With all the reboots and remakes happening these days, I worry that our memories of beloved TV series will be diminished. That legacies will be tarnished. That once-iconic characters will lose their status in our collective television history.
That doesn’t happen with Roswell, New Mexico, which remakes The WB’s (and eventually UPN’S) Roswell. No legacies are dulled in this version. Please don’t misunderstand me: No legacies are tarnished because the original series, which ran from 1999-2002, wasn’t that good in the first place. Don’t be fooled by the fan campaigns that advocated for saving the series: Roswell never reached the creative heights of peers like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or even Charmed.
I say this as someone who watched every single episode of the original. It’s well documented that I have a hard time quitting shows, so I stayed with Roswell as it limped to its end. We’ve come to the point in the reboot/remake craze where networks seem to be throwing darts at a wall and seeing which old shows they hit.
Like the original, Roswell, New Mexico follows siblings Max (Nathan Dean Parsons) and Isobel (Lily Cowles) and their friend Michael (Michael Vlamis)—three aliens who emerged from cocoons almost two decades ago and have been assimilating into society, holding their secret safe, ever since. Max and Isobel were adopted, while Michael grew up in foster care. When Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason) returns home on the anniversary of her sister Rosa’s death to be with her father (Carlos Compean), she runs into Max, her high school crush, and they discover they still have FEELINGS for each other. (Trust me, the over-the-top way the pair acts makes the all-caps necessary).
In the remake, the characters have been aged up and are now adults in their twenties instead of high school students. Max is a police officer, Isobel a successful fundraiser, and Michael a lost bad boy with none of the necessary bad boy charm. There’s lots of bad facial hair. There are very “2019” plot points: For instance, Liz’s dad is here illegally, and she wants him to move to a sanctuary city. On her return home, she has to show her ID at an ICE checkpoint. And Liz’s research project has lost out because “somebody needed funding for a wall.” Unfortunately, in the episodes made available to critics, this very real and important problem is delivered in a clunky way, with the writers trying to wedge the issue in amid all of the angsty plot points. There are other changes, both large and small. Michael is now gay, for instance, as is Alex (Tyler Blackburn), the son of a military sergeant (Trevor St. John). Alex is reluctant to come out to his dad, or even to own up to his feelings. In the old version, it was Tabasco sauce that was a favorite of the alien characters. Now, they have to drink nail polish remover (yuck!) to regain their strength.
In the pilot, Liz is shot, and Max, unwilling to let her die, uses his alien powers to save her. “Twenty years of keeping this secret and you decide to resurrect someone,” Isobel snaps. But Max must tell Liz the truth because she knows she was shot but somehow survived without even having to go to the hospital. “I’ll keep your secret Max, I promise you,” she tells him.
Here’s the main problem: They’ve aged all the characters up, but they still act like they’re 15 years old. Such melodramatic dialogue may work in a high school setting, but it comes off as silly when you’re pushing 30: “Hey, I still want to kiss you,” Liz says to Max in the second episode. “Meet me at the old turquoise mines.” As is sometimes necessary when reviewing a show, I had to pause my screener for a massive eye roll. Do adults schedule a time to kiss? It’s hard to understand who the intended audience is for the series, as even teenagers will see through this schlocky dialogue.
If I could make one plea to the television industry, it would be to say enough already with voiceover narration. What was once a clever device—and one that still works brilliantly on some shows, like Grey’s Anatomy and The Goldbergs—has increasingly become a lazy way of allowing characters to tell us what they are feeling without being bothered to show us.
Roswell, New Mexico’s big mystery arc for the season appears to focus on the circumstances surrounding Rosa’s death. For years, Liz has believed her sister, an addict, drove while intoxicated and killed herself and two others. “If that family hadn’t come here from Mexico, my sister would still be alive,” one of the victim’s brothers says. Instead, Max, Isobel and Michael were somehow involved in Rosa’s demise.
“She can never know what happened to Rosa,” Max says ominously at the end of the first episode, but the new Roswell is so boring I doubt you’ll care.
Roswell, New Mexico premieres Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 9 p.m.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .