Thanks to johnnysunshine for this :)
The new issue of British magazine Cult Times contains this very positive
look at the Hybrid Chronicles which just aired over there. I thought
people would like to see it since the magazine is not always easily
available in the U.S.
Audience research in America, apparently, has it that there are very
few genuinely regular viewers of anything: the vast majority of viewers
tune in to a maximum of half a dozen episodes of a given series in any
given year, preferring to dip in and out in a casual manner. Personally
I’m loathe to believe such generalized nonsense, partly because it implies
that people like me who watch several shows obsessively are in some way
freakish and unhealthy, and partly because it discourages the practice of
continuing stories over several episodes, of which I am particularly fond.
(I can’t remember why we started referring to this sort of thing as ‘story
arcs’, but as I suspect it may have something to do with J. Michael
Straczynaski, I’m trying to give it up.) Roswell has always been
reasonably canny about continuing both its developing Sci-Fi background
and its character-based plots over time, while still concentrating on
standalone episodes for the casual viewer to enjoy. The four episodes
shown on Sky 1 this month, though (sub-titled The Hybrid Chronicles in the
US), showed the value of occasionally throwing caution to the wind and
doing an honest-to-God serial.
A Law Unto Himself
To Serve and Protect started the ball rolling well by focusing on
Sheriff Jim Valenti, the only grown-up to have been let in on the aliens’
secret, who consequently occupied a very interesting and difficult
position. Part of the point of The Hybrid Chronicles was to deal with the
conflict between Valenti’s official position and the fact that he
apparently received his cues and clues from a bunch of weird teenagers. In
this case, his only leads on a kidnapping case came from a winsome alien
psychic (Isabel), who frustratingly didn’t even take the time to note down
the registration number of the kidnapper’s car before screaming herself
awake. Together with an effective scene in which Valenti’s son Kyle had a
go at the aliens for dragging his family into their alien mess, the story
made the most of Roswell’s most effective on going theme – the struggle to
contain a dangerous
shared secret within a steadily expanding group of people.
We Are Family saw the effects of poor Valenti’s co-operation, which led to
kidnapping being prevented only at the cost of an investigation into him
and his methods, and specifically why he kept hassling a certain Mr.
Sorenson. (Isabel was more help in identifying him as the kidnapper,
mostly because she had dated him in the past.) More importantly it
exploited Roswell’s other major strength, which is schmaltz. Alex (Colin
Hanks, son of Oscar-hogging superstar Tom) returned from a trip to Sweden a
sexier and more interesting person, and decidedly over his crush on Isabel
– apparently to Isabel’s chagrin. Meanwhile, Liz had a wistful turn over
the fact that she and Max couldn’t even snog (I’m not clear on why,
really), let alone go to Sweden, in an obvious but affecting tribute to
frustrated lovers everywhere – with Maria’s charming rogue of a cousin,
waiting in the background.
Refreshingly, it’s difficult at this stage to tell whether Sean is an
influence for good or bad, partly because Liz so obviously needs a regular
human boyfriend, and the warnings about him all come from the increasingly
annoying Maria. I could have happily lived without many of the supposedly
comedic scenes in the next episode, Disturbing Behavior, of her and Michael
investigating the background of Laurie (the kidnap victim of To Serve and
Protect, and somehow related to Michael). I can only assume that she was
felt necessary to liven up the scenes of the other characters being quiet
and serious, gazing ponderously into the distance, which come to think of
it is probably her role in the whole series. Perhaps what Roswell needs
most is a character who can be genuinely likeable, outgoing and funny
rather than loud-mouthed, pushy, objectionable and moronic.
The other thing that was going on in all these episodes, of course,
although not to such an extent that it was too obtrusive, was some Science
Fiction. The reason why Laurie was kidnapped was so she could be buried in
the ground with some semi-solid blue goo, which turned out to be a fatally
virulent sentient virus that had possessed poor Sorenson and made him carry
out its bidding. The clever thing is that this fairly average Sci-Fi plot
had enough of a presence, and was carried out well enough – special effects
and all – to make The Hybrid Chronicles appealing to those for whom only
such content holds any interest. For those of us who are after something
different, even the serial’s final episode (How The Other Half Lives) mixed
in some nice character-driven scenes with all the stuff about the goo.
Trapping Alex and Kyle in a cave provided one such diversion, as did the
very downbeat image of Isabel sitting alone with Sorenson’s corpse.
There’s a particular satisfaction, I think, about coming to the end of
a story and
feeling not only a sense of coherence and cohesion about the journey you’ve
taken, but also that you’ve had time to see some scenery along the way.
The Hybrid Chronicles achieves that sense of pace and balance to an extent
that would be impossible with a single episode, and is inevitably lost with
the increasingly common story arcs (sorry) that stretch across a whole
season. In reviving what might be called the forgotten art of the serial,
Roswell has provided a surprisingly authoritative template, which other
series would do well to follow.