Roswell, New Mexico’s characters are far from perfect and that’s why they’re so damn relatable.
As close as TV attempts to mimic reality, first and foremost, its job is to entertain you. Usually, that means having a compelling (read: dramatic) storyline, and likeable (read: forgivable) characters. If you don’t care about the characters and their circumstances, you’re probably not going to keep watching that TV show.
Most shows do a pretty good job at making their characters flawed while still making them likeable, in a lot of cases, that likability stems from the fact that those flaws are made to be readily excusable. For example, if the flaw is the result of some extreme trauma. If a character has abandonment issues, it’s because both parents left them to join a travelling circus. If a character is a bully, it’s because they spent every recess dangling from a tree in their underwear. Stuff like that.
As an adult who loves teen shows, I’m also very familiar with another type of excusable flaw, which is the type that stems from youth. Either the character’s mistakes come from a lack of agency at the hands of their superiors or, we simply excuse them because they’re young and are still figuring things out. We’ve all been dumb kids before!
It’s far more rare for a TV show to get down into the minute, yet equally toxic flaws that make us all human. The ones that don’t always have a root cause that we can blame. The ones that we have as fully capable and intelligent adults. The ones that are integral to our very DNA, but we’re too ashamed to talk about because they make up the ugliest parts of us.
One of these flaws is selfishness. We all have a little bit of selfishness in us. After all, self-preservation is hardwired into every living being on the planet, especially humans, and it can manifest in any number of ways.
It’s not like there are no selfish characters on TV. Quite the opposite. Many of fiction’s most loved and most hated characters are extremely selfish. Just look at Game of Thrones. Tyrion and Tywin Lannister, for most of the series, can very easily be described as people who are looking out for number one. Tyrion, an underdog who’s been abused by his family, is revered while Tywin, an aptly named tyrant, is reviled.
It’s easy to forgive someone of their selfishness when a Kingdom or legacy is at stake. It’s easy to look the other way when a character is willing to let an entire population burn just to save the person they love. In fact, we’d probably adore that character even more for it. What’s less easy to redeem is someone who’s selfish in the smaller, every day ways.
What I’ve liked most about Roswell, New Mexico so far is not the intriguing mystery or the adorable romances, although both of those aspects are amazing. What I like most is the show’s willingness and ability to show the reality of human nature through the selfishness of its characters. Roswell, New Mexico has every right to be larger than life. It’s about aliens! But it thrives when it focuses on the humanity of its characters.
The first few episodes had Liz, 10 years later, still trying to come to terms with what she believed her sister had done. She loved her sister more than anything, but selfishly resented both the spotlight that her sister’s addiction commanded while she was living and the murderous legacy that was left for her family when she died.
Of course she was tortured by the loss of her sister, but she also wrestled with the more selfish side of the anger she felt toward her. It was such a well-represented portrayal of someone who loved an addict because she didn’t wrap all of her emotions up in a pretty little package. She felt, and expressed, their full range without making excuses for it.
How “too real” was it when Isobel’s jealousy caused her to try to send Liz away, early in the season, so she wouldn’t feel like she was losing Max? That’s about as selfish as it gets. We may not have the power to manipulate people’s thoughts and actions, but I’m sure most of us have felt at least a twinge of that kind of jealousy. It doesn’t always make sense and it’s never flattering, but it’s just as real as any of the more presentable and acceptable emotions.
Even Max, who for all intents and purposes is both the bleeding heart and the moral compass of Roswell, New Mexico, was able to fully express his anger at his sister’s attempted suicide! There’s a messy one for you. These characters are experiencing true grief and that comes in all forms. His life would have been over if Isobel had died and although he was unbearably sad, he was also pissed off that she would do that.
Alex not telling Michael that he had a piece of his ship was another great example. If Michael had that he could leave the planet and Alex would never see him again. It would be wonderful if we could all abide by the “if you love something, set it free” mentality, but in practice, that’s damn near impossible to do.
Those subtle selfish acts that Roswell, New Mexico is so good at showing are the most real and the ones that it’s most important to portray. We can’t possibly understand the true stakes of someone being selfish in the context of a centuries old battle, so it’s much easier to digest. To see a true reflection of our own selfishness is much more cringe-inducing. We hate most in others what we dislike about ourselves. The traits which we’re ashamed of are the hardest to watch, on screen.
Unfortunately, that fact means that it’s essential that we’re confronted with what we’re ashamed of. Fiction is meant to be a safe space to explore ideas and situations that are too risky or taboo to take on in a real world context. Seeing our flaws play out in front of us is a great way to assess them and move forward in spite of them. It’s especially important because, although Roswell, New Mexico is a show about adults, it’s made for younger audiences.
There’s so many things to love about Roswell, New Mexico, but the fact that they’re presenting characters in all of their human messiness is among the top. I can’t wait to see what issues they take on next.