Judge Brett Cullum insists that this purported "DVD" is actually a weather balloon.
Max: Why do you need to tell him?
Roswell has a lot of fans out there, and the DVDs seem to be selling well. I'm tired of playing the elitist critic, and figure I might as well drop my mask and admit I really like the show. It rests on a basic magical metaphor about teenagers feeling alienated, and turns its youthful protagonists into intergalactic beings from a planet called Antar. Roswell: The Complete Third Season (The Final Chapter) is the final DVD set from the alien high schoolers of New Mexico. Does it measure up to previous offerings? It's a mixed bag in terms of content and DVD extras, but it should please the fans and complete their collection of the show. Get out your Snapple and Tabasco sauce, and let's get ready to look at the sweet and spicy last chapter in the Roswell saga.
Facts of the Case
Roswell: The Complete Third Season (The Final Chapter) presents the last eighteen shows of the series. Max (Jason Behr, The Grudge), Isabel (Katherine Heigl, Grey's Anatomy), and Michael (Brendan Fehr, Sugar) are still on Earth; the evil Tess (Emilie de Ravin, Lost) is back home on Antar giving birth to Max's son. This leaves the door open for Max and Liz (Shiri Appleby, Swimfan) to once again resume their interspecies love affair. The lovestruck pair soon find themselves in "Bonnie and Clyde" mode as they search for clues on how to contact Max's son. Everything comes to a head when the teen lovers hold up a convenience store that is a front for an FBI alien storage center, and end up in the slammer. Liz's parents promptly forbid her from seeing Max ever again—or else she'll be sent to boarding school—and Max's parents ask him to tell the truth about what he's doing or leave their house. Max decides to shack up with Michael to avoid having to tell his parents what's really going on, but his suspicious father begins his own investigation. Meanwhile, Isabel has fallen in love with a young lawyer, Jesse Ramirez (Adam Rodriguez, CSI: Miami), who works for her father's firm. They've been secretly dating, and soon are engaged. Michael and Maria (Majandra Delfino, Traffic) reach a stalemate in their ongoing relationship, and the two contemplate breaking up. Maria dreams of a life free of the "alien invasion" where she can pursue her love of music. Will Max and Liz end up together? Will Max find his son? Will Isabel be able to keep Jesse in the dark about the alien side of her family? Will Michael ever admit he truly and deeply loves Maria?
I was completely charmed when I saw the pilot for Roswell; it became a show I truly enjoyed throughout its entire run. Everyone feels like an alien in high school, and the idea of making teens real aliens was inspired. Many hardcore science fiction fans turned up their noses at the show, which was actually based on a series of teen romance novels. Well, those nay-sayers missed out on a show that melded the best of the genre with the WB template: attractive young casts going through dramatic turns to find out who they are. It addressed what all good sci fi does—what it means to be human. Unfortunately, it was smart but ignored. There was a glut of these shows on the networks when Roswell ran, and it was unfairly lost in a sea of Dawson's Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer clones. Teen movies may have died in the '80s, but television shows aimed at the pubescent market were plentiful in the show's era. It had a hardcore, loyal fanbase, but it never captured the numbers networks live and die by.
The third season of Roswell was a hard time for the show. The cast was dumbstruck to find out their series had been sold to UPN by the WB, and would continue for another year following Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was also switching affiliations. The show had faced cancellation every step of the way, and the young actors were hoping to branch out into new projects in film and music. In the second season, Colin Hanks (Orange County, son of Tom) had been released from his contract due to too many opportunities to expand his career, and his character was killed off. Turmoil marked the second season, as people dated each other and experienced very public on-set break-ups and different matchings. But in the end, the cast buckled down and decided to gamely move forward despite their aspirations to be away from the show and each other.
The writers were also struggling to redefine the show in its final season. In the show's second season, the WB had demanded a retooling of the science fiction drama to be more similar to hits like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. They had spent time developing alien threats of the week, like the "Skins" and the "Dupes," but now, with the move to UPN, they were free to go back in a more emotionally-centered direction with the series. They were also free of the restraints imposed on them by the WB censors, and could go a little further exploring sexuality and bad behavior. It was time for Roswell to grow up, and series creator Jason Katims (My So Called Life) decided to move the show into more adult territory. The results were images of Liz brandishing a gun in the store robbery, a more sexually active life for all the characters, and the ability to curse and drink alcohol.
