Fox // 2001 // 924 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // November 24th, 2004
Tess: It's OK, you know? You have the right to protect your family.
Kyle: You're part of the family I was trying to protect. As far as I can see, you're the only good thing about having an alien in my life.
Tess: You're definitely my favorite human.
Kyle: Yeah, well...you're my favorite Martian
Roswell survived for three seasons only because its fans were loyal and steadfast. When the show faced cancellation midway through its first season, thousands of bottles of Tabasco sauce (the favorite food of the aliens in the show) were sent to the WB to help ensure it would return and the story would continue. Either that, or the WB had ordered a full season of the show and couldn't renegotiate with its diva creator, Jason Katims. Yes, even the show's mythology is a mystery as deep as finding out if we were visited by extraterrestrials in the New Mexico desert.
Whatever happened, the show's creators were put under extreme pressure by the network to make changes to see if Roswell could woo and win over the Buffy crowd by adding more action and faster pacing. Creative differences led the WB to sell the show to UPN after this second season, and Roswell disappeared after that third and final year. Yet there are still champions of the show, and to this day its legions of die-hard fans post on Internet fan sites and write fan fiction to keep the show and its memories alive. So is it surprising that Fox has released a very solid DVD set to take some of these fans' hard-earned cash?
The twenty-one episodes, spread out on six discs, include:
*"Skin and Bones"
*"Ask Not" (commentary by executive producer and writer Ronald D. Moore)
*"Summer of '47"
*"The End of the World"
*"Meet the Dupes"
*"Max in the City"
*"A Roswell Christmas Carol" (commentary by executive producer and writer Jason Katims and director Patrick Norris)
*"To Serve and Protect"
*"We Are Family"
*"How the Other Half Lives"
*"Viva Las Vegas"
*"Heart of Mine"
*"Cry Your Name"(commentary by executive producer and writer Ronald D. Moore)
*"It's Too Late, and It's Too Bad"
*"Baby It's You"
*"Off The Menu"
Roswell surprised me. I didn't expect much, but after one viewing of the pilot episode I found myself instantly glued to a show that transcended teen demographics and its seemingly ludicrous source material. I was skeptical that a series based on teen romance novels about a trio of aliens in high school could ever hope to keep my attention for very long. But somehow, I was hooked. Jason Katims, the show's executive producer, already had My So Called Life under his belt (that show with Claire Danes that disappeared too soon). Also on board was Jonathan Frakes, who had come from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Together, Katims and Frakes had the background to make a science fiction romance fly; and surprisingly, they pulled it off -- at least at first. The show also had a great young cast, and a Romeo and Juliet tale of star-crossed lovers (literally) who were surrounded by alienated teens of extra- and intra-terrestrial origins.
That first season was strong for the most part, and I wondered how it could continue. Max (Jason Behr, The Grudge) and Liz (Shiri Appleby, Swimfan) had broken up because of an alien prophecy that destined him to be with Tess (Emilie de Ravin, Lost). In the first season's finale, Liz ran down the hill in the New Mexico desert with a tear-streaked face while Dido's "Here With Me" left the audience wrecked. Meanwhile, the otherworldly teenagers released a message from their mothership; one that sent signals all around the world revealing their location to alien enemies. They had defeated the FBI, and they knew who they were, but they had no clue who or what was coming after them. Roswell -- The Complete Second Season picks up three months after the Season One finale, and deals with the aliens' fight against destiny, plus other unknown enemies. And even worse...they have to go to prom before it's all over. This is the season Max and Liz have to be put on hold, because Tess is his interplanetary bride. Max's sister Isabel (Katherine Heigl, My Father the Hero, who ironically played Isabel in Wuthering Heights) thaws and lets her guard down for Alex (Colin "son of Tom" Hanks, Orange County, and the upcoming King Kong). Liz's best friend Maria (Majandra Delfino, Traffic) continues loving the alien Michael (Brendan Fehr, Final Destination, The Forsaken). Tess has to move in with Sheriff Valenti (William Sadler, The Green Mile) and his newly Buddhist son Kyle (Nick Wechsler, Chicks, Man). The fight will escalate, and the mysteries will deepen. New powers emerge, and the aliens are left without their mentor. They will lose a few key members of the group, and new allies will form bonds with them. Max and his brood are in for a wild ride. Will they ever find home? Can they reconcile being half human and half Antarian? (The aliens in the series are revealed to be hybrids; the result of humans being mixed with interplanetary DNA.)
You could be really lazy and pass the show off as a mix of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek. I railed against this when talking about the first season, but Season Two does little to dispel that myth. If you listen to every commentary on this set and watch every special feature, it becomes clear the WB wanted the show to become more action-oriented. The network wanted it to conform to the vision they thought would make it successful. That began to strip Roswell of all the elements that made it original and great in the beginning. It wasn't the alien aspects that were interesting. Their plight and otherworldly powers were merely McGuffins to help tell the real story -- teenage love and friendship -- by adding sprinklings of science fiction's fairy dust. The more they tried to get into bizarre plots and intergalactic intrigue, the more the show felt forced and lost. Season Two is strongest when it slows down and allows its cast to revel in the moments that define their relationships. The grand metaphor of the show was "aliens" standing in for "adolescent alienation." Everyone feels like an outsider, and the charm of the aliens is that they knew exactly why they felt like that. But like us humans, they desperately wanted to fit in. Roswell's greatest secret is that the love story is what makes it tick, not the science fiction. And there isn't just one love story here, there are many.
