Judge Elizabeth Skipper calls Roswell "a WB show with a twist." Backhanded compliment or criticism: you decide.
Our reviews of Roswell: The Complete Second Season (published November 24th, 2004) and Roswell: The Complete Third Season (The Final Chapter) (published August 24th, 2005) are also available.
"I've got two theories: one is that you and Liz have been brainwashed by a drug cult, and the other is I'm trapped inside some extremely long and extremely weird nightmare."
I'm not sure which it is, a cult or a nightmare, but I know I must be the victim of one of the two…because I couldn't possibly have enjoyed this show even slightly without some outside influence. At least that's what I keep telling myself…
Facts of the Case
Roswell is the story of friends Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby, Swimfan), Maria DeLuca (Majandra Delfino, Celeste in the City), and Alex Whitman (Colin Hanks, Orange County), who are three normal teenagers, and siblings Max (Jason Behr, Dawson's Creek) and Isabel Evans (Katherine Heigl, Valentine) and their friend, Michael Guerin (Brendan Fehr, Christina's House), who are three aliens pretending to be normal teenagers. In their small-town home of Roswell, New Mexico, nobody's the wiser about their non-human status, until Liz is shot while working at her parents' diner and Max, who, let's face it, thinks she's cute, uses his other-worldly powers to heal her. A glowing handprint appears on her skin, and questions abound, some of which Max, Isabel, and Michael can't even answer for themselves. And once the local sheriff and then the FBI get involved, it seems nothing will ever be the same for anyone involved. The rest of the season is a search for answers coupled with a race to survive a growing number of enemies.
As this series is, by its nature, full of revelations and cliffhangers, an episode-by-episode summary would inevitably contain spoilers galore, so I'll refrain. Instead, here are my subjective grades for all 22 first-season episodes:
• "Pilot" (Grade: A)
With an average grade of about a B-, and with many episodes faring much lower than that, I don't understand why I've come away with the impression that I enjoyed this show. If we look at the trends, though, we'll see that Roswell started out with a strong pilot and went downhill quickly from there. And, with the exception of a few blips, it stayed down. But then, shockingly, the tide turned. The plot actually started progressing, and the episodes got better, so that the quality of the season finale equaled that of the pilot. In other words, the end was so good that I've apparently forgotten just how bad the middle was. If you had asked me at about episode 11 if I'd ever consider watching another season of Roswell, I would have scoffed at such a ridiculous question. But if you ask me now, I'd say I can't wait to see what happens next. Still, if a show makes you miserable but you forget about the misery, you can't really call the show good, can you?
Roswell has been billed as a cross between The X-Files and Dawson's Creek, and maybe this duality explains why I enjoyed some episodes so much but wanted to poke my eyes out with hot sticks during others. The show never found a way to truly combine the oil that is Dawson's Creek and the vinegar that is The X-Files. Every once in a while—for example, in the first of the final two episodes—it managed to mix the two elements enough to satisfy me, but mostly it failed, leaving a disparate mess that didn't know whether to focus on its teen angst or its sci-fi roots. And most of the time, it chose the angst, sacrificing quality to satisfy its WB viewers.
In the end, that's all Roswell really is—a WB show with a twist. I like the concept, but it never comes through on the delivery. The coolness of the alien side always loses out to high-school drama; the premise turns out to be nothing more than another method of tricking us into watching teenage hormones rage. If the writing were better, if the acting were any good at all, then maybe I'd have been fooled (or at least lulled into complacency), but no such luck. If you want sci-fi, watch The X-Files. If you want teen drama, watch Dawson's Creek. But don't believe there will ever exist a quality combination of the two.
I'll say this for the show, though: it's pretty. The cinematography is lovely and only enhanced by the fact that we're given 1.78:1 anamorphic versions of the episodes. If only the transfer quality were a bit better; unfortunately, enjoyment is marred by shimmering and dirt throughout.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround mix fares better, with good use of the surrounds and an appropriate subwoofer every now and then. The dialogue and music levels are balanced, and, unlike for the other aspects of this set, I don't have a single complaint.
Finally, the extras are adequate, but for a show with such rabid fans (who sent producers, directors, actors, critics, studio heads, and more bottles of Tabasco sauce—an alien favorite—when cancellation was threatened), I'd expect more. Freaks and Geeks set the bar recently, and Roswell hasn't come anywhere close. Included are:
• Six Audio Commentaries: ("Pilot" by executive
producer/writer Jason Katims and executive producer/director David Nutter,
"Blood Brother" by David Nutter, "The Balance" by
co-executive producer/writer Thania St. John, "Sexual Healing" and
"Crazy" by Shiri Appleby and Majandra Delfino, and "Destiny"
by director Patrick Norris)
The Rebuttal Witnesses
According to the packaging, this set "includes new cutting-edge songs selected by the original Roswell music team!" That's just a fancy way of saying that Fox was too cheap to pay for the rights to some of the songs included in original episodes, so they were replaced with lesser-known substitutes. In the same vein as the OAR debate, I believe the show should be left as it was when it was created. But if replacing the songs made it possible to release a show that never would have seen the DVD shelf otherwise, then I have trouble making too much of a fuss.
Even as I write this, I'm struggling to decide whether I recommend Roswell. Sure, I feel the need to watch the second season when it's released, but that's more because I need closure to the storylines, not because I think I'll enjoy it. I'd be better off if I never saw a single episode in the first place. So, although you may find some pleasure in the show, the price is too great. Stay away; don't get involved.
Yes, Roswell combined The X-Files and Dawson's Creek, but the worst elements of each. For that, the show and its creators are hereby sentenced to a Tabasco-sauce chugging contest—last one standing wins the opportunity to develop a show I won't be ashamed to admit I've watched.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary on Six Episodes by Executive Producer/Writer Jason Katims, Executive Producer/Director David Nutter, Co-Executive Producer/Writer Thania St. John, Shiri Appleby, Majandra Delfino, and Director Patrick Norris
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