Roswell (“Leaving Normal”)

Season 1, Episode 4
Date of airing: October 27, 1999 (WB)
Nielsen ratings information: 2.9/4 in Households

This episode was quite alright. I understand now why the ratings of ROSWELL were dismal for the expectations of The WB, after the pilot apparently tested so sky-high — there is just a little too much teenage romance in a show that has a premise involving aliens, as well as a large portion of science-fiction background and story. To be honest, I’m not as interested in the show after four episodes than I was before I started watching it for the hell of it (and nostalgia), and maybe that’s one of the reasons why I never followed the show like a true TV geek when it first aired on German TV, even though I was totally in the target audience back then. At the end of the day the writers may have focused on things the viewers did not want to see, and a teenage soap opera was anything but the target audience was interested in. They wanted aliens, and not another DAWSON’S CREEK, and it’s something I don’t want either. Give me aliens and tense storytelling and situations in which the characters have to fear for their lives. When I want romance, I can rewatch DAWSON’S CREEK.

Grandma is making teenage friends before her death.

I must say I liked the emotional drama coming out of Grandma’s situation though, despite my feelings for the ridiculousness of the story. Maybe I watch too much ER, but seeing Grandma all about and healthy at the beginning of the episode, yet she died at the end, seemed very off for me. Grandma could have had a guest appearance in the next episode, and Jason Katims could have killed her off then, giving her character an opportunity to have an impact with the other characters before going into the light on her way to the afterlife. Liz is already not active with her parents, and seeing her talk about her life with a family member was a nice thing to write into the script, but the thing is that Liz doesn’t have a back story as a family member, which pulled a lot of significance out of her scenes with her dying grandma. Grandma’s death brought some nice emotions out of Liz at the end of the day, and even though it was just a plot device to get her closer to Max and grow that romance plot in this alien science-fiction show, I was about to lose a little tear, when Max tried to help Liz say goodbye, and actually succeeded (did he know he succeeded before Grandma showed up?), and I was about to lose a tear when Liz went back to Max in the final scene, getting her much-needed hug and warmth from another person.

Also, I’m happy that the break-up between Liz and Kyle already happened in the fourth episode. Now I don’t know what good Kyle will be for the rest of the season, but it was an unexpected twist, albeit a deserved one after he turned out to be one hell of a creep in this hour. Finally there is a high school girl on broadcast television who instantly broke up with her boyfriend, after she learned he and his goons of friends attacked one of her friends (over in Newport Beach, Marissa needed a while to get rid of Luke). Usually, most, if not all, teenage soaps keep the couple together, simply for the future conflicts between the girl’s boyfriend and the girl’s true soulmate. I do hope though that the break-up will have repercussions. If Kyle is stupid, and I know he is stupid, he will blame Max for what just happened to him. And conflict between Kyle and Max, as cliched as it might be, would do the show some good. When you need some tension for the narrative, it doesn’t need science-fiction elements in it. Sometimes tension can be created in a teenage soap opera, as long as you don’t focus on the romance of it all.

Isabel’s dress-up for the night comes close to her heritage.

Isabel working at the Crashdown Cafe was the highlight of the episode for me, and I was laughing, when her two BFFs sounded (and looked) like they were just jumping out of GOSSIP GIRL, travelling back about seven years in time, and decided to hang around in Roswell to criticize every other person not wearing chic clothes. “Image is everything” — I could have given those girls a bitchslap for that comment alone, because it was so cliched and horrible. But whatever. Isabel helping out Maria was a moment to make her more approachable as a character, and to somehow form the band of friends between the aliens and Liz and Maria.

Sadly, Isabel didn’t have much screentime to make it count and create that friendship with Maria. Thankfully Michael didn’t have a lot of screentime either, since his “revenge plan” against the guys who beat up Max was just too stupid for the show. First of all, it was a cliche that Michael would go after the boys by ruining their work at school, and secondly, it was to be expected that Michael would go down that route and be less conspicuous about it, and thirdly, I just hate it when Michael isn’t listening to his friends and family. Apparently he doesn’t consider Max a brother, or otherwise he would have listened to him and stop going after the guys. It makes Michael more of an aggressive character, which is intended (to create the perception that he might be a villain), but I don’t like the aggression he shows. At the end, Michael is just another bully — a bully from the stars, but he is a bully, and I hate bullies. I’m like Steve Rogers in that regard.

