Roswell premiered 15 years ago today! Why should you care? We’ll tell you.
Today marks the 15-year anniversary of the Roswell series premiere, which originally aired October 6, 1999 on The WB.
Roswell is one of the most under-appreciated teen sci-fi shows of the ’90s (see also: Dark Angel) that kids today have almost no reason to go back and watch. If you don’t even bother with actual acclaimed shows like Charmed or Smallville, why would you waste your time on a little-known show that nobody’s talking about?
Well, because we’re talking about it! And because sometimes, the least celebrated shows are the ones that have the most original stuff to offer. We’ll let the Roswell cast and creator Jason Katims tell you themselves, here seen at the ATX reunion panel in July:
Straight talk: Looking back on it today, Roswell was a sometimes-silly sci-fi show that got cancelled before it had the chance to complete all its great storylines, and which for some reason thought the extremely melodramatic love story about two horny teenagers (who never actually have sex, spoiler alert) was more interesting than the backstory of the four royal aliens who sent two sets of humanoid clones of themselves to earth, so that one day the rightful [clone of the] king might return and rule them once again. Seriously, WB, priorities!
If only Roswell had been on today, network executives might have allowed the writers to focus more on their brilliant, mind-bending backstory and less on hormonal teenagers and their relationship drama…oh, wait, Starcrossed. Never mind.
But despite its missed potential (Isabel and Michael were destined to be together, and had visions of a baby! Yet they chose their human significant others! What would the alien elders say?!), Roswell had a lot to offer. We definitely recommend you check out its first season, and decide if you can stomach the ’90s-ness to get to the good stuff. What is this good stuff? Ah, so glad you asked:
1. Famous actors before they were famous
Shiri Appleby, Nick Wechsler, Emilie de Ravin, Colin Hanks, Julie Benz, Katherine Heigl. Any of these names ring a bell?
Only Heigl is a proper A-lister now, but all of these actors have gone on to star in iconic and movies and TV series, playing characters you probably know them better as.
In Roswell you get to see a scheming Claire from Lost (or Belle from Once Upon a Time), an adorable Buddhist Jack from Revenge, a lovestruck teenage Cate from Life Unexpected, and a… er, no, actually Isabel from Roswell and Izzy from Grey’s Anatomy are pretty much the same person.
And if you are looking for cute cameos, you can also spot famous guest stars like Octavia Spencer, Jason Dohring, and Terry O’Quinn.
It’s always fun to go back and see actors you like in early roles, pouring their heart and soul into whatever the scripts threw at them.
2. Evil clones and time travel
This isn’t an ironic point, the evil clones were seriously the best thing ever. You know, Roswell and Doctor Who actually have a lot in common.
Basically, our three teen heroes Max (Jason Behr), Isabel (Heigl) and Michael (Brendan Fehr) discover that they were not the only set of alien babies to hatch on Earth: their home planet created a “backup” set of royal clones, which were dropped in the middle of NYC and basically grew up to be a humanoid, self-serving version of the Ninja Turtles.
As this amazing storyline progresses, we begin to wonder which set is actually the “original” and which is the faulty batch. While it becomes pretty obvious that our heroes are the proper set, there are a lot of hints that the duplicates actually resemble the original royal family more. So were they actually the originals, and the heroes are the “flawed” (but improved) copies? The ambiguity is great, because it gives us a lot to think about.
3. Dusty desert highways and small sleepy towns
Unless you actually live in the Southwest, watching Roswell will provide you a nice dose of escapism. There’s something both eerie and beautiful about the vast, empty desert spaces, and the show takes advantage of the New Mexico scenery whenever possible.
Of course actual New Mexico residents can probably tell that the show was filmed in California, with Vasquez Rocks serving as the wild south country. But it’s all about suspension of disbelief when you watch ’90s television, and at least they faked it really well.
4. Really imaginative storytelling
When Roswell worked best, it was when one of its writers had a crazy idea and they went for it (…and then there was that one time when the characters randomly stumbled upon a Nelly Furtado concert and totally lost their sh**).
There was an entire town made up of aliens wearing paper-thin, fragile layers of human skin to disguise themselves. There was an episode in which every human in Roswell was erased from the world, and the last remaining human characters must save the day before they perished (the humans rarely got to be the heroes, so it was a big deal).
As far as emotional wringers go, we had the Christmas special in which Max performed the biggest god damn miracle ever seen on television. And of course, the huge character death episode that broke all of our hearts. There were also some really good romantic storylines, especially after the characters began to mature, and realised that discovering their alien identities might be more important than sneaking away to rendezvous with their teenage crushes.
5. These amazing (season 2) episodes
We know you’re probably not going to go and marathon this series (unless you’re really, really bored). But maybe you have time for just five episodes, arguably the best that Roswell has to offer.
You’ll find that these are all from the first half of season 2. There’s a lot of good material in season 1, but in retrospect it spent too much time setting up the relationships, and introducing secondary villains that weren’t as important as they appeared to be.
Start with season 2 to see the show in its prime, and watch the first 10 (or just these five, if you’re very busy) episodes to find out why Roswell had a lot of things worth tuning in for:
- “Summer of ’47′” (season 2, episode 4)
It’s a flashback episode to the day of the crash, starring the main cast in different roles! It’s a really unique (if a little contrived) way to tell a flashback story, and to allow the actors to show off their versatile skills and to interact in new and unexpected ways.
- “The End of the World” (season 2, episode 5)
This is where the time travel comes in. In the future, the world is ending, and Max travels back in time to convince Liz (Appleby) that she needs to end their relationship. It’s as heartbreaking as it sounds.
- “Wipeout!” (season 2, episode 7)
In which the humans get to be the heroes. Only Kyle (Wechsler), Liz and Maria (Majandra Delfino) are left standing after an alien device erases all the humans in order to find the aliens hidden among them.
- “Meet the Dupes” (season 2, episode 8)
The clones are introduced, when they travel to Roswell to collect Max, so he can help them convince the alien council that they are the “real” heirs to the throne.
- “A Roswell Christmas Carol” (season 2, episode 10)
Isabel shines in this episode, it allows us to see a more relaxed, fun side of the characters… and Max does something that might just make you tear up.
- “The End of the World” (season 2, episode 5)
15 years later, Roswell holds up as a cult genre show worth a second look. If there was ever a show that deserved a reboot it’d be this one — so many brilliant story ideas that could’ve developed into something truly amazing.
But we’ll take what we got, and go re-watch the series one more time!
And if you want more Roswell, there’s a fun Brendan Fehr connection: later this year, he’s starring in a movie called Roswell FM, as a radio host who tunes in to an alien space channel.