Dreamwatch – Highs and Lows (Roswell)

Thanks to Karola for posting this on the Roswell 2 Message Board.

June 2000

HIGHS & LOWS By Keith Topping

ROSWELL (‘High’ suffix added only for oversees sales) is one of the best new series (SF or otherwise) to have emerged from the US in the last five years. It’s right up there with BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and STARGATE SG-1.

A teen soap that wants to be science fiction, or a SF show with pretensions to be DAWSON’S CREEK? In reality ROSWELL HIGH is both. And it’s neither. In actual fact, it’s so much better than any one-line description of it that, like BUFFY, you have to wonder how it was that the series ever got off the ground in the first place. But once it did, it matured rapidly, showing a fine abiltiy to be wryly amusing whilst keeping the dramtic storylines of creator Jason Katims and executive producer Jonathan Frakes never far from the surface.

So the question has to be asked: Why on Earth is ROSWELL HIGH in trouble with it’s ratings at all? Everybody should be watching it. The simple trutgh is that ROSWELL is possibly a victim of its own chamaleonic abilites. Many viewers simply don’t know what to make of it. The series to which it is most akin, BUFFY, also had these problems early on when its critical standing was far higher than its audience appreciation. ROSWELL HIGH’s very clear agenda, from episode one really, was to stand aloof from the vast lore of the town that gave the series it’s name and to send up the whole idea of little green men and dodgy autopsy footage (the episode The Convention which poked merciless fun at SF and UFO conventions and all of the sterotypes that they throw up, is particularly noteworthy here).

So, if ROSWELL doesn’t want to be a series that takes the staple elements of your average SF concept (and it seemingly doesn’t) then what, exactly, does it have that makes it so watchable? So special? The answer to that is simple. It’s got a terrific cast.

Beside them are some equally impressive represntatives of the older generation; actors like William Sadler, Julie Benz and Mary Ellen Trainor who add the same anchoring qualities to proceedings here that Anthony Stewart Head and Kristine Sutherland bring to BUFFY. But where ROSWELL goes even further than Sunnydale’s finest is that it can afford to drop it’s adult characters at will and spend entire episodes concentrating purely on its teenage stars and the sometimes near-the-knuckle nature of their trials and tribulations. (BUFFY, for example, was well into it’s second year before it got anywhere near doing a stoyline on child-abuse with Ted. Conversely, ROSWELL was doing so, openly and with a sense of outrage, by episode fifteen – the staggerinly adult Independence Day).

Writers Thania St. John (a BUFFY veteran) and Cheryl Cain tap effortlessly into the teenage psyche and episodes like Monsters (focusing on the uneasy alliance between Maria and Isabel), 285 South (a mini-road movie) and River Dog (where Topolsky’s elaborate trap for the aliens comes close to success) demonstrate an accurate understanding of what, makes these characters so interesting.

The outrageous sexual undercurrents of an episode like Heat Wave shouldn’t be underestimated either, whilst St. John’s eipc The Balance casts the group into Micahel’s psyche in an effort to save him, literally, from himself. In ROSWELL HIGH there are frequent revelations and dramatic twists, but there are also moments of quiet reflection and touching resonance (Sexual Healing) that takes the viewer a long way from where they probably imagined they were going to in a series about alien teenagers.

Also, it seems like Mr. Topping is a Candyguy. This is his The Seeker by Melinda Metz review.

“The high point of the TV series, the Michael/Maria relationship, is the center theme of The Seeker. This is a cracking book, full of elegant pieces of writing far-removed from what most readers would probably expect in such a series (Metz spends a page describing Isabel painting her toenails in a scene dripping with sexual tension!) Michael, his uneasy dealings with his social worker Mr Cuddihy never more than a few pages away, find himself drawn into maria’s dangerous games after she finds a mysteriously glowing ring and uses the abilities it gives her for her own purposes. A little gem. 9