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Roswell: Season One
cast: Shiri Appleby, Jason Behr, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fehr, and William Sadler

creator: Jason Katims

918 minutes (12) 1999-2000
widescreen ratio 1.77:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by John Percival
Roswell, New Mexico is where, in 1947, an alien spacecraft crashed and was covered up by the US military (allegedly). The many theories and quests for the truth have kept this mystery very much alive. Now the story of the crash has been used as the basis for a modern day teen drama. Set in the town of Roswell, this series follows the lives of three teenagers Max (Jason Behr), Isabel (Katherine Heigl) and Michael (Brendan Fehr). When there is a shooting at the local diner, one of the waitresses, Liz (Shiri Appleby) is shot, Max is compelled to help the bleeding waitress and he heals her wound. In doing so he is forced to reveal to her that he is an alien. Max, Isabel and Michael were all in the 1947 crash. Obviously as teenagers there is a little discrepancy in the timing of the three being involved in something that took place over 40 years ago, but this is overcome when Max reveals that they had been in pods, hidden away until they 'hatched' in the form of six-year-olds, 10 years ago. The three wandered around, not knowing who they were or where they were from, until they were separated from Michael and then found by a passing car. They were eventually adopted by a couple in Roswell and Michael appeared living in a trailer park as the foster son of an abusive factory worker. Ever since they have had to maintain their cover as normal teenagers and not reveal their true origins to anyone.
   I would resist from making too many comparisons of Roswell with Dawson's Creek as, while the whole teenage maelstrom is familiar territory in both, the characters in Roswell are nowhere near as annoying. The science fiction element allows for a little comedy in places as well as broadening the scope of where the story will go. However what is a story of wacky space kids is really at heart an insight into the teenage experience, where emotions and hormones run wild, people change, feel isolated, fear being rejected, have all consuming love affairs and deal with adult subjects that previously never bothered them. So in essence there is a lot of hiding stuff from parents, teenagers sucking face and of course tantrums.
   The series relies less on showcasing special effects or non-stop action, instead it is the strength of the story and the script that holds the viewer and keeps their interest. Any special effects used are appropriate to the story and are not as dominating like in Smallville perhaps. The series follows the three alien 'teens' gradually opening up to a small group of their friends, Liz, Maria and Alex. They all deal with the news in their own particular way. Of course then eventually pair off with the 'Romeo and Juliet' style romance of Max and Liz, the physical relationship of Michael and Maria, and the nervous first steps of Isabel and Alex. The alien three have to deal with other people knowing their secret and the vulnerability involved in trusting these people.
   Local Sheriff Valenti (William Sadler) is also taking an interest in the alien kids. His father believed in aliens and had a photo of a murder scene with a silver handprint on the body. Max left a silver handprint on Liz when he saved her life. Although the Sheriff does not know for certain they are aliens, he has his suspicions and ultimately ends up trying to protect them from the FBI and their alien hunters. The Sheriff is the embodiment of adult authority and not a natural ally for teenagers. The photo of the body with the silver handprint starts the alien three on a mission searching for another alien who will be able to tell them who they are. Except it appears that this alien is a killer.
   You have to remember that Roswell is curious place for three aliens to be, as it is full of amateur UFOlogists and alien wannabes. This is particularly true in the episode The Convention, which is essentially a comedy episode set against the 10th Annual Roswell UFO convention. Even the aliens dress up as aliens. Jonathon Frakes from Star Trek: The Next Generation (and who is also executive producer of Roswell) appears as himself although a little too drunk on celebrity. He is the guest of honour and suffers from the small town (lack of) organisational skills. During this there is an alien hunter in town who Valenti holds responsible for the mental breakdown of his father.
   Another standout episode is Independence Day, which has nothing to do with the film, but is about child abuse and accepting the help from friends. Michael is probably one of the more annoying characters; he is constantly defensive, storms off in a strop at the drop of hat and will rush in headfirst where most would show more caution. However this may have more to do with his home environment as his foster father Hank, is an abusive drunk who uses his fists to settle arguments. Michael's home life is unstable at best as this causes him to be jealous of his alien siblings' all-American 'apple pie' home. It is a constant source of friction especially when Michael comes to stay with Max and Isabel's family and finds his foster father has not even equipped him with the most basic manners required when with company. Embarrassed and unable to control his emotions even to the point where he displays his powers in front of a gun-wielding Hank, he can't hide behind his tough image and so Michael runs away. However Max has provided Michael with a way out, but he has to take it. Max's adoptive father is a lawyer and through the court can aid Michael in taking control and responsibility of his own life as an adult instead as a minor. This is a deeply touching episode and adds a different side to Michael and makes up for his stroppy nature.
   The rest of the season shows the trio finding out more about their origin including a fourth member of the group and her shape-shifting protector. Plus a great season cliffhanger where they find a way to learn about out how they are but if they do it then everyone who is looking for them will know where they are. The final truth is shocking and completely unexpected.
   Roswell: Season One is quite enjoyable to watch with a very compelling science fiction story. As more people find out about the alien three, the more danger they are in, but without it they will never find out who they are. A minor negative is that this is essentially a teen drama and as such most of the subjects tackled will be just a memory for the older viewers. Plus the sight of teenagers sighing and kissing every five minutes could turn even the strongest adult stomach. Still, it is a good entry into science fiction for anyone put off by the inaccessible jargon of Star Trek or Stargate SG-1. If you're bored of Buffy then Roswell will be a welcome change.
   For those who want to dig deeper, this DVD selection includes a commentary by the actors on some episodes plus Area 51 and Roswell High featurettes.
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