A remake doesn’t necessarily have to justify its existence in this, the age of too much #content, but it’s always a genuine pleasure when it nonetheless makes a great case.
“Roswell, New Mexico” is a canny blend of the two ways that its story — of aliens living on Earth and the humans who may or may not love them — has already been told. The WB’s “Roswell” was an unabashed teen soap that wrung every longing glance out of its high school protagonists. It starred a young Shiri Appleby as human heroine Liz, and while Appleby was promising from the start, the book series “Roswell” was based on (“Roswell High”) had purposefully made Liz Latina. As writers Liz Burns and Melissa Metz said on Twitter last summer, situating the books in New Mexico meant that “the characters were living in a place with a diverse population, one that included a large number of Latinos. Naturally, we made some of our characters Latino to reflect that. (The aliens were, obviously, from outer space.)” They were disappointed by the TV show’s decision to turn Liz Ortecho into “Liz Parker,” but ultimately, not at all surprised.
“Roswell, New Mexico,” helmed by CW veteran Carina Adly MacKenzie, takes inspiration from both. For one, it reverses that initial whitewashing so that Liz is once again an Ortecho. For another, it picks up with its characters not in high school, but as more jaded twentysomethings on the eve of their 10 year reunion. Liz (Jeanine Mason) is now a scientist who’s returned to Roswell after her federal funding got pulled because “someone needed a wall.” (A pointed theme that comes up a lot, and more on that later.) Max (Nathan Parsons), her high school crush and undercover alien, is a sheriff’s deputy. His twin sister Isobel (Lily Cowles) is married to a supportive, if unsuspecting, man; their rebellious brother Michael (Michael Vlamis) is wasting his smarts getting drunk in his trailer on the outskirts of town.
The heart of the show remains the psychic bond between Liz and Max, and diehard “Roswell” fans should be relieved to know that their dynamic remains much the same (and that Mason in particular proves a charismatic delight). Liz is still spunky and sensitive; Max is still earnest to a fault. But their problems and mutual crush alike have more weight and history with 10 additional years of longing and angst, not to mention the unresolved death of Liz’s wilder sister, Rosa (Amber Midthunder). It is overall a consciously more adult show than the original, which may not be exactly what everyone looking to it is hoping for. But “Roswell, New Mexico” is smart to distinguish itself more from “Roswell” — and even outside the flash forward aspect, it does so in some calculated ways.
It does not, for instance, mince its words about what it means to write a show featuring Mexican immigrants at a time when people in power are willing to shut the entire government down in order to keep Mexican immigrants out at all costs. The subtext of the original “Roswell” — in which hostility towards aliens represented the same towards “illegals” — becomes overt text in this 2019 update. Liz’s father (Carlos Compean) is undocumented, a fact that becomes more dangerous than ever as the white racists around him get ever more emboldened. The town is experiencing a significant uptick in racist vandalism. And when the show starts folding in the shadowy government forces trying to root out alien life — its weakest storyline, though not for lack of trying on Michael Trevino’s part — it’s not subtle about the parallels when the villains sneer about the “hostile race” they want to snuff out. That lack of subtlety can be effective, especially when it’s blunt about the everyday racism Liz and her family faces. Other times, like when Latina Sheriff Valenti (Rosa Arredondo) dismisses the Ortechos as useless freeloaders because her Mexican family managed to play by the rules, it can be distractingly didactic.
But on the whole, “Roswell, New Mexico” roots itself so well in the present day that its relevance is hard to argue. And if its many mysteries come together as well as they are set up, the show could very well end up one of the CW’s more satisfying debuts in a minute.
Drama, 60 mins. 3 episodes watched for review. Premieres Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 9 pm EST on The CW.
Cast: Jeanine Mason, Nathan Parsons, Lily Cowles, Michael Vlamis, Michael Trevino, Tyler Blackburn, Heather Hemmens, Trevor St. John, Karan Oberoi.
Crew: Executive producers: Carina Adly MacKenzie, Chris Hollier, Julie Plec, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Lawrence Bender, Kevin Kelly Brown.