Roswell (“Monsters”)

Season 1, Episode 3
Date of airing: October 20, 1999 (WB)
Nielsen ratings information: 3.5/5 in Households

This episode shows how to waste time and focus on the characters in the same hour of television. The story arcs didn’t go anywhere and the writers knew that not speeding forward with the big mystery arc was the thing to do for the first few episodes of the season, because this episode was focused on making Maria the carrier of some heavy secrets and depth to her character arc, and answers the question if the two people who know about the Evanses and Michael’s heritage can be trusted with even more secrets from here on. This episode answered the question whether or not Maria can accept extraterrestrials existing on this planet, going to her school being friends with her BFF. In this regard, the story did go a little forward, because from here on, Liz and Maria are able to learn new secrets (now that the Evanses and Michael can trust Maria), and be involved in the lives of the second generation of aliens (or third generation?), but considering that the actual stories didn’t go forward here, I really doubt that Liz and Maria are going to be involved in anything in the near future. Maybe they will only be involved in stories that develop their characters, which is also the right thing to do during the first couple of episodes.

Why does a teenager run the scheduling of a smalltown cafe?

I very much liked Maria in this episode. Confused, scared, emotional, suffering from horrific nightmares, not knowing what she is doing, not knowing whom to trust or where she will go. The latter fit well with the “Future Week” theme of the episode, and even though the ending was both expected (if Maria would have cracked, the crap would have hit the fan pretty massively in the next episode), it gave a nice closure to Maria’s first character arc, as well as giving insights into her emotional range (there is a reason why her dreams were depicted here). However, I didn’t like Isabel in this episode. She knew what Maria was going through, and she knew her secret was not quite safe with the girls suffering from monster nightmares, yet she purposely screwed with Maria’s head even more by showing up in her dreams and making her even more confused and worried about the whole situation. Isabel really didn’t help at all, and I wonder how easy Maria would have lied to Sheriff Valenti, if she wouldn’t have had Isabel in the back of her mind for the entire time. I know that this story was needed to bring Maria into the group of friends, to let her have more than one BFF, but it was a forced friendship, and one that wasn’t even necessary after three episodes. Maria’s fears were enough to carry the story — building a friendship especially with Isabel could have been a separated story. I already know that Isabel is not the easiest person to hang around with, so making friends with her is especially difficult, so it should have been a separated story arc.

In the meantime, the “Future Week” story arc didn’t really bring a lot, except more of Julie Benz who will continue to either just be a guidance counsellor or more than that. Liz already knows what she wants to do, Alex thinks it’s a waste of time, Isabel didn’t care about any of this (though I found it interesting that her result might have led to something unexpected — it almost sounded like Isabel is destined to be a social worker), and Max was developed with character traits that I already knew were part of his development. The ‘hiding behind the tree’ moment was great of course, because I could resonate on every level, but it wasn’t needed in this episode, since it’s already known that Max is quiet and hiding behind everything, considering his secrets, carrying a heavy burden. I didn’t need a guidance counsellor to figure that out, and Max didn’t need a guidance counsellor to make a move toward Liz. He already made his move when he was saving her life in the pilot and when he was telling her the truth about himself. That’s a huge step forward for a shy character, and no one should expect to do another huge step only two episodes later.

Up there are all the government secrets that were published in book.

Max trying to find out more about 1959 was a small side arc that managed to do what it wanted to do and nothing more. The UFO museum was a little creepy of course (maybe a little too creepy for the authenticity of the show’s premise), but the writers opened up a way to bring Max deeper into his own heritage, even when the heritage was written by a different species and can’t be considered serious at the moment. Anyway, the story was a nice entry way for Max to accept who he is, and to look for answers to the questions he asked behind the trees ever since, and for that, the story was good. He started listening to Michael, he started getting hungry for information, and he started preparing himself to be engulfed in this conspiracy that will have him chase ghosts and all the people who want to see aliens dead.

