Fall '99: "Roswell"
One glance at the ingredients used to make Roswell indicates what kind of dish is served up. Start with healthy amounts of director David Nutter (The X-Files and Millennium) and developer Jason Katims (My So-Called Life and Relativity). Next, bring in the football player from Dawson's Creek (Jason Behr) as a hunky teenage alien named Max Evans. Add a thoughtful, doe-eyed brunette (Liz Parker, played by Shiri Appleby). Beam down Jonathan Frakes from the Enterprise to produce. Bring to a boil by having the FBI and the Roswell sheriff investigating the aliens.
Liz is accidentally shot while working at her parents' alien-themed diner, but Max uses his powers to save her life. The authorities discover the miracle, and soon the sheriff and FBI are trying to track down Max, his sister Isabel and friend Michael, who are also aliens.
Laughing at the premise yet? The aliens' powers appear to be healing fatal injuries, heating up tacos and opening locks with the palms of their hands. I was kind of hoping for Gort to lumber out of a school locker and destroy all the Earth's weapons, or for the aliens to be the hideous lizard creatures from V. But this is the WB -- even Felicity would be hard-pressed to follow a hideous lizard creature to college -- so we get beautiful teenage aliens sporting tube tops and embellished jeans.
The script tries to suspend disbelief by staying relatively serious, drawing on its X-Files pedigree. The creators deserve credit for actually trying to do a semi-serious show for teens, but sometimes the writing and plotting fall flat. After Max confesses his extrasolar origin to Liz in the high school band room, she starts seeing G-men under every desk at school -- and in a convenient plot point, discovers them pulling the aliens' permanent records. She starts playing lookout for the aliens and hanging around with Max, much to the chagrin of her football star boyfriend, who (insert next convenient plot point here) happens to be the sheriff's son. Appleby must have auditioned for the part of Joey on Dawson's Creek, because she gets to use words like mustn't and behoove. Behoove?! My kingdom for a teenager who uses the word behoove! At least Liz gets to correct the G-woman sub about a triangle's angles totaling 180 degrees, not 360.
In contrast to Liz's cool, intellectual acceptance of extraterrestrials even existing, let alone having one as her lab partner, her cypress oil-sniffing friend Maria (Majandra Delfino) reacts to the revelation as a semi-hysterical dingbat whose paranoid, poorly written lines are probably meant to be funny, but just come across as stupid.
Brendan Fehr, sporting an Abercrombie & Fitch bed head haircut, plays the alien third wheel, Michael. While Max and sister Isabel have loving parents, Michael lives in a trailer park with his straight-outta-Waco foster father. Michael is the "impulsive" alien, not in control of his powers like the others, and longs for the quiet normal life that Max and Isabel have. He sneaks into the sheriff's office and finds (convenient plot point #3) a key to the sheriff's stash of Roswell crash information, the only thing the FBI hasn't hauled away in its cover-up.
The supporting cast includes Michael Horse reprising his no-nonsense deputy character from Twin Peaks, and Colin Hanks, son of Tom, playing the goofball double-jointed kid who was left on the cutting-room floor of Freaks & Geeks. William Sadler seems to have climbed a rung on the justice system typecasting ladder. He played the smart-alecky blond inmate in "The Shawshank Redemption" and will be in the film adaptation of Stephen King's The Green Mile. In Roswell, he plays Sheriff Valenti.
In a show of either confidence or lack of an alternative, the WB has ordered 22 episodes instead of the usual 13. The series is based on the Roswell High books by Melinda Metz, and Katims and Nutter have worked out the entire first season's plot lines. There's a hole in the back story big enough to pilot a spacecraft through, just like in The X-Files, but because the teenage aliens don't know their own origins, this hole provides dramatic effect and should keep viewers watching for more clues. No doubt the aliens' origins will be given out piecemeal at an achingly slow pace, in the classic and successful tradition of sci-fi and soap opera franchises everywhere.
Bottom line: It has Dawson as a lead-in, an extraterrestrial mystery to draw male viewers, and teen heartthrobs to keep the adolescent girls hooked. I sure hope the characters don't get cell phones; then we'd be sure to hear "Mulder, it's me -- let's meet in the eraser room."
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