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'Roswell, New Mexico' Covers Familiar Ground That's Worth Revisiting
January 15, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Roswell, New Mexico certainly picked the right moment to return to prime-time television.

What better way to tap into our current real-life debate over alien immigration than to contemplate the immigration of beings not only from another country, but another planet, or maybe another galaxy?

That, friends, is a migrant caravan.

Roswell, New Mexico, which premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on the CW, is based on Melinda Metz’s book Roswell High which postulates that aliens already live among us – and look just like we do.

It was earlier adapted for TV in 1999, running three seasons on the WB and UPN and helping launch the careers of Shiri Appleby, Katherine Heigl, and Colin Hanks.

The reboot has a few new touches, like the bitter crack by main character Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason) that her promising research project lost its funding “because someone needed money for a wall.”

Real-life Roswell’s claim to fame, not to mention the seed of its tourist industry, is the 1947 crash of what many believed, or want to believe, was an alien spacecraft.

The Metz book, and therefore the TV series, use that mystery as a launching point.

Liz Ortecho launched herself out of Roswell 10 years ago, after she graduated from high school and her sister Rosa died in a car crash apparently caused by Rosa driving while on drugs.

Two other local girls also died in the crash, and the Ortecho family – undocumented immigrants themselves, though from this planet – have since been the targets of ongoing community harassment.

Now Liz has taken a deep breath and returned – and wouldn’t you know it, the first person she meets is her old high school boyfriend, Max Evans (Nathan Parsons), now a Roswell cop.

Their cordial albeit mildly awkward reunion takes an unexpected turn when some unidentified local, continuing the campaign to harass the Ortecho family, shoots Liz in the chest.

She seems to be dead until Max saves her – because Max, it turns out, has special powers. Max is an alien who arrived here in that 1947 crash!

And now he’s in the right place at the right time. Small world.

Max’s alien ancestry isn’t a spoiler, by the way. It’s the show’s whole setup.

Filling out that setup, two other aliens arrived at the same time. Isabel (Lily Cowles) and Michael (Michael Vlamis), like Max, stayed in Roswell and assimilated. Isabel is a cheerful wife. Michael is a brilliant, brooding screw-up. All three swore long ago never to tell their secret to anyone, fearing not unreasonably that they would very likely be carted off to a laboratory where scientists would study and ultimately dissect them.

Their fear is tangentially confirmed by Jesse Manes (Trevor St. John), a military man who heads a secret mission to find any surviving aliens and destroy them – because, he says, the aliens are amoral killers who mean only death and destruction to Earthlings.  

Just to make things a little more interesting, Jesse’s son Alex (Tyler Blackburn) is a psychologically damaged Iraqi war veteran who’s a close friend of Michael. Other community subplots also surface as we move along.

Underneath all this alien stuff, in any case, what we’ve got here is the CW’s latest forbidden love story, exploring the attraction of two people who, by the chance hand of fate, have almost no path to ending up together.

It’s also a story of families, and of our attitudes toward immigrants and people who are different.

Those parts of the story turn out to feel rather familiar, just as the alien part doesn’t differ much from any number of other alien fantasy tales.

So the real cross-breeding here is between two stories we know well and that the CW loves to keep revisiting: young love and sci-fi. Roswell, New Mexico brings no radical new twists to either, but the characters are likable enough to make for comfortable rewatching.

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