Roswell (“The Morning After”)

Season 1, Episode 2
Date of airing: October 13, 1999 (WB)
Nielsen ratings information: 5.44 million viewers, 3.5/5 in Households, 2.3/6 with Adults 18-49

It was an alright-ish episode with a sometimes very ludicrous plot. Just because Topolsky is a new character in town and asking questions, it doesn’t necessarily mean she is an alien hunter. I was expecting from the beginning that she was rather interested in finding out why Michael wasn’t in school, and considering that Michael is in general a very aggressive character, it only seemed logical that he would skip school every once in a while, leading Topolsky into action. I definitely understood why every teenager connected to alien heritage in some form or another grew panic and paranoid with her arrival, but at times this craziness became a little too much for me to handle, especially when romance got involved with it and Liz and Max found themselves in the eraser room — not to make out, but to keep watch and spy on the guidance counsellor who is apparently spying on potential aliens, or simply just on unsuspecting teens. Two things were very awkward though: Why would she pose as a substitute teacher in the beginning, and why would she meet with Sheriff Valenti midway through the episode? Were these two scenes red herrings from the writers for the audience, or is there really something behind Topolsky and her work at the school? Yeah, the story was a little dumb, but we are dealing with teenagers here, and they often see a little more behind certain things than their puny little minds can handle.

Wanna buy some cookies for charity?

Another thing was a bit ludicrous though, and this time for real: The FBI has evidence that Liz’s uniform was bloodied, and it clearly had a bullet hole, as established in the pilot, which is evidence all by itself (although you could explain it away as a cut from the ketchup bottle which broke). My question is, why would the FBI not investigate Liz’s life, her surroundings, her friends, or even go as far as spying on her (which they might do already via JULIE BENZ?). After all, she apparently got into contact with a miraculous wonder that brought her back to life — why would the FBI be interested in Valenti’s files and the 1959 murder? Why would the FBI even think that Valenti has files that deal with the paranormal and alien-like cases? It’s not like Valenti brought the FBI into the case in the previous episode because paranormal things happen in Roswell, but because of the shooting. There is absolutely no reason for the FBI to believe that Valenti has a whole stack of unsolved cases that are connected to paranormal events. Okay, maybe the 1959 corpse picture had something to do with Valenti silently and metaphorically getting his butt kicked by the FBI, but did the FBI ever see that picture? Was Valenti really interested in showing the FBI a connection between the shooting and the 1959 picture? After all, Valenti was more after Max because of his intuition, and not because he had evidence, so connecting these two cases was rather a long shot. And the FBI would have probably said the same. Then again, this is a television show and the writers were working with conveniences to advance the plot.

The rest of the episode was okay. Liz and Max are still cute when with each other, and their time spent in the eraser room was time well spent when it comes to getting the two together in a romantic fashion. They got a little closer, they shared a few more emotions, and they were in the middle of a conspiracy — or so they thought. Their time at Michael’s place in Max’s car though was stupid, especially from Kyle’s point of view. The suggested blowjob moment was just dumb comedy, and I was already wondering how stupid Kyle would have been in that moment, thinking that Liz would go to third base with Max in the car, out in the open, in the middle of a trailer park. Also, how was Topolsky not able to hear the kids in the background? They were far too loud in a neighborhood too quiet to be overheard.

It’s a happy family in Smalltown, America.

In addition to all that, Kyle is still a pretty dumb character, and he is still on number one of my wish list of people getting killed off after half a season. This episode established that his relationship with Liz was a summer thing and casual (it didn’t sound like that in the pilot), and Kyle is a jock, so why would he continue to go after Liz, and even go so far as being jealous of Max, when he could have every other attractive chick in school? I wouldn’t even think about that, if this episode wouldn’t have defined their relationship as casual, but Jason Katims must have had a reason for that. And it seriously doesn’t help to make Kyle a more sympathetic character, as he is following Liz for no reason than keeping his libido up. But I know it was intended. To ship Liz and Max, Liz’s current boyfriend has to be an ass — and he is a great ass, considering that his father also has an adversarial status in this show right now.

