I know. You're probably tired of hearing it, but the single most difficult thing about Throwback Thursday is picking an episode. There has been so much good TV that deserves to be spotlighted and remembered. In the end, I narrowed it down to shows that have not previously been a part of TBT. Currently I am watching a lot of classic TV for the special edition of Last Week in TV on shows from our childhood. I really wanted to spotlight Roswell for it but I was in my late 20's when it premiered so it didn't fit. Enter this review. In the 1.5 decades since Roswell first premiered, my tastes in TV have changed a lot so I admit that I shipped Michael and Maria hard back then, while considering Max and Liz to be the drippiest couple ever to grace my TV. Mostly though I enjoyed the sci-fi elements like alien powers. Warner Brothers agreed and made huge changes around midseason and especially in season 2. By season 3, the story had fallen off the rails and Roswell's fate was sealed. No amount of passionately sent Tabasco sauce bottles could change the WB's mind. Still it remains one of the most remembered teen sci-fi shows and was often referenced when Star-Crossed made its debut. So welcome back to 1999, when a 2.6 rating gets you cancelled, Czechoslovakians become all the rage, and things are about to get freaky in Roswell, New Mexico….
The series opens with Liz Parker, a typical teenager, writing in her diary. Voiceover: "I'm Liz Parker and 5 days ago I died. After that, things got really weird." Talk about an attention grabber! Liz works at her family's alien-themed diner with her best friend Maria DeLuca, your typical wacky teen hippie. They ought to get a bonus for their ridiculous uniforms, including antennae and alien head aprons, but instead Liz cons some UFO enthusiasts with fake alien photos. It's the best acting she does all episode and they completely buy it. Also in the diner are Max Evans, Liz's science partner, and his best friend, Michael Guerin. Across the diner, a fight suddenly escalates and one man pulls a gun. In the chaos, the gun goes off, shooting Liz in the stomach. Max runs to her over Michael's objections. While Maria calls the police (on a landline) and Michael holds back the UFO nuts, Max heals the bullet wound with his hand and then breaks a ketchup bottle over her uniform to disguise the blood. Police sirens wail as Michael and Max take off, leaving a confused Liz and shocked Maria. Enter Sheriff Valenti, father of Liz's boyfriend. Sheriff looks around but isn't suspicious until the UFO lovers tell him there's no bullet and contradict Liz's story. She goes from brilliant liar to guilty-face in 3 seconds flat. Up in her room, she notices the bullet hole in her uniform as I wonder what kind of shoddy EMT's they have in Roswell. Shouldn't she have been checked out thoroughly enough to notice a bullet hole? Liz is too shocked by the giant glowing handprint on her stomach to properly dispose of her uniform so she stuffs it in her backpack. She's had a rough day.
Since this is not Teen Wolf, no near death experience keeps Liz away from her studies. Even Max shows up, albeit late. In science they just so happen to be studying cells but when the teacher requests a cheek swab, Max suddenly asks to go to the bathroom. Suspicious, Liz takes a saliva sample from Max's chewed up pencil and compares it to her own cells. They are nothing alike. A freaked out Liz pulls Max into the band room to talk after awkwardly kicking out her boyfriend, Kyle. She shows Max the body art he left on her and requests to rerun the cell test so she can stop freaking out. This is normally where something wacky would stop the conversation but Roswell's pacing is better than that. Liz: "So help me out here, Max. I mean what are you?" Max: "Well, I'm not from around here?" Liz: "Where're you from?" Max just points up, way up. In what probably would take 4 episodes today, Max confirms his alien status in the first 12 minutes - woo hoo! Liz is less excited and freaks. Max stops her and begs for her silence. "Liz, listen to me. You can't talk to anyone about this - not your parents, not Maria, no one. You don't understand what will happen if you do. Liz, please. Now my life is in your hands." Maria also freaks out because Liz is avoiding her. Their other best friend, Alex, reassures her that Liz is all right because the newspaper says so. I didn't know 90"s teens read newspapers. Maria finally tracks Liz in the bathroom and shows her the bloody order pad Liz was carrying when she got shot. Liz has no answer for her.
Max's sister Isabel is less than happy too. Michael and she ream him for using his powers in public but Max claims it's all good. After all, Isabel just used her powers in public to heat up her taco. They really flip though when Max admits he told Liz the truth. Michael is all for fleeing right then but the Evans siblings disagree. Izzy: "Michael, where are we going to go? You know Roswell's home." Michael: "Roswell's not home. It's not even our solar system." Max: "Well this is the closest thing we have to home right now." Michael: "For you two, maybe. It was you the Evans found on the side of the road, not me. They're like real parents to you. My foster dad, he just keeps me around for the monthly check." Ouch! In one statement, Michael became my favorite character. What can I say. I was more empathetic back then. Max counsels acting normal, especially when Sheriff pulls them over. He warns them to be careful but the empty Tabasco sauce containers remind him of the ones he saw at the diner. He gets even more suspicious when Kyle mentions Liz's new big, glowing hand print on her stomach. In an effort to keep Liz from spilling their secret, Max offers to "connect" with her again. Basically they mind meld and she sees the night Isabel and he were found by their adoptive parents. She also sees his crush on her and from then on these two are a googly-eyed mess. They will drip with sweetness, longing wide-eyed stares across the room, and full feeling angst for the rest of the series. Fair warning. There's a reason why the WB made them focus on the more sci-fi elements in season 2.
