Roswell, New Mexico Review: It's Twilight Plus Aliens & It's Fun

Photo: Courtesy of the CW.
Move over, Charmed, because there’s a brand-new CW reboot with woke sensibilities here. In place of that new supernatural show and its trio of witch-y women of color, it’s Roswell, New Mexico, premiering January 15, and its mashup of undocumented immigrants and actual, literal aliens (the ones from space).
It’s a wild and weird premise that makes for a shockingly fun series — albeit one that will remind many viewers of not only its New Millennium-era inspiration, but also the cultural phenomenon that was Twilight.
The OG Roswell arrived precisely 20 years ago in 1999, so it’s possible many of the reboot’s prospective viewers have never heard of the Shiri Appleby-starring WB-turned-UPN saga, let alone watched it. So, let’s go over the basic premise. It’s the late 90s in America’s most supposedly alien-infested burg, and high schooler Liz Parker (Appleby, now a New Mexico director) is over the little green men rumors about her hometown. That is until Liz is shot in her parents’ alien-themed restaurant after a fight breaks out between two burly customers.
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Enter Max Evans (Jason Behr), the boy who’s been pining over Liz for years, to save the day (and Liz’s quickly-evaporating life). He pulls her back from the brink of death, but leaves behind a glowing handprint on her skin. Liz has questions. Max quickly confirms he, his sister Isabel (Katherine Heigl — yes that Katherine Heigl), and his pal Michael (Brendan Fehr) are all aliens. So begins three seasons of extraterrestrial-based drama, love triangles, and brooding.
The CW’s Roswell, New Mexico, created by Originals scribe Carina Adly MacKenzie and executive produced by Vampire Diaries mastermind Julie Plec, follows this setup almost exactly, with a few big changes. Liz Parker is now Liz Ortecho (Grey’s Anatomy alum Jeanine Mason, whose makeup is always impeccable), a 28-year-old scientist and the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants. Because Liz, and everyone around her, is a full-blown adult, her story has the freedom to be sexy in a way fictional high schoolers don't. Remember, these are people who own their homes, so they don't have to worry about mommy or daddy walking in on an alien-human hookup.
In continuing with New Mexico's woke rebranding, the series goes out of its way to remind us its titular town is less than 250 miles from the Mexican border. That means Roswell now has its fair share of Latinx citizens and people who resent their presence. This time, it’s Max Evans’ (True Blood alum Nathan Parsons) job to keep the peace between these two groups, since he’s a town sheriff — and has the bow-legged cowboy gait, quiet rasp (the kind that is near Bill Compton saying “Sookie” in True Blood -levels of scratch-y), and uniform to prove it.
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Of course, Max, his sister Isobel (Lily Cowles), and at-odds friend Michael (Michael Vlamis) are still aliens. Of course, Max has been crushing on Liz — now a prodigal daughter of Roswell who left town for tragic reasons — since childhood. Of course, he brings her back to life and leaves a comically ridiculous CGI handprint on her torso; they just might be meant to be.
Since Twilight and True Blood inherited the "allegedly normal girl meets definitely special boy and chaos ensues" structure of the original Roswell, it’s easy to understand why New Mexico will remind you of the star-crossed paranormal love stories of the aughts. Not only does Michael have the devotion — and coarse growl — of Vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer), but he also tends to look like the Skarsgard clan’s missing brunette brother. He certainly broods like Bill, Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard), and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) combined. Max is so brooding that his love of depressing Russian literature quickly becomes a running gag. It’s a lot like Edward and his piano.
A 28-year-old alien who loves glowering and reading Tolstoy? That’s ridiculous, and Roswell is at its best when it’s Twilight-style absurdity. The scene where Liz finally learns that Max is an alien is a fraternal twin to Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward’s analogous over the top “Say it” vampire reveal in 2008’s Twilight. While the 1999 Roswell pilot also includes one of these confrontations, it's a shrug in comparison to its pop cultural descendants' high melodrama.
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Beyond that very specific form of Twilight deja vu, an inexplicable twist about Liz’s ex-boyfriend Kyle (TVD alum Michael Trevino) sets up a nice Edward-Bella-Jacob (Taylor Lautner)-style competition for Liz’s heart. Countless charmingly silly things happen over the three Roswell episodes made available to critics, and chief among them is the way Max explains bringing Liz back to life. The story may be directly inspired by the old Roswell pilot, but it’s such a botched rush job this time around that one can’t help but laugh.
New Mexico is completely aware of its influences — you might just spy a few Twilight saga novels hiding in the Ortecho home come the third episode. This is why the CW drama only flounders when it attempts to directly conjure the specter of a “build the wall”-obsessed Donald Trump and his racist policies. The fears of Latinx people in a border town are interesting. So are the fears of aliens in any kind of town, period. Hearing a tin foil hat-sporting wackadoo spout Trump-ish rhetoric with an alien twist isn’t. Especially when there are conspiracies to explore, possible murder mysteries to uncover, and longing glances between very hot people to watch unfold.
Give us that, and Roswell can beam me up any day.
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