Although it spent its 3 seasons with less than stellar ratings, Roswell not only helped put the WB network (now the CW) on the map as a destination for teen girls, but paved the way for another show about an attractive high school student from outer space.
Roswell was based on a series of books called Roswell High, and the title itself serves as back story. The name of the New Mexico town is synonymous with UFO cover-ups. We all know what happened there in 1947. Don’t we? Seriously, do you know what happened? Because other than a vague idea of something about a crater, I didn’t. There may or may not have been an alien crash landing and the U.S. government may or may not have conducted autopsies on the victims. Read more about it here.
Even supposing the viewer knows nothing about Roswell, the show spells it out visually right away. We open with teen narrator Liz (Shiri Appleby) writing in her diary, introducing herself via voiceover. “Five days ago I died,” she says. “After that things got really weird.” Intriguing, if a bit cheesy. Then we find her at work in the Crashdown Café, a 50s-style, UFO-themed diner.
Liz and Maria (Majandra Delfino) are waitresses in schlocky theme uniforms complete with antennae. They clearly enjoy messing with truth-seeking tourists. It’s a special occasion in Roswell, the day of the Crash Festival. Presumably that’s a day when the residents cash in on their fame. (However, this is set in September and the Roswell “incident” happened on July 8.) Isabel points out that the dopey looking Max Evans (Jason Behr) keeps staring at Liz. Indeed, he is the first to spring to action when she is hit by a stray bullet fired during an argument between customers.
Max runs to Liz, where she has fallen to the floor bleeding from the abdomen. He places a hand across the wound, healing it. He breaks a bottle of ketchup and instructs Liz to say she broke it. He and his friend speed off in a Jeep before the authorities arrive. A pair of nosy tourists start poking holes in Liz’s story with the sheriff. Sheriff Valenti (William Sadler), we see, has his suspicions. He takes note of two empty Tabasco sauce bottles on a table where the boys were sitting.
We next meet Liz at school. She’s kind of a plain Jane, a good student, and for some reason dating a douchebag who is—big surprise—Sheriff Valenti’s son. She confronts Max and he admits with almost no reservation that he is an alien. He swears her to secrecy, but in no time she has dished to Maria. Playing a friend of Liz’s is Colin Hanks, but we don’t get to know much about his character yet.
We get to know two other aliens, the only others, Isabel (fresh-faced Katherine Heigl) and Michael (Brendon Fehr, aka Jared Booth on Bones). They put Tabasco sauce on everything; definitely a detail that is going to get them in trouble. Alarmed by Max’s revelation to Liz, the alien trio debates whether to flee. We get just enough details to understand their background. They were the only survivors of a crashed spaceship. They have been raised by regular human families for the past 16 years. Prior to that, they were in some kind of hibernation.
Mid-way through, the Liz voiceover returns unexpectedly and unnecessarily. It’s as if the vehicle we’ve been cruising along in hits a big puddle of teen romance molasses. It may be moments like this that led the show’s creators to focus more on the science fiction as the show progressed.
The plot then plunges from character description into a plot where Liz and the aliens have to outsmart the Sheriff. Though it seems the most natural thing for the aliens to leave town, that wouldn’t leave much of a television show. So we know they’re hanging around. We’re left to see how Max and Liz will get together—because of course they will—and how the aliens will continue to allude the authorities. The pilot balances the mystery and the romance pretty well, so if you like either you might just tolerate the other.