Alex, though is more concerned about Liz's well-being because Maria's not buying her story. Neither is Sheriff, who brings her in for questioning. He shows her a picture from 1959 of a dead man who bears a similar handprint to Liz. When he demands to see it, the handprint has disappeared. Liz is more shocked than he is. Let's just say she won't win any poker games. He directly asks about Max but she denies he was there. Rookie move, honey, especially since Sheriff has her book bag with the uniform. He gives it to a shadowy government official, who blows him off. Stevens: "I have a flying saucer sighting in Phoenix and an accountant in Barstow who thinks he's Jesus. Both cases are more solid than this one." Ha! He also hints at Sheriff's background. His dad chased aliens too and was the one who found the handprint body in the 50's. Although Agent Stevens says they'll handle it, Sheriff is not giving up. He wants to prove his dad was not crazy. Meanwhile Liz confronts Max again. He explains why he's a teen when his ship crashed in the 40's and shows off his neat molecular manipulation power. Basically they can move molecules to change things, which is how he dissolved the bullet in Liz. He also spills the beans on Isabel and Michael and says not even his parents know. Max: "We don't tell anyone. We sort of think our lives depend on it." Because they do. He freaks when Liz stops burying the lead, telling him that Sheriff suspects him AND there's another alien walking around somewhere. It's his turn to flee the room. He picks up Izzy and then Michael, who is far more excited about hearing they aren't alone than either of the Evans siblings. Michael: "So then there's hope. I mean if we can find him, he can tell us where we came from, what we are…" Isabel: "Michael, calm down. We had one potential relative 40 years ago. All we know about him is he was a potential killer." Good point. Let's just say he won't be the answer they are looking for.
Maria, however, resorts to threats. Either Liz starts talking or she'll go to Sheriff. Be careful what you wish for, Maria. Let's just say she doesn't take the news well. Marie: "Where does this leave me? I can't be a wacky friend to someone who's already wacky. It would be like redundant.." Liz: "Maria, you're babbling right now." Maria: "I think I've earned the right to babble, alright, so just deal with it." Ha! Liz is more concerned about Max and when she sees his Jeep, she leans over Maria and grabs the wheel to turn around. Maria thinks Liz is nuts. Liz: "Please just catch them." Maria: "Catch them? Liz, we're in a Jetta." Bwah! They corner the alien trio in an alley while Maria learns about Michael and Isabel. She promises not to tell but Michael demands that they move their car. Liz: "I really don't think that you should try to leave. It's just gonna show people that you're guilty." Michael: "Guilty of what? Saving your life?" Max decides to turn himself in to Sheriff but Isabel refuses to let him so she agrees to Liz's idiotic plan. It's Teen Wolf Plan A level idiocy, but it gets the 5 working together. The gist is that they all go to the Crash Festival and pretend Maria is attacked by an "alien" complete with painted on handprint. Sheriff, who has Max in his custody, sees the alien and chases it down after making sure Maria is okay. By the time he sees the alien in the crowd, it is his son's costume. Yes, it's not a good plan, especially since the paint comes off on Sheriff's hand, but in their defense they didn't have much time to create it. Sheriff does release Max though since he has no proof that Max did something or is something and parents don't take kindly to their kids being arrested for no reason. The episode ends with the alien trio looking sadly on the mockup of the alien crash the town is celebrating. Until Max sees Liz that is. Then they make their vow of eternal estrangement because the world is much too dangerous for their love. Oh brother.
The best things about this pilot is that the pacing moves quickly. It starts with a hook and breezes through plot that would take a lesser show 4 episodes to get through. I was pleasantly surprised when it first aired that it not only took Liz less than an episode to learn the truth, but the same was true for Marie too. Another episode of Liz hiding things from Maria would have been painful. It is already painful enough to go 8 episodes with Alex not knowing. By moving the pace so swiftly, the sci-fi elements of the plot get the attention they deserve and are the most enjoyable. I really like the alien trio. I'm a sucker for created families and these guys have more reason to protect each other than most. Sometimes they want to kill each other but they are always loyal. Another plus is that they use their alien powers so casually. Izzy playing the CD in her palm always makes me laugh. Still a hero is only as good as his villain so a special shout out to Sheriff Valenti too. Sure, his handcuffing Max makes zero sense and his dodged pursuit of aliens is only partially explained by his father's history in the pilot. Still he brings a needed urgency to the pilot, especially when he reveals his shadowy government agency connections that every alien story seems to need. In many ways, he's the anti-Sheriff Stilinski at this point. He knows something is off and he's going to use everything in his power to take down Max.