It took Roswell a good half-season to find sure footing on the new network, but once they settled in, the show trucked along nicely. Despite some continuity issues, the series seemed to return to form, with Max and Liz once again constituting the hub around which the stories revolved. An amazing list of guest stars cropped up, including the return of Emilie de Ravin (for two episodes), Colin Hanks (for one), Morgan Fairchild (Knuckle Sandwich), Terry O'Quinn (Lost), Missi Pyle (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Joe Pantoliano (Daredevil), and Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: Nemesis). All in all, it was a strong season that finished off the series on a high note. Wisely, Katims and his creative team left us wanting more, leaving us with some interesting twists that showed us where the story could have gone.
The DVD presentation is a little disappointing—it is lighter on extras than previous editions in the series. We get four commentaries and a couple of featurettes. The commentary tracks are fun and informative, including two sessions with director/producer Jonathan Frakes, one mid-season track from writer/producer Ronald Moore, and one from series creator Jason Katims on the finale. Katims gives us the most insight about the pressures the cast and crew faced. He candidly admits to the show's shortcomings, notes where he could have made improvements, and gives credit where it is due for its strengths. I found the two tracks from Star Trek alum Jonathan Frakes a little dry. He does reference some Trek trivia in them, so they may interest Trekkies. Moore's track is entertaining; he recalls the episode where they spoofed Bewitched by having Isabel imagine she was in a sitcom named "I Married an Alien" (one of the stand-out episodes in the series). The two short featurettes include the cast and crew discussing the final season for about ten minutes, and then a random segment featuring Shiri Appleby traveling to Japan to pimp the first season DVDs in Godzilla territory. It's the "Hello Kitty" treatment—cute and fluffy.
Transfers are widescreen, and quite strong. Fox has done such good work with bringing television to DVD; they know how to make it look more cinematic than when it airs in syndication. I tried to watch some Season Three episodes on the SciFi channel, and found the presentations there lacking when compared to these almost-reference-quality prints of the series. There's hardly a hitch to be found, other than some grain and minimal edge enhancement. The colors pop, the flesh tones are correct, and the black levels are clear. The soundtrack is delivered in a stirring surround track that really kicks in with the special effects. This show has been treated very well in the technical aspects.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of course there is some bad news about the presentation. Roswell: The Complete Third Season (The Final Chapter) features "exciting new tracks picked by the show's music supervisors"—which means they didn't bother to get the rights to most of the cutting-edge musical tracks that were featured in the original broadcasts of the series. They play slice-and-dice, adding generic rock in almost every episode found here. As a fan of the original tracks, I find it makes the show lose some of its freshness and hip appeal. But I guess it keeps the price point low.
The continuity between this season and the last is a little strange. No mention is ever made of what happened to villains like the "Skins" or "Dupes," and Sean DeLuca disappears without a trace along with Maria's mother. Isabel seems to get over the death of Alex all too easily, and is headed towards nuptials with Jesse a little too fast. It was great to see the cast stretching into more adult territory, but Max and Liz going gangster in the season opener seemed out of character for both kids. The show lost some of its ensemble charm, as episodes seemed to center on one or two of them without the rest of the gang being involved in the slightest. The Valentis are criminally underused as Bill Sadler (Demon Knight) and Nick Wechsler (Chicks, Man) aimlessly wander around providing comic relief now and then. Thankfully the finale brings them all together for one last hurrah, but it's a long road to get there.
Roswell hooked me from the very first episode, which was one of the most brilliant pilots I've ever seen. After three seasons it was time to let the show rest, since it was running without a committed cast or concrete plot direction. Still, the episodes that make up Roswell: The Complete Third Season (The Final Chapter) are fine entertainment that bring the narrative to a strong close. The finale almost reaches the promise of the pilot, with Max making an appeal for acceptance to the entire Senior Class at a moving and tense graduation ceremony. The cast was about to move on to bigger and better projects, and I was happy to see them get the ending they deserved. So many shows cruelly disappear into the wasteland of lost television shows; at least this one got a proper send off. I'm a fan, and Roswell had a perfect mix of science fiction and teen angst rarely attempted or seen on the tube. It was smart television for a hip audience. The show ultimately was trumped by another alien teen struggling with his identity in high school when Smallville hit the air. But while it lasted, Roswell was the place to be if you were searching for a place where a band of outsiders with superpowers found that with family and friends all things were possible. I hope Max, Michael, and Isabel found happiness with each other, and always stayed one step ahead of the government. I'll miss them.
Guilty of being wildly addictive and fun, Roswell: The Complete Third Season (The Final Chapter) is free to go straight onto the shelves of fans all over the world. The idea of teenagers as aliens is hardly new, but Jason Katims found a way to make it feel like a breath of fresh air.
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• Commentary on "Secrets and Lies" and "Behind the Music" by Producer/Director Jonathan Frakes
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