Reluctantly, we bid farewell to ‘Roswell’

Thanks to Heather for sending this in!

From: The Star Telegram

Posted on Mon, May. 13, 2002

Reluctantly, we bid farewell to ‘Roswell’
Star-Telegram TV Critic

You have to wonder if the creators of Roswell, which exits Tuesday after three quiet seasons, view the out-of-the-gate success of Smallville with a sense of longing and envy, or even downright dread. Smallville is the series that creators David Nutter and Jason Katims wanted to make, and did, for a handful of episodes while on the WB.

Like Smallville and its focus on Clark Kent as a teen trying to make sense of the world, Roswell slyly used a similar escapist fantasy – the space ship that reputedly crashed in Roswell, N.M., in 1947. But it still gave the network’s young audience what it really craved: stories of love, lust, identity and teen angst.

Sharp writing elevated the series above the strained concept. Max (Jason Behr), his sister Isabel (Katherine Heigl) and best bud Michael (Brendan Fehr) survived the crash in a suspended state, awakening in 1983 and looking like normal children. All three were adopted and hid (up until now) their true identities from their adopted parents, who have cameos in Tuesday’s finale. (The parents were never much of a factor, but the fact that Max and Isabel landed in a stable, middle-class home while Michael contended with life in a trailer with an abusive father gave the series a simmering realistic edge).

But the strength of those early episodes rested on the oh-so-sweet courtship of Max and Liz (Shiri Appleby), whose lives intertwined when Liz was shot and Max brought her back to life by placing his hand over the gunshot wound. From there Max and Liz tiptoed through love, fear and misunderstanding, trying to figure out what Max was and who Liz was when she was with him.

The two nursed their mutual crush while scheming to prevent a suspicious sheriff and later a host of villains from discovering the truth, all the while providing the classic television tease: a love forbidden by extreme circumstances. (Think Angel and Buffy on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Max and Logan on Dark Angel.)

Audiences can be notoriously fickle, but based on the early episodes, Roswell looked like a winner; it seemed to have the potential to build as viewers caught on to what the producers were trying to do.

But they never did. My theory is that Roswell suffered the cruel blow of network re-creation by committee. The WB panicked too early and insisted on drastic changes in tone and story, opting out of the romantic aspects of the series for more sci-fi. (Nutter, a former X-Files producer, and Katims, whose background included the terrific My So-Called Life, probably conceded just to keep the series on the air.)

Roswell’s core audience became frustrated and bolted, and just as the WB was to cut its losses after a low-rated second season, in rode UPN, which figured that by packaging the series with its acquisition of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it could reach a larger audience. It didn’t.

This isn’t to say that Roswell didn’t have its built-in problems. Writers never quite knew what to do with Heigl’s character and seemed compelled to pair everyone up, with no relation to story progression. Behr played Max with such restraint, he looked as if his face was frozen. I often wanted someone to slap him out of it.

Fans of the series will find solace in a finale that ties up loose ends, even though the episode is something of a mess. The premise surrounds Liz and her newfound premonitions (lifted from Charisma Carpenter’s Cordelia on Angel). She can “see” all their deaths, and it seems the bad guys are closing in.

As they do, the characters bicker about what to do and how to do it, deciding eventually to simply high-tail it out of Roswell.

I have to admit that I checked out of this series long ago, catching up with it shortly after hearing that UPN was scrapping it. That I was able to tune in and pick it right up says something about both the simple-mindedness and stagnation of the scripts.

Longtime fans are bound to feel a sense of loss Tuesday, and not just because they’re saying farewell to these characters. The door will officially close on a promising series that should have been truly great but never was.