Review: Roswell, New Mexico 1×1 (US: The CW)

A reboot going through the motions and that's anything but out of this world

Roswell New Mexico

In the US: Tuesdays, 9pm, The CW
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Given The CW’s current efforts to expand its drama provision quickly without making every show about a DC superhero, it shouldn’t be too surprising that it’s trawling through its and its predecessors’ archive of successful shows to see if it can find anything good to remake. Charmed was the first on its list and now we have a reboot of 1999 UPN/The WB series Roswell, more geographically explicitly called Roswell, New Mexico.

There’s a reason for that.

You might not remember Roswell. It was based on the Roswell High series of young adult books (not vice versa, as I discovered shortly after reviewing two of them for Dreamwatch back in the day – oops) and tried to capture the power of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s decision to depict relatively humdrum teenage romances as being of literally Earth-shattering importance, largely because at least one person involved is a bit supernatural or alien.

However, it never managed to hit even a tenth of the impact of Buffy, so if you remember Roswell much at all, it’s probably because you remember its rather splendid theme tune by Dido:

Alternatively, you may remember it as launching the careers of the likes of Katherine Heigl (Suits), Shiri Appleby (UnREAL), Emilie De Ravin (Lost), Adam Rodriguez (CSI: Miami) and Colin Hanks (Fargo), all of whom have gone onto much better things. And 27 Dresses in Heigl’s case.

Roswell, New Mexico
(L-R): Nathan Dean Parsons as Max Evans, Lily Cowles as Isobel Evans-Bracken and Michael Vlamis as Michael Guerin — Photo: Ursula Coyote/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved

Deja vu

If by chance or use of the spice Melange you can actually remember the plot of Roswell, you’ll already know what Roswell, New Mexico is going to present you with, since the first episode is a virtual remake. It sees Jeanine Mason (So You Think You Can Dance) taking on Appleby’s role as Liz, now the daughter of two undocumented immigrants. A jaded biomedical researcher elsewhere, she nevertheless returns to her home town of Roswell, New Mexico, that she thought she’d left behind.

While temporarily helping out in her parents’ diner, she’s accidentally shot by anti-immigrants and is about to die. Fortunately, her former High School boyfriend turned town deputy sheriff Max (was Jason Behr but now True Blood‘s Nathan Dean Parsons) is on hand. I say fortunately, because he’s also an alien and has various supernatural powers, including the ability to heal people with his touch, which leaves a glowing palm print on Mason’s skin when he removes the bullet and heals her wound.

Despite sister Isabel (was Heigl, now Lily Cowles) and brother Michael (was Brandon Fehr but now Michael Vlamis)’s express wishes to the contrary, he’s soon revealing all to Mason. He explains that he and they are aliens, survivors of the famous UFO crash landing in Roswell in 1947. Their pods lay dormant for 50+ years, after which they emerged looking like human children and were adopted by human families – or fostered in Vlamis’ case. They’ve kept themselves to themselves to avoid being experimented upon, but he loves her so much, he had to tell her his secret. Otherwise, they just want to be left in peace to live normal lives.

Unfortunately for the aliens, there’s a secret military contingent in town who are keeping an eye out for aliens – and glowing palm prints. They don’t believe that the aliens are peaceful… and surprisingly they might have a point, since the death of Mason’s mum might have a different explanation from the one she’s always been told.

Roswell, New Mexico
(L-R): Lily Cowles as Isobel and Michael Vlamis as Michael — Photo: John Golden Britt/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved

Going through the diverse motions

To its credit, Roswell, New Mexico does try to do some things a little bit different and even better than its predecessor. It’s obviously a lot more diverse racially, which given it’s set in New Mexico should have been a requirement of the original, too. There’s also an explicit refugee text, as well as sub-text, which scores it numerous ‘woke’ points, even if it doesn’t have much to say on the subject, so much as shout.

It’s also diverse in other ways, with Vlamis turning out to be gay and having a boyfriend in the military, even if his sulky ‘product of the foster system’ is by the book and borderline dodgy.  Adjusting everyone’s age upwards to genuine ‘young adult’ status does make it more palatable to an older audience and allow character greater latitude in their behaviour, even if it does rob younger audiences of potential role models.

Unfortunately, this new Roswell contains neither stars-in-the-making cast nor memorable theme tune. Mason Parsons is sombre and lacking in life, while Cowles is mildly caustic without any real charm. Vlamis is so sulky, angry and willing to use his powers whenever he feels like it, you wonder how this trio managed to get out of teenage life without anyone knowing their secret.

Indeed, with their ages increased, nothing else makes much sense either. Parsons has the traditional supernatural bond with the heroine of the piece, one he shares with Angel in Buffy, Edward in Twilight and Vincent in Beauty and the Beast – his love is for her and her alone, and he’d do anything for her. She can even feel what he feels. Which is just about palatable in a teenager at a High School, but in a grown adult, comes across as a bit You. Do they really not have Tinder in Roswell? Because he needs to get some.

Roswell

Post-Twilight

Of course, we shouldn’t criticise too much since this is YA fiction for YAs. Grown adults fall for the same thing with Outlander. The tropes are the unwritten requirements of the genre and have worked well for decades. They could still work, assuming that the newest generation of young women haven’t learned cynicism early from their predecessors.

Similarly, post-Twilight, the idea that YA drama should be well written or exciting, containing threats that are more than simply people standing around talking a lot, feels a bit old hat. Still, if that’s what you had been looking for, you might have been disappointed by a pilot episode that barely raises the pulse through either romance or excitement. It’s all just so bland. Worse still, it also feels like a retread of… Charmed. The new one that is, as it goes through exactly the same formula in terms of the structure of its first episode, right down to the twist in the tail.

Roswell, New Mexico is derivative of something it’s not even supposed to be derivative of, as well as the thing it’s already derivative of. How dull.

All of which makes Roswell, New Mexico a real waste of time. You don’t get a real feel of Roswell. You don’t get interesting characters. You don’t get any excitement. You don’t get a decent romance, since the two would-be lovers already had the relationship years ago and this is just its rekindling. You don’t even get a halfway decent political metaphor.

I’d say watch Roswell instead, but that wasn’t any good, either. And don’t watch Project Blue Book, which is also about Roswell, because that’s terrible, too. All of which makes me think the time for UFO dramas has passed:

XKCD comic

Watch something else. Anything else.

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