TV writer Carina MacKenzie doesn’t get your reboot fatigue. The former Originals writer, who once went to bat for the Charmed reboot on Twitter after backlash against the Latina-led series took over social media, is now taking another ‘90s series and giving it her own spin. But though new CW series Roswell, New Mexico is a descendant of the original WB series Roswell, this one promises to be as 2019 as they come.
“I got into a little tangle with Holly Marie Combs [who starred on the original Charmed and did not support the reboot] on Twitter, and I thought for sure that was the thing that would make Roswell not get picked up,” MacKenzie tells Refinery29. “But I guess I just don’t get the pushback. You outgrow your sandbox, and you can either set fire to your sandbox and never let anyone play ever again, or you can give it to a new generation.”
Roswell, New Mexico is the second adaptation of author Melissa Metz’s Roswell High series, which itself was inspired by the alien lore of the real New Mexican town. (For the uninitiated: In 1947, a rancher 75 miles outside of Roswell insisted he found the remains of an alien spaceship, and the city has been a hub for alien enthusiasts ever since.)
The first adaptation ran from 1999 to 2002 and starred Shiri Appleby as a teen who uncovers a very big alien secret about her crush (Jason Behr). The show is an almost too-perfect time capsule of the early aughts: It also starred a then-unknown Katherine Heigl as alien-human hybrid Isabel and boasted the very popular theme song “Here With Me” from Dido. Though both the book series and the TV show were set in the high school space (more Vampire Diaries than The Originals, if you want to go by CW terms here), the series turned the Mexican “Liz Ortecho” into a white “Liz Parker,” played by Appleby.
MacKenzie has reimagined Roswell High (the series is based on the books, not the WB show) as a twisty supernatural mystery. It’s about a young scientist named Liz who returns to her New Mexican hometown to learn the truth about her sister’s death. After a near-death experience, Liz discovers that the man who pined over her for a decade is from another planet. Did his race have a hand (a glowing handprint, specifically) in what happened to her dead sister?
Though Roswell, New Mexico has taken its teen drama roots and reimagined the story as one about 20-somethings, Liz is once again Latina — here, she is played by Jeanine Mason, who is Cuban.
This version of Liz comes at a time where representation — and authentic stories about underrepresented groups — is vital.
“One of the things that’s important [to me on Roswell, New Mexico] is not casting colorblind, but to tell stories about people from different communities, different ethnicities, and experiences with authenticity wherever you can,” explains MacKenzie.
Issues of immigration, racism, and identity are as vital to the show now as is the big alien mystery that ties it all together. Roswell is town of literal aliens and cowboys, and the tensions within the show come from the fact that there is no character who thinks or experiences the world exactly like another.
While there are a slew of “Make America Great Again” townies, there’s more nuance here than one might expect. Mexican Sheriff Valenti (Rosa Arredondo), for example, harbors ill will towards the Ortecho family, whom she believes came to the country illegally.
The characters are layered, not defined by race, occupation, or sexuality, but by the often complicated intersection of all of these things. Openly gay veteran Alex (played by Pretty Little Liars alum Tyler Blackburn), a celebrated war hero, tries to navigate the passion he has for a former high school classmate with the expectations of his military lifestyle.
Though the first three episodes available to press only tease what’s to come, Black socialite/bartender Maria (Heather Hemmens) will deal with identity issues of her own.
“Roswell, the town, has a 1% African American population, so we’re telling a story about Maria, who feels really isolated and alone. She had to create her own community,” explains MacKenzie.
It’s big stuff to tackle for a show where a romance between a human and an alien is central. But it’s this kind of nuance that made MacKenzie eager to tackle Roswell, New Mexico in the first place.
“I pitched the version [of Roswell] that I wanted to do, which was a little more diverse, a little more politically inclined,” she tells Refinery29. “In the ‘90s, Roswell was about feeling alien in high school. Now, Roswell is about what it’s like to feel alien as an adult, in a new version of our country that feels unfamiliar to me. We’re really diving into that in the story, and we’re asking a lot of questions about what it means to be a patriot, to be an American, to be different, to be an immigrant, or an outsider. Those questions are more relevant now than they’ve ever been.”
Roswell, New Mexico premieres on The CW January 15 at 9 p.m.