‘Roswell’ – Teen aliens in love Hulu

Shiri Appleby, Jason Behr, Katherine Heigl, and Brendan Fehr in the UPN series 'Roswell'

Roswell: Seasons 1-3 (1999-2002) – You could call it X-Files meets Dawson’s Creek, but this mix of teen melodrama, UFOlogy, and deadly government conspiracies (based on the Roswell High series of young adult novels) has more in common with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like that show, Roswell tackles the usual problems of growing up—changing hormones, first loves, the initial throes of independence and rebellion, and teenage alienation—through a decidedly unusual lens.

In this case, three high school kids (Jason Behr’s stable dreamboat Max, Katherine Heigl’s class beauty Isabel, and Brendan Fehr’s troubled underachiever Michael) are not of this Earth. Max and Isabel have been raised by caring human parents while the less fortunate Michael dodges an alcoholic foster father. They have powers that they are just learning to master but they don’t know where they are from and why they’re here. After maintaining their distance from other kids, they befriend three of their human schoolmates (Shiri Appleby’s nice girl Liz, Majandra Delfino’s goofy best friend Maria, and Colin Hanks’ nerdy puppy dog pal Alex), accepting them as confidents and even romantic destinies, though not without some serious trust issues.

The tortured teen romance can get a little indulgent at times, but the young adult fantasy is perfect: they know more than the parents, they keep their secrets while investigating the mysteries of Roswell, and romance takes on a whole new sense of drama when danger, the unknown, and the rush of the forbidden enters the equation. In the memorable episode Sexual Healing, the alien/human chemistry becomes a primal aphrodisiac stirred around with survival instincts. Talk about your metaphorical fantasy.

Nick Wechsler is Kyle, Liz’s jealous boyfriend turned ally, guest star Julie Benz goes undercover as a guidance counselor, Emilie de Ravin shows up as Tess, “the new girl” with powerful secrets, and William Sadler holds it all together as the bedrock of the community, a sheriff who begins the show as an alien hunter but transforms into someone more interesting and compelling as the conspiracy unwinds and the climax drops the weight of the Earth on these kids in the bombshell of a climax. John Doe makes numerous “guest appearances” as Appleby’s father, owner of The Crashdown Café, the Roswell diner that caters to conspiracy tourists.

The show was created for the WB but moved to UPN for the second season, as the series took a sharper turn into science fiction storylines, thanks to Star Trek TV veteran and future Battlestar Galactica reboot mastermind Ronald D. Moore joining producer /creator Jason Katims as co-showrunner. The already unsteady equilibrium is upended when Tess reveals clues to their origins and purpose (spoiler alert: they are alien royalty in hiding!) and the increasingly aggressive actions of the “skins” (shapeshifting alien soldiers) as the government investigation heats up. This is a show where the alien science of cloning means that these teenage royals in hiding have both evil doppelgangers and troubled children and the third and final season tosses in even more melodramatic plotlines: Romeo and Juliet lovers Liz and Max are torn apart by their parents after they are arrested for armed robbery (it’s a splashy but rather contrived way to kick off the season), Isabel marries the junior partner (Adam Rodriguez) of her lawyer father after a whirlwind romance (he doesn’t know her family tree), and Max and Isabel’s parents start investigating their adopted children.

The show offers a closure of sorts in its third season finale, which ends (appropriately) with high school graduation and the next step

Watch it on Hulu

Also on DVD
Roswell – The Complete Series (17-Disc Box Set)

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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