Cult Times-Down To Earth-Roswell

Thanks to Nikki for this:

This is a article from the UK. Even though it’s months old, I haven’t seen
it in any news archives or on any websites, so thought you might appreciate
it. Of course, it’s not much without the pics that go with it (including a
full page of Colin!), but it’ll do… The website of the publisher for
anyone who wants to order a backcopy is: www.visimag.com
Enjoy, Nikki

Cult Times (UK) Special Issue #13
March 2000

Down To Earth

What problems might aliens have if they visited our planet? Breathing our
Earth air? Understanding our human customs? Or would they just worry about
hiding from the local sheriff and the implications of dating their friends?

In the small town where I grew up, folk legend passed down the story of
Iphon 9. One day, a quiet, intense 11 year old boy – let’s call him Brian –
had gone to bed as normal. The next morning he came down for breakfast.
“Good morning, Brian,” said his mother. “I’m not Brian,” he replied. “I’m
Iphon 9, from the planet Iphon. Last night, Brian and I swapped bodies for a
year to learn about each other’s cultures.”

As I did not grow up in Roswell, New Mexico, it’s safe to assume that
Brian’s year long stint as Iphon 9 was a rather sad plea for attention. But
Roswell, a new series broadcast on the WB, taps into that same sense of
childhood loneliness and isolation by defrosting three hibernating alien
survivors of the 1947 crash and enrolling them in high school. The result,
based on Melinda Metz’s series of Roswell High books, is the most exciting
new Sci-Fi show of the year.

The cast, a group of well adjusted and gorgeous 20-somethings, don’t seem to
share their character’s sense of alienation when they look back at their own
school days. Colin Hanks, son of Tom, and the actor who plays the all too
human Alex, admits to sometimes wearing “black pants and black shirts like
every other teen’, but acknowledges that he didn’t have the full high school
experience. “I went to a small private school in northern California. There
were 35 people in my graduating class, so it was more of a community than a
school. I’m pretty outgoing – the class clown, the goofball – so there
wasn’t too much angst there. Overall, I was pretty happy.”

Much the same story is told by Roswell’s leading man, Jason Behr, who plays
Max. “I went to a small private school as well, and I was one of the more
outgoing kids. I could pretty much sit down with anyone I wanted at lunch.”
What about method, darling? The best the cast can muster is lead actress
Shiri Appleby (Liz) suggesting that people thought she was a bit of a freak
when she started leaving class at 16 to take acting jobs. I would have
thought that, in southern California, the kids who didn’t take acting jobs
at 16 would have been the freaks, but these grizzled veterans of childhood
TV commercials must know what they’re talking about.

Roswell is closer to Dawson’s Creek than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, full of
earnest soul searching rather than comic book shenanigans, and is really
beginning to find its feet halfway through the first season, according to
its creator, Jason Katims. “We’re excited about the stuff that’s coming up
in the second half of the season,” he says. “We have had the opportunity to
set up this world and the people, and now we’re able to have a lot of fun
with expanding it and the characters and where we get to go.” The series’
world and characters are straightforward enough: Max, Isabel and Michael are
aliens, and Liz, Alex and Maria are their human friends. Needless to say,
they all fancy each other: Michael and Maria go at it like trains, Liz and
Max act all coy around each other, and Alex has the hots for Isabel but
without too much affection in return. Apart from their hormones, the major
driving forces of the plot are William Sadler’s sheriff, who suspects the
kids of something, but he’s not sure quite what, and the aliens’ search for
a fourth of their kind whose presence is suggested by a photograph dating
from 1959.

Katims is especially enthusiastic about the long term plotting that’s been
involved in the ‘fourth alien’ storyline. “We’re having a lot of fun with
the mythology,” he says. “The whole idea of the search for the fourth alien
really heats up, and what becomes really interesting about that is that
Michael thinks the alien is potentially his father. Over the next few
episodes we start to get a hint of the possibility that the fourth alien
might just not be all good. When we learn that we don’t really know what his
motivations are, that suddenly complicates their search.”

“By the middle of the season, we’ll know for certain that the fourth alien
is here among us today, as opposed to just in the photograph that they have
from 1959. By the end of the year we’ll glimpse him. He will be a character
that has either been in the show or will be in it by the end of the season.”
Katims obviously relishes the opportunity for this sort of intrigue. “This
is the first time I’ve worked on this kind of thing. Most of the stuff I’ve
done has been putting three people in a room and waiting for one of them to
cry.”

Canadian actor Brendan Fehr feels that moody Michael is the linchpin of this
plotline. “To an extent, my character propels the Sci-Fi aspect, but,
without Max and Isabel keeping him in check, he’d blow his load in the first
three episodes. He would just leave town. His primary roles are the Sci-Fi
thing, and trying to convince Max and Isabel to help him feel as though he’s
wanted, as though he belongs.” Fehr is nervous about the finding of the
fourth alien, though. “That’s not going to be exciting for them. It’s the
process of finding him and how Michael relates to Max and Isabel throughout
it that’ll be the fun part.”

