Review for Roswell - Season 1-3
The teenager may have been invented in the 1950s, but television didn’t recognise that fact for forty years. It was only then that teens were catered for as a demographic, with straight drama like Dawson’s Creek, and genre shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, and Supernatural. It took me a little while to get with the programme. I couldn’t take a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer seriously until I had actually watched it. But once I realised just how entertaining and appealing these shows could be, I became hooked. I also have prior when it comes to choosing shows to watch. I tend to pick those shows that fall at the first hurdle. My favourite teen sci-fi drama wasn’t just cancelled once; it was cancelled three times in total.
Then again, Roswell was fighting the odds right from the beginning. A show about aliens with strange powers secretly living in small town America certainly rated highly when the pilot was tested by Twentieth Century Fox after they commissioned it, a show based on a popular young adult novel, but they chose not to pick it up. Its first rescue came at the hands of Warner Brothers who initially distributed it. Then in 2001, WB introduced Smallville, a show about an alien with strange powers secretly living in small town America... What chance do you have against the Man of Steel! But you can’t keep a good premise down for too long. 2019 sees a new Roswell series reboot the concept.
In 1947 a UFO crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. Years later, three children are found walking in the desert. Siblings Max and Isabel are adopted by the Evans family while Michael Guerin is placed in foster care. But these aren’t ordinary children, they’re actually aliens in human form, and they grow up hiding their powers. That is until the day there is an armed robbery at the Crashdown café when waitress Liz Parker is shot. Max has had a crush on Liz since elementary school and he uses his powers to heal her. Soon the secret spreads to Liz’s friends Alex and Maria. It’s hard enough keeping their secret from the town’s suspicious sheriff, Jim Valenti, but soon there are government agents sneaking around. It’s difficult being a teenager at the best of times, but Max, Isabel and Michael are also searching for their pasts, their true identities. They may not be ready for what they find.
Season 1 has 22 episodes across 6 discs. Pilot; The Morning After; Monsters; Leaving Normal; Missing; 285 South; River Dog; Blood Brother; Heat Wave; The Balance; The Toy House; Into the Woods; The Convention; Blind Date; Independence Day; Sexual Healing; Crazy; Tess, Lies and Videotape; Max to the Max; The White Room; Destiny
Season 2 has 21 episodes, Skin and Bones; Ask Not; Surprise; Summer of ’47; The End of the World; Harvest; Wipeout!; Meet the Dupes (Pt. 1); Max in the City (Pt. 2); A Roswell Christmas Carol; To Serve and Protect; We Are Family; Disturbing Behavior (Pt. 1); How the Other Half Lives (Pt. 2); Viva Las Vegas; heart of Mine; Cry Your Name; It’s Too Late and It’s Too Bad; Baby It’s You; Off The Menu; The Departure
Season 3 concludes the story with 18 episodes, this time across 5 discs, Busted; Michael, The Guys and the Great Snapple Caper; Significant Others; Secrets And Lies; Control; To Have And To Hold; Interruptus; Behind The Music; Samuel Rising; A Tale Of Two Parties; I Married An Alien; Ch-Ch-Changes; Panacea; Chant Down Babylon; Who Died And Made You King?; Crash; Four Aliens And A Baby; Graduation
15 years ago, I’d get US TV series on DVD, and watch them on a CRT set, and find some way to evaluate the image quality on each, NTSC-PAL converted, soft of resolution, edited on video, and I’d manage to distinguish between good and bad transfers. Now, I’m watching all these shows scaled up on HD panels, and to be honest, the transfers all look the same to me. Roswell’s 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is native PAL, with the speed-up that implies, but it’s still scaled up from 480i to 576 on the DVD, and scaled up again on my TV. It’s watchable, but nothing to write home about. The age of the show also comes across with some occasionally iffy CGI effects shots.
You get a choice of DD 5.1 English or French. There are also English and French subtitles. The dialogue is clear throughout and there is some nice use of the surrounds, but it’s mostly a front-focussed affair.
Music replacement! This is why I didn’t buy this series when it was originally released. The show was made when music licensing and television hadn’t caught up to the DVD age, and the music studios saw a chance to renegotiate contracts with draconian fees. You couldn’t get a show out there without being made bankrupt, and so it was that shows like Roswell could only be released on DVD if much of the music was replaced. In 2004, I couldn’t countenance watching the show that way, but I thought now, 20 years later, I’d have totally forgotten the tunes that were playing in certain scenes. That much is true, but the bland generic blah-rock that they have been replaced with stands out even more. For a show that was so integrated with its music (it helped make Dido a star after all), the music changes still rankle.
Here’s a partial list of what was changed...
You get 3 Amaray Bricks, one for each season packaged in a sturdy artbox. The set comprises 17 discs in total, with season 3 being the short one with 5 discs. They present their content with animated menus. In season 1, the extras are listed with the appropriate episode unless not episode specific. From Season 2, where required each disc has a separate Special Features Menu for all extras, and there is a Play All option for the episodes on each disc. However, playing them individually will now throw up a copyright warning ahead of each episode, which didn’t happen in Season 1.
Episode 1. Pilot
Here you’ll find an audio commentary with Executive Producer/Writer Jason Katims, and Executive Producer/Director David Nutter. You also get a deleted scene that runs to 25 seconds.
Episode 8. Blood Brother
This has an audio commentary from David Nutter, who also directed this episode.
Episode 10. Balance
The audio commentary here is from Co-Executive Producer/Writer Thania St. John.
Episode 16. Sexual Healing
This commentary features Shiri Appleby (Liz Parker), and Majandra Delfino (Maria de Luca).
Episode 17. Crazy
Shiri Appleby and Majandra Delfino also pop up here.
