, Max, you’re just a scratching post for me too…’ It’s hard to pull that off with any kind realism because if people went around saying that to the people they were sleeping with, no matter how casually, we’d all want to kill ourselves.
Liz comes back to town and immediately starts making out with Kyle in the parking lot of Maria’s bar. Later, they do actually sleep together after a remarkably dull conversation about how they don’t love each other but they’re both horny, so, ‘let’s just do it!’
Michael and Alex begin sleeping together after Alex gets back from the war. ‘Which one?’ was going to be your next question wasn’t it? Come on, you know it was! So he’s back and he’s been wounded with half his right leg gone. So, yeah, throw in combat vet to the execs’ list. This show has got it all! Fortunately, Alex is the only other sympathetic character in the show but it’s not because of the list of characteristics not so subtly concocted to make us feel for him. It’s because his dad is a homophobic, controlling bully whose son will never be good enough for him.
Got Something to Say?
And this leads us to my last uncomfortable observation: The social commentary in the show, that immigrants are treated unfairly and are afraid to come forward when they’ve been victims of crime, that ICE is everywhere and basically has free rein to arrest you on any charge and deport you without due process, these ideas are true and deserve a better story with better writers than “Roswell…” Liz’ stilted dialogue with her dad and Max falls like bricks.
By now you can tell that I’m not a fan and how! I hope that you just spare yourself the pain of watching lives that once held such promise dissolve in a pool of self loathing, self pity, and unimaginative storytelling. “My future’s so bright. I gotta wear shades.” – Not so much.