Probably the biggest issue I have with the pilot is Maria. I forgot how much I disliked her in the first couple of episodes until she toned down and I grew to love her. Since Maria is my second favorite character, it physically pains me to see her so obnoxious here. Still she has some great moments too. I like the little things about her like how she steps back when Michael confronts them. I also love every line she has about the Jetta. Small parts of her spirit shine through in the pilot, but she gets much, much better as the series goes on. My second biggest issue is why most people remember the show at all - Max and Liz. The love triangle and endless, emoangsty gazing were always a downer for me. However I didn't find Shiri Appleby's performance any better or worse than the others in the pilot so that's probably the biggest change. I still remember Television without Pity calling her the Lizbot 2000. For me the worst acting here is Max's ever present dewy eyes. The boy looks like he's going to make like Bambi or cry in almost every scene. The journal construct with the voiceovers also gets tiring, especially as the season progresses, although it makes for quite the opener. I still don't see how they could ever think anyone was going to buy the alien costume though.
Roswell holds up surprisingly well for a show that is over 1.5 decades old and deals with science fiction. That's not usually a forgiving genre. It helps that the pilot had very few special effects and it dealt mostly with universal themes. You don't have to be an alien to feel alienated from others and a desire to fit in and find others like you is universal.
You Can Find It
- on Netflix streaming, Amazon Prime, and Hulu subscription
Best Reason to Watch - the compelling story of 3 teenage aliens trying to make it in the world
Best Scene - Max rescues Liz
Best Reason to Flash Forward - the sappy ending with Max and Liz
Best Opening - Liz saying that she died 5 days earlier (even if not technically true)
Best Reason to Freak Out - either silver stomach handprint or that a kid in school is an alien
Best Moment - Liz physically turns Maria's jaw so she's looking back at the road while she drives
Best Silent Conversation - Maria and Liz when Liz is showing the fake alien picture to the tourists
Best Cameo - Jonathan Frakes
Best Backstory - Max and Isabel found by the Evans
Best Reaction - the alien trio to watching the fake alien ship crash in the celebration
Best Nostalgia - the music, especially Crash into Me by Dave Matthews Band / the Jetta
Worst Nostalgia - Beavis and Butthead
Worst Liar - Liz, who doesn't even try to make up an excuse to explain the silver handprint to Kyle
Worst Plan - trying to trick Sheriff / making this more about romance than the sci-fi plot in places
Worst Girlfriend - Liz, who pretty much uses Kyle shamelessly. While he's going to deserve it later in the season, I felt bad for him in the pilot.
Biggest Huh? - How come Max didn't leave glowing handprints on the sides of Liz's head when he mind melds with her again?
Biggest Science Nerd - Liz, who studies DNA from Max's pencil
Most Embarrassing - the diner outfits
Most Awkward - Liz asks her boyfriend if he feels things when he's with her
Most Missed - Liz's conversation with Maria about aliens among us, although from the aftermath it's clear it did not go well
Smartest Move - Max doesn't panic when the sheriff pulls them over
The "Say What?" Award - If I had a huge glowing handprint on my torso and I didn't want anyone to see it, the last thing I would be wearing is a crop top. Come on, Liz.
The "Welcome Back" Award - Shiri Appleby, now on UnREAL / Jason Behr from Dawson's Creek / Katherine Heigl last seen on State of Affairs / Majandra Delfino from Friends with Better Lives / Brendan Fehr from The Night Shift / Colin Hanks currently on Life in Pieces / Nick Wechsler from Revenge / William Sadler from SHIELD and Hawaii Five-0 / Kevin Weisman from Scorpion and The Blacklist / Richard Schiff from The West Wing / Jonathan Frakes from Star Trek: Next Generation
1. Liz: "Please just catch them." Maria: "Catch them? Liz, we're in a Jetta."
2. Max: "Aren't you gonna read me my rights?" Sheriff: "Do you have any?"
3. Voiceover: "I'm Liz Parker and 5 days ago I died. After that, things got really weird."
4. Maria: "Okay, I know my mom's car doesn't look like much, but not destroying it is the key to my and my mother's relationship, okay?"
5. Stevens: "I have a flying saucer sighting in Phoenix and an accountant in Barstow who thinks he's Jesus. Both cases are more solid than this one."
6. Marie: "Where does this leave me? I can't be a wacky friend to someone who's already wacky. It would be like redundant.."
7. Isabel: "Where's your stuff?" Michael: "I'm wearing it."
8. Max: "You use your powers all the time." Izzy: "Recreationally."
9. Izzy: "I can't believe this Max. You know I finally feel like I have a quasi-normal existence and you blow it all with one random act of lunacy. How did you let my misguided brother do this?" Michael: "'Hey don't turn this around on me. I'm not the one who thinks he's a superhero."
10. Liz: "So help me out here, Max. What are you?" Max: "Well, I'm not from around here?"
Screencaps by The Crashdown
, Antar82, Pop Goes the Reader
, DDD Net
, and Fanpop