Let’s set the scene. It’s 1999. With Buffy about to graduate Sunnydale High, and with Angel and Charmed’s adulthood setting, the WB are desperate for another high school-set sci-fi drama. Enter Roswell: a loved-up, soap drenched, alien romp that ticks all the relevant boxes. It’s far from its predecessors, and it’s a show that’s been almost completely forgotten about in popular circles, but it’s been a long-time favorite of mine, and a huge part of why I've become such a TV nut.
Roswell takes a lot of getting used to. The first thing that hit me while re-watching the pilot was just how 90’s is really was. It’s hard not to notice the Backstreet Boys hairstyles, the cell phones that could double as heavy duty door blocks and the overuse of denim, but that’s par for the course when you decide to revisit any long-finished series, I guess.
What was most surprising about watching this all these years later, is how easy I found it to like Liz. Some leads are slick, powerful, and bad-ass feminist icons that you have no choice but to love, just out of sheer awe. But Liz is a protagonist that leads the show in a way that Elena Gilbert does in more modern times. She’s just a normal, ordinary girl whose life has been turned upside down by this one crazy incident that opens up a world she never even knew existed. It’s easy to sit right into her shoes and feel all this craziness along with her. Maybe I was just shepherded along by the general stance of fandom back when it was still easily accessible, when it was common knowledge that Liz was the most annoying of the cast, but it’s just not true.
The pilot is pretty standard teen fare, rife with the most obvious of clichés, from the mysterious stranger saving our main girl's life, right down to the jealous jock boyfriend (a pre-Revenge Nick Wechsler). But again, the time period this was airing in makes a lot of these things easier to accept. Remember, this was pre-Twilight and before all this stuff got worn out so in a way, Roswell kind of gets away with it. The story is predictable, so it’s all down to the characters, and the easy chemistry between the cast to make this pilot work.
Max and Liz, being the heart of the show, were the ones who needed to work best, and work they did. Jason Behr isn’t an actor that leaps off the screen, but he sits right into his role here, and there’s an obvious attraction between Max and Liz from the get-go. But it’s not just the romantic entanglements, but the friendships and familial bonds that are tested throughout the next 3 years, and Liz and Maria’s friendship is testament to that fact. Maria was a fan favourite from the beginning, and it’s easy to see why. Majandra Delfino lights up the character with bubbly, ditzy banter and an effervescent kookiness that marries seamlessly with Liz’s more straightforward, conformist persona. Isabel (Katherine Heigl, before she realized how great she was) and Max stay linked throughout the series too, and their bond remains one of the strongest of the series, even if it's not easy to see here, given Isabel's limited screen time.
One thing I've always loved about Roswell and it's something that remains almost perfectly consistent throughout the show's three seasons, is how easy it is to believe that these guys are just a group of young people being flung into a crazy, weird situation. Liz, Maria, Alex and Kyle are so normal and innocent, and as you see them break down that innocence throughout the show, you realize just how well the writers have crafted them around these outlandish situations. The same goes for the aliens, who are just three scared young teens, looking for answers, and trying to save themselves as their comfy, secure lives spiral out of control. Max's rashness is typical of a young, infatuated boy who risks so much just to save a girl he barely knew. A well worn, middle aged person of a similar nature wouldn't make the same mistake. This kind of innocence is evident even in the recreational uses of their powers, like grilling a taco, and listening to a CD in some innovative ways. You forget this in similar genre shows, when characters immediately begin acting wise beyond their years, without the slightest amount of growth; it's a nice touch.
Roswell’s first season is one that isn’t overtly sexy, like most shows centred on young peoples' lives are nowadays. It’s a path that the show is forced to take during its second season, it’s one that's not too uncomfortable, but that family friendly, homey feel from this season is nice to see from a show like this, especially considering the sexual undertones in Jason Katims's script.
This pilot doesn’t blow you away, but it sets up a world full of fun characters, simplistic but charming humor, and a dash of governmental conspiracy in the form of Sherriff Valenti, and his suspicion driven investigations. It’s a decent starting point.