As turn-of-the-millennium YA soaps on television go, Roswell was no Buffy or Dawson’s Creek, but it had its devotees. Furthermore, it was the big break for both Shiri Appleby and Katherine Heigl, both of whom are still in TV 20 years after Roswell premiered in 1999. Now, the reboot business has found Roswell — now called Roswell, New Mexico in its new form on the CW. (Both are based on the Melinda Metz book series Roswell High.)
The bones of the new show are the same as the earlier versions: three orphaned aliens named Max, Isobel and Michael live in Roswell, surrounded by the kitsch of a town that made its reputation as the (sort of) site of a (purported) alien landing in 1947. The joke is that while tourists come for the little green men and the funny diner names (like the Crash Down Cafe), the real aliens, now adults, walk among them, keeping secret a variety of powers.
The inciting incident is similar in this version to the old one, too: Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason) has returned to Roswell, where she grew up, to visit her father. While she’s there, her old friend (and perhaps more?) Max (Nathan Parsons) saves her life using his alien powers. This threatens to expose his secret, along with those of his sister Isobel (Lily Cowles) and their friend Michael (Michael Vlamis). Isobel and Michael both have other issues, other secrets, other people in their lives — as does Liz, who remains connected to her old boyfriend Kyle (Michael Trevino), who’s now a police officer.
The major innovation in the new version is that Liz is Latina, and her father is undocumented. This creates echoes, of course, not only with the ideas of travelers and visitors, but with the fear of discovery that exists in Liz’s life as well as Max’s. An early incident in the series (critics have seen three episodes) underscores the fact that Liz’s father is vulnerable not only to ICE, but also to people who know what happens to him if he goes to the police or the hospital.
This is a CW series to its core: It fits alongside the network’s superhero shows, which mix soapy drama with science fiction, and with Riverdale, a dark spin on a premise that sounds funny. Not everything about it works — Isobel is not well developed in the early going, and Kyle seems extraneous at best, although his story starts to ramp up a couple of episodes in. Of course, it’s a lot of characters to build. It may take time.
But parts of it work pretty well out of the gate. Mason won So You Think You Can Dance back in 2009 and has been acting ever since, most recently on Grey’s Anatomy. She’s good here, playing Liz as a scientist who’s both skeptical and emotional, a hard mix for actors to figure out sometimes. It’s surprising how quickly Liz and Max’s relationship feels like it has weight, despite the fact that it’s never easy to make a character resonate who has to do some, uh, extraordinary and weird things sometimes. There’s also an interesting path for Michael that’s different from the original, and that has promise.
Parsons is still trying to get his arms around the character of Max, it seems, and while his scenes with Mason are pretty good, some of his other angst is … less so. They push through a lot of plot in the first three episodes, which requires him to cover a lot of ground. Think of it this way: It’s a lot easier for an actor to avoid looking silly when he looks at someone and serenely says “no” than it is when he’s called upon to fall to his knees and scream at the sky, “NOOOOOOOOO!” He’s quite good at the former; still working on the latter.
What’s most important about a heavily serialized show at this stage is whether it has adequate forward momentum and adequate tension to make sticking with it seem worthwhile. It’s very smart that some of the questions that could have been dragged out over a whole season if not longer are resolved early; that helps with momentum, in particular. And between Liz and Max and Michael, they’ve got enough going on to make it appealing.
If you don’t like CW shows but you like The X-Files and other alien shows and you’re wondering if this will be up your alley, it probably won’t be. But if you like a good CW sci-fi drama, this is a good bet to add to your list.