The thing with the key… unexplainable, because it’s a mystery. The same goes with Michael having visions when he touched the key. The only thing it showed is that the writers instantly knew what to do with the alien characters from the beginning. Okay, Isabel might have nothing to do at this point (except having dates and be attractive to flirt with the Sheriff), but the first two hours of ROSWELL establish a nice little mystery, and the characters are instantly involved, which is a good thing. I hope it remains a good thing, when the story is more developed after a few episodes. Because I really wouldn’t know where the key would lead the heroes to. It’s a key, what could it lead to? More paper material giving the characters information, or even an alien artefact hidden in a locked closet, leading to another mystery that needs episodes to be resolved?

Roswell (“Pilot”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: October 6, 1999 (WB)
Nielsen ratings information: 6.71 million viewers, 4.9/8 in Households, 3.0/8 with Adults 18-49

I remember when the show first aired on German television, I was intrigued from the beginning. Aliens and storylines for the teenager in me (I was 14 years old), so I was perfectly part of the target audience. Of course I had to like the show from the beginning, and as expected I did, although I never really got most of ROSWELL throughout the show’s run. I didn’t even watch all episodes of the first season, and I remember giving up the show quite quickly during its second season, only watching the season premiere of the third season. So, yeah, ROSWELL was deep in my mind during the show’s German premiere, but then out of my mind again and I can only remember a couple of key elements from the show, which means I am basically watching the show with new eyes now. I’m 33 years old now (not a teenager at all, but still with the mind of one), and a very emotional and depressed human being as well. I’m still sort of in the target audience, but I’m not sure whether I’m “teen-angsty” enough to get everything ROSWELL has to offer for my thirtysomething’s mind.

I can understand why the pilot was one of the highest tested pilots ever. It had some nice production values, the premise is interesting even for today’s standard (hence the reboot series on The CW, which I only can get into when I’m through all three seasons of this show), and the hidden love story between Max and Liz is intriguingly to watch, because it’s not a simple love story as seen in any movie or television show. A human and an alien fall in love, but they can’t share the love for oh so many reasons. Of course it’s not only the ongoing arc of the whole series, but it’s also an interesting arc in general. What would happen if Liz and Max were actually dating? What if they would have children? What would happen to them emotionally, when Max’s secret is out? How would Liz be seen in the world, when she is dating, or married, or having kids with Max? Try to answer those questions in a serious take on the Roswell history on broadcast television, and you might actually have an interesting TV drama for a decade or two. Sadly (maybe it’s fortunate) it never came to that and ROSWELL was history before it could make actual television history. It had the chance to be as accepted as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER was, but I guess Jason Katims wasn’t as good a writer in the late 90s and early 2000s to make ROSWELL the television show to watch, the zeitgeist science-fiction teenage drama for the kids to talk about during lunch break at school.

Max signals that his origins lie further North than Canada.

The pilot was solid work, but I surely wouldn’t consider it one of the high-standard pilots of the TV season 1999. Okay, I have difficulties to remember pilots of that fall, but compared to previous seasons’ pilots, ROSWELL was nothing more than an interesting take on a well-known premise, stuck in a teenage drama on a broadcast network that revived that exact genre for a specific audience, especially connected with the medium of fantasy. The thing is just that some elements of this pilot just don’t make sense in hindsight. Why would Sheriff Valenti be so interested in Max when he clearly didn’t do anything that has to do with the shooting? Why would he be interested in Max when he had a shooter to hunt down? Why would he seriously believe that Max did something extraordinary to Liz? It seems very convenient for Katims’ script that Sheriff Valenti is after Max, so that the danger can be felt immediately, and Max, Michael and Isabel are running from danger from the get-go, without ever breathing and without ever getting the opportunity to live a life as central characters on a television show. I wouldn’t have written it like that at all, especially since Valenti did not come over well as Sheriff, having focused so much on Max instead of trying to investigate the very crime that did in fact happen at the cafe (someone used a firearm, which is more illegal than whatever secret Max was keeping). I would have slowly brought Valenti on Max’s path, making it an ongoing arc throughout half a dozen episodes, and have the first conflict after a few hours, and not immediately after 30 minutes. I know, it would have meant slow storytelling and it would have frustrated the viewers, but that’s what writers are paid for: Make up stuff to stall time. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so wrong to focus on the characters first and make Valenti versus Max an ongoing threat, which would eventually be the first real threat for the aliens. But it happened in this episode already, without having been properly introduced to the characters first. All of this means though that the teenagers will be facing a different threat in upcoming episodes and Valenti was pretty much just the warm-up act.

