NDSU Spectrum: TV review
‘Roswell’ steps in to fill looming ‘X-Files’ void
By JOHN HANSEN
Something became apparent early on when viewing the pilot episode of “Roswell.” Any preconceptions on the viewer’s part should be left behind, because this “aliens in high school” show is full of surprises. Something else became apparent, too: Regardless of the destination, it would be a fun ride. And with that other alien paranoia show, “The X-Files,” nearing the end of its run, “Roswell” comes along at a perfect time.
With its concept culled from Melinda Metz’s young-adult book series, “Roswell” combines the creative talents of Jason Katims (“My So-Called Life”), David Nutter (“The X-Files,” “Disturbing Behavior”), Jonathan Frakes (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”) and an incredible ensemble cast.
“Roswell” has a little bit of everything, but two elements stand out: First, the star-crossed romance between human Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby) and alien Max Evans (Jason Behr), and second, the epic battle of wits matching the teenagers against the authority figures searching for proof that aliens exist. Other elements, such as the injustices teenagers have to deal with, are also touched upon.
“Roswell’s” unique style includes colorful settings (this fictional Roswell includes the Crashdown Café), subtle humor (often involving the aliens’ quirks, like their obsession with Tabasco sauce) and voiceovers from the main character.
The colorful cast includes three aliens, their three friends and three antagonists with mysterious motives. Max, his sister Isabel (Katherine Heigl) and their friend Michael (Brendan Fehr) came out of their incubation pods 10 years ago looking like 6-year-old humans; apparently, their origins trace back to the famous 1947 Roswell crash. Liz, Maria (Majandra Delfino) and Alex (Colin Hanks) are the three friends who gradually gain the alien teens’ trust and friendship.
The show features an intriguing mythology much like “The X-Files,” but easier to follow. “Roswell” doesn’t split into standalone and mythology episodes; instead, each episode advances the mythology while also telling a self-contained story.
One cool element of “Roswell” is the absence of pure villains. Sheriff Valenti (William Sadler) is the essentially good-hearted antagonist who’s taken up his father’s quest to prove the existence of aliens. Another threat to the aliens’ safety is the sheriff’s son, Kyle (Nick Wechsler). And then there’s guidance counselor/FBI agent Miss Topolsky (Julie Benz): Was she planted in the school to uncover the aliens’ secret, or is she protecting them?
The mythology gets more fascinating with each episode, but the show’s biggest hook is something just as complex: the Lix-Max relationship, highlighted by the amazing chemistry between Appleby and Behr. In the pilot episode, Max saves Liz’s life with his alien powers, forcing him to tell her his secret. Max and Liz are, quite literally, from different worlds, and they agree that any relationship might endanger both of them. Nonetheless, they’ve spent a substantial amount of time together over the course of the series.
“Roswell” uses a sci-fi backdrop to explore a real-life situation. This is not a tragic romance on the level of Buffy and Angel, it’s closer to the will-they-or-won’t-they drama of Dawson and Joey. But the two leads make it work. Behr utilizes one basic facial expression, but rarely has an actor displayed so many variations of somber. Appleby, meanwhile, is simply amazing through all ranges of emotion, from befuddled (“You’re not an a-a-alien, are you?”) to carefree to sad. And on a less analytical note, Liz and Max are ridiculously cute together.
The other characters also get their share of attention. In “The Morning After,” we discover that Michael’s home life is not as pleasant as Max and Isabel’s, giving him reasons to be particularly obsessed about their mysterious origins. In “Monsters,” Maria is able to overcome her fears about the aliens, and Isabel begins to trust the humans. In “Heat Wave,” Alex is finally let in on the secret in an amusing scene where Liz essentially repeats Max’s explanation to her from the first episode.
“Roswell” is on a roll, becoming more entertaining and intriguing with each episode.
What: “Roswell” Season 1
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays, The WB
Starring: Shiri Appleby, Jason Behr, Majandra Delfino, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fehr, Colin Hanks, Nick Wechsler, William Sadler
Executive producers: Jason Katims, David Nutter, Jonathan Frakes
Grade (episodes 1-10): A+
“Roswell” Season 1 (1999-2000, WB) – After a strong first 15 episodes featuring the cute romance of alien Max (Jason Behr) and human Liz (Shiri Appleby) and a campy-yet-engaging string of clues about the alien teens’ past, “Roswell” went straight downhill when the network requested more of a sci-fi focus. While early episodes established personalities for each character, the final six episodes featured everyone yelling at each other. FBI agent Topolsky was killed, Sheriff Valenti was clearly a good guy, and the diminished use of the Crashdown Cafe and West Roswell High distanced the viewer from the show’s roots. B+
– John Hansen, NDSU Spectrum, Sept. 22, 2000