You can compare the show to the rest of the WB lineup, but it also owes a lot to Star Trek. I don't think it's a coincidence that one of the producers played Captain William T. Riker, because this show is Star Trek in reverse. Where the Enterprise boldly went where no man had gone before, here we have a trio of aliens sent to explore Earth and what it means to be human. Gene Roddenberry would have loved the way the show taps into mysticism and spirituality while espousing diversity and teamwork. Jason Behr's Max is reminiscent of a teenaged Captain Kirk, who has to lead his crew in the exploration of everything human before returning home. I don't know why more Trekkies haven't vigorously joined the Roswell bandwagon. Like Star Trek, it is strongest when it is at its most human.
Roswell's second season is a mixed bag, but on the whole I was entertained. It definitely has its moments, and I can't deny that it was charming and a fun way to pass the time. But something didn't feel right about keeping Max and Liz apart for the entire season, and it gnawed at me. It seemed like the plot wasn't moving anywhere substantial. Did the renewal catch everyone off-guard? Were they making this up as they went? It turns out the answer is "yes" to both questions. The episodes where they concentrated on feelings and relationships seemed better than the ones where they tried to inject some science fiction action into the mix. Oh, the "skins" were fine. But what about those clones or "dupes"? Did we ever find out what happened to them? What happened to the great love story from the first season?
The cast was a major problem. Not in front of the camera, but on the set. Shiri Appleby (Liz) and Jason Behr (Max) dated during that first season, and then broke up. Jason ended up dating Katherine Heigl (ew...his sister -- Isabel) during this second season, and they were pretty serious, much to Shiri's dismay. Shiri's discomfort was obvious on-screen, and the decision was made to separate the two as much as possible and bring in another romantic possibility for Shiri's character, Liz. Enter My So Called Life veteran Devon Gummersall as Maria's cousin, Sean Deluca. In the other corner, there was the real-life relationship between Brendan Fehr (Michael) and Majandra Delfino (Maria). They had dated briefly in the first season for real as well, but their split was amicable enough to continue their on-screen romance. But Majandra was not happy, because she wanted a music career and felt she was tied down to the show. Add to this the fact that Colin Hanks (Alex) was getting bigger and better offers, which he wanted to pursue. The cast was imploding. They were all young, and didn't realize the demands of shooting a weekly show for network television. Many developments in this second season were tailored around each actor's personal problems, and that hurt it a little.
The writers were in a similar state of professional angst. They were pressured to deliver more action-packed episodes, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel directors were on set filming each installment. Changes were ordered at the eleventh hour to scripts -- you can tell that in some scenes the actors are reading off cue cards because of last minute revisions from studio executives. They grappled and strained to find new directions, and whenever something didn't work it was dropped like a hot potato. Loose strands of stories hang unresolved in some cases. Take for instance a flashback episode inserted just before the season finale. They had to explain something, so it was decided to go back in time in the story just to insert one point that would become a crucial clue to the resolve of the season. Yeesh!
I wasn't overly fond of "The Summer of '47," in which the entire cast is thrown into a post-World War Two scenario that recalls many Star Trek time travel and holodeck episodes. It seemed like they were trying too hard to pull out the stops for the show, and just ended up flailing. Roswell -- The Complete Second Season also includes the "previously on" segments before each show. They began to retool these as well, placing Maria in front of a chalkboard and having her talk straight to the audience. She looks uncomfortable. The sequences are funny, but often undermine the drama of the show. They were reaching for anything at this point.
The WB's shows always have amazing soundtracks, and Roswell was certainly no exception. Yet this set arrives with an ominous sticker that says "New Music Chosen by the Roswell Music Supervisors!." The music rights were too costly to clear in many instances, so the original soundtrack is lost in many sequences. Fortunately for some really important scenes, they did fork over some money to keep the song the same. "I Shall Believe" by Sheryl Crow and "Walk On" by U2 are thankfully still present, but missing in action are some tracks by Coldplay, David Gray, and Gomez.
Somehow, despite all my complaints, I think the Roswell team pulled it all together for the most part. I thought the relationships were strong enough on the screen to keep me satisfied with the story even when there were holes. And the music replacements didn't bother me as much when I considered the superior 5.1 mix the show is given here. The transfer is not up to par with some other shows on DVD, but it is widescreen and pretty darn good. The main problem in that department came from excessive grain in many night shots.
I wasn't as involved this second time around with Roswell, but its still a fine show that gets great treatment on DVD. There are only three dry commentaries, but the featurettes are generous and show all the key players discussing every aspect of the show.
I can't let this one go without a reprimand for retooling things on the fly and forgetting what was great about the previous season. For that, the makers of Roswell have already been punished enough, I am sure. They still manage to squeeze out some moving and high quality episodes just in time, so this one is great if you're a fan. Especially when you consider how much the DVD packs in extras. Still, it's ludicrous to call "new cutting-edge songs selected by the Roswell music team" a great extra. So like the half-and-half aliens, this is a half-and-half affair. My decision is to split everything down the middle, giving the good stuff to the fans and the bad stuff to the evil alien studio executives who ruined a great concept.
Review content copyright © 2004 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 924 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Here With Me: The Making of Roswell Season Two
* Storyboard to Scene
* The Shiri and Majandra Show
* Art of Composing Roswell
* A Little Something Extra for the Fans Video Montage
* Commentary on "Ask Not" by Executive Producer / Writer Ronald D. Moore
* Commentary on "A Roswell Christmas Carol" by Executive Producer / Writer Jason Katims and Director Patrick Norris
* Commentary on "Cry Your Name" by Executive Producer / Writer Ronald D. Moore
* Jump the Shark: Roswell
* Fan Site: Antarians
* Fan Site: Crashdown