Episode 22. Destiny
The final episode of the first season gets an audio commentary from Jason Katims, and director Patrick Norris.
The other extras for season 1 are all on disc 6.
Area 51: Behind the Scenes of Roswell lasts 30:02 and is the making of the show, with interviews with the cast and crew. This featurette was made after season 3.
Roswell High: The Making of Roswell on the other hand is really an interview with the author and the editor of the books, and their take on the way the books were adapted to television.
Actor Audition: Emilie de Ravin as “Tess” offers two scenes which in total run to 3:50.
Finally there is the “Save Yourself” music video from Sense Field which lasts 3:15.
Episode 2. Ask Not
The audio commentary comes from Executive Producer/Writer Ronald D. Moore.
Episode 10. A Roswell Christmas Carol
There is an audio commentary from Jason Katims and Patrick Norris.
Episode 17. Cry Your Name
This episode has a commentary from Ronald D. Moore.
The rest of the extras on disc 6 begin with A Little Something Extra For the Fans, which offers 5:36 of romantic montage.
Storyboard to Scene lasts 1:07.
Here With Me: The Making of Roswell 2 lasts 31:50, and in it the cast and crew comment on selected episodes.
The Shiri and Majandra show lasts 10:25 and they reflect on the second season.
Art of Composing Roswell takes a look at a certain scene from the perspective of the composer. This lasts 4:30.
Finally there is the Season 1 trailer.
Episode 4. Secrets and Lies
The commentary here is from Director and Exec Producer Jonathan Frakes.
Episode 8. Behind the Music
Jonathan Frakes also comments on this episode.
Episode 11. I Married an Alien
Ronald D. Moore supplies the comments on this episode.
Episode 18. Graduation
Finally, Writer, Exec Producer and Series Creator, Jason Katims comments on the final episode.
The extra feature for Roswell Season 3 is the “Class of 2002” featurette on disc 5. This lasts for 13:30.
Roswell was my favourite teen sci-fi/fantasy drama when I first watched it, but I’m not sure that holds true anymore. Certainly watching the show as a whole, three seasons in a row reveals just how uneven it is, and the fact that it squanders its premise by figuratively blowing its narrative wad in the first season. What then follows is an aimless amble into mediocrity as it keeps trying and failing to find a story direction that will stick. But if you could take that first season by itself, you would have a perfect example of teen sci-fi fantasy drama, as it still holds up well today. Roswell really would have been better served by following the X Files’ example when it came to its revelations and plot twists, giving with one hand and taking with the other, keeping the audience in the dark with only the occasional glimmer of light.
The first season gets its balance of teen angst drama and sci-fi fantasy just right. It’s got its Romeo and Juliet dynamic between its leads, the high school setting, and plenty of romance and character drama to deal with. That’s pretty standard for a teenage drama, but then it has its sci-fi storyline as well, with three kids growing up in Roswell, keeping their alien natures secret. When Max Evans saves Liz Parker from a bullet in the Crashdown cafe, that makes them all vulnerable, and as the season unfolds, the story arc that develops follows Max, Isabel and Michael as they try and discover who they really are (a typical teenage angst), while hiding their true natures from the local authorities, and the government who have been secretly pursuing aliens since the Roswell crash. The season keeps the audience on its toes with plenty of shady characters and mysterious developments, but by the end of the season, it’s pretty much all tied up with a bow. We know who the kids are, where they came from, and why they are on Earth.
This makes plotting the course of the second season even more of a headache when you consider that former antagonists, Sheriff Jim Valenti and his son Kyle (rival to Max for Liz’ affections in the first season) are now protagonists and allies of the group. Having said all that, Season 2 isn’t as bad as I remember it to be. I actually enjoyed it this second time around, despite its meandering search for a storyline that might stick. The obvious arc is that of the Royal 4 of Antar, Max, Isabel, Michael and Tess, their exile, and their eventual return home, or if it would ever happen. Certainly the Tess character (never exactly a fan favourite) developed into a duplicitous antagonist over the season, which given how much I originally loathed the character, I could actually appreciate this second time around. But we also had to deal with the Skins storyline, the duplicate four storyline, the alien fungus storyline, any one of which might have sustained the season, but the chopping and changing resulted in unevenness.
The final season saw the show get back to its strengths, which was always the soapy teen melodrama more than the sci-fi fantasy stuff. The world focused in on Roswell once more, and the outside world, the alien mythology went back on a simmer rather than the haphazard boil of the second season. Once again, the aliens spent their time trying to keep their secret from those around them, while the Max and Liz, Michael and Maria angst continued. The show finally gave Isabel some permanent angst as well, as she married new character Jesse Ramirez, but it was a marriage based on a lie as he was kept out of the secret. Speaking of new, Season 3 was Roswell’s final reprieve, but it switched networks in the process, and the budget took a battering which is more obvious in this complete collection, as not only were sets and locations cut down, so were the supporting cast, which causes something of a continuity disconnect with season 2, as characters like Brody, and Sean de Luca vanish without explanation, and places like the UFO centre, the sheriff’s office, and the high school (until the final episode) are never seen again. Season 3 is just as aimless as season 2, but it hangs together a lot better.
Rowell is more fun to watch than it is to write about, the individual episodes more entertaining than the three seasons taken as a whole. That’s probably an odd opinion, but having now watched this collection in its entirety, I certainly enjoyed the process of viewing it more than I do thinking back on it. It’s a great premise, good stories, with likeable and engaging characters, ultimately let down by a lack of vision. I’ve also recently bought the Buffy boxset and have that to look forward to. Maybe that will be my favourite teen sci-fi fantasy drama series instead.