Just in case the Sci-Fi aspect is a turn off for some viewers – though
Buffy’s success suggests entirely the opposite – there’ll be plenty of teen
angst and issues being dealt with as well. Katims can rattle off details of
such episodes with ease. “There’s one shooting now where Max gets drunk for
the first time in his life, and he does it by taking one sip of alcohol – so
we’re exploring what happens to an alien when he gets drunk.”

I imagine viewers will be more interested in another plotline he mentions.
“There’s one where we start to explore sexuality. Max and Liz get together
and start to kiss and it becomes more than just kissing and she starts to
have flashes.” Before the reader thinks that’s a typing error, I’d better
point out that Max can see flashes of Liz’s past when he touches her. “Now
Liz starts seeing into Max’s past,” Katims continues. “The two of them
involved in this sexual thing becomes a euphemism for orgasms, and Maria
starts to wonder why she didn’t have the flashes when she was with Michael.
That pushes the Michael-Maria thing forward. And they all start to say,
‘What the hell, let’s go for it!’ that makes Isabel wonder, ‘What about me?’
and Alex says, ‘Here I am!’”

The Isabel-Alex relationship sounds like a plotline that’ll run and run.
Colin Hanks is certainly pleased about it – but then, I would be if I had to
pair off with Katherine Heigl, the lovely actress who plays the female
alien. “Now it doesn’t look like we’re together, now we might be… it’s cool.
This is my first time having a love interest in a TV show,” Hanks says, “so
to be paired up with Katy is just great. I think the characters clash very
well, ‘cause I’m all baggy pants and sort of goofy looking and she’s a vixen
in leather. Which makes a nice contrast.”

My word. None of this sounds like my school days – more’s the pity – but it
might be relevant to some more adventurous kids. Jason Behr is adamant that
TV should not be teenager’s first port of call for lifestyle guidance,
though. “I would hate for kids to tune into a show to solve their problems,”
he says, with horror in his voice. “If TV and our show can help, that’s
fine, but I hope that they have close enough family and friends to go and
solve their problems at home. Then they can enjoy the show, but not as
therapy.”

If fan mail is a form of therapy for teenage girls, Roswell certainly
provides plenty of opportunity for it. Already a heart throb for his stint
as Chris Wolf on Dawson’s Creek (most likely to say, “Anyone for a
threesome?”), Behr tries to shrug the fame thing off as best he can. “I am
aware that I have fans, but I don’t know to what extent,” he grudgingly
admits. “It could all turn to crap at any point, so you appreciate it. You
take it for what it is worth: it means that you’re doing a good job, but
there’s a place to draw the line. If that fulfils you and makes you feel
important, you’ve got to give yourself a head check. My family and friends
are all quick to do that, and I don’t think they need to do it too often.”

But Roswell has more strings to its bow than sex appeal and flying saucers.
When Jason Katims says, “We wanted to use the community in the south-west,”
he means New Mexico, not Somerset. As in the X-Files, native American
tradition has been brought into Roswell to add another layer to its
mythology. “We thought that we could expand the show by using it,” explains
Katims, “and we did research about an Indian reservation about five miles
outside of Roswell. We loosely based things on that, but we’ve created a lot
of our own mythology. When you’re writing, you look for resources and
possibilities, and that community seemed to have a natural connection,
because the metaphor of the series is aliens in a reservation.”

Another topic of much interest to viewers is the aliens’ powers, of which
the actors seem rather jealous. “I’d like the molecular structure thing.
That’d be cool,” says Jason Behr talking about the aliens’ power to
manipulate matter on a molecular level, while Brendan Fehr bemoans the fact
that Max has ‘flashbacks and stuff’, while Michael doesn’t. Behr consoles
him: “Michael’s’ not inept – he’s very powerful. He just lacks focus.”
Personally, Isabel’s ability to go strolling through people’s dreams would
be the superpower I’d choose out of the three.

Roswell isn’t going to rest on its laurels, either. Before the fourth alien
upsets the balance, a new female regular is going to be introduced towards
the end of the season to shake things up. Says Jason Katims, “That’s what
happens in life. Since the beginning of the series, all the characters have
made an incredible adjustment. When they think they’ve got a handle on
what’s happening, the new girl shows up. She takes a certain interest in Max
– and he takes a certain interest in her.” Handbags at dawn, then.

Aliens, superpowers, Native Americans, wicked policemen, vixens in leather –
all this and Jonathon Frakes, too. What more could an audience want?
Roswell, currently airing on Sky, should hit the BBC later this year, so if
you haven’t seen it already, start preparing yourselves.
Gareth Wigmore