After one hour, I seem to know more about Liz (thanks to her inner monologue) and Max (thanks to his withdrawn attitude, which reminds me of my own) than about anything else. I only saw Liz’s father in one scene, and I didn’t see anything of Max and Isabel’s parents at all, and they have been mentioned once (so was Michael’s adoptive father). Considering the aliens are the tentpole of this show, Katims should have depicted their family life in the first episode, to give the audience an instant feeling how their lives really are, to introduce them as humans, too, instead of just having them be aliens in human form. After the pilot, some might think that Max, Michael and Isabel were running away from things throughout their whole lives, but in fact they had a peaceful life. Until now at least. That’s always a problem in high-profile broadcast TV pilots these days: Not enough character work, too much story. And I always have to bitch about it, because I don’t care so much about the story than the characters. The story is allowed to be thin when the characters are fully fleshed out, but ROSWELL’s pilot managed to give me all the story I could handle, but barely anything about the characters.

There are a few other noteworthy things: When Valenti wanted to see the hand print on Liz’s stomach, I immediately had to think about the movies COMPLIANCE and BOMBSHELL, let alone the #MeToo era in general. I was laughing a bit at first before cringing myself under the blanket, because that’s how sexual harassment starts, and I was wondering for a few seconds why Liz didn’t even think about not showing Valenti her stomach, considering the issue of intimacy here. And how his eyes went from her stomach up to her face… Yeah, in today’s day and age, the scene would have been interpreted in a very negative way, so maybe Katims was lucky that he happened to write this in 1999 and that the show aired in the twentieth century. This scene would not have gotten over well with the audience 20 years later.

Silver paint is hard to get off, so the Sheriff is extra bitchy here.

Also, Kyle is one dick of a boyfriend, and I know this without having to know him. His look and his behavior in his very few seconds (sunglasses! A jealous demeanor!) suggest that he is not a good person to hang around with, and that he doesn’t even deserve somebody like Liz in his life. He is like Luke of THE O.C. — a character who isn’t instantly connected to the main story arc (so is Alex, but he is excused, because he is friends with both Liz and Maria), and a character that most likely has to be forced into the story, which would make his whole existence more inconsistent. In addition, the appearance of Richard Schiff confused me a bit, even though it shouldn’t have. Apparently there was a lot of time for him to appear in this pilot while shooting THE WEST WING at the same time, but it does remind me that the guy was hunting down TV pilots to star in, in the hopes to get a regular role out of any of them. Because isn’t that what actors go through each and every year?

And finally, Jonathan Frakes’ cameo was the icing on the cake. Interesting is that he was never fully seen — I only recognized him through his beard. But unfortunately, his cameo means absolutely nothing but pleasing the science-fiction audience of ROSWELL. It’s about aliens, so why not putting a bit of Star Trek into it, because it’s the mother of all science-fiction? On the other hand, I was actually glad that ROSWELL didn’t associate itself with other works of science-fiction. There could have been endless moments to parody a couple of monster and alien movies, or bring the typical Hollywood aliens into the mix. The crash party at the end would have been perfect for little green men, and E.T.s crashing not only the fake ship, but also the party, and figures from Star Wars, or even a Kirk or Spock here and there. But I was blind, apparently, because I didn’t see any of them.

Yeah, it was a solid pilot. In 2000, it was a revelation for me. 19 years ago, I was the target audience, today I’m just a lonely and depressed television armchair critic who no one cares about. Thankfully I don’t care about that bit, and I can just go time travel with ROSWELL and think about what I would have thought about it 19 years ago.