TV That Molded a Geek: Roswell

This TV show isn’t really one that molded me; rather, it perfectly fit a certain time in my life so well that it might as well have been molded to me.  Everyone can probably find a TV show or movie that just gets everything right – the clothes, the hair, the conversation topics.  For a certain generation, it’s John Hughes movies like Sixteen Candles.  For me – a teenage geek girl whose room brimmed with aliens of all kinds, ranging from the neon green plush to the purple inflatable – it was Roswell

Roswell is a show that aired briefly on the WB, later crossing over to another network.  It was one of those shows that lived longer than it ordinarily would have, thanks to a passionate, devoted fanbase and a few mail-in campaigns.  It takes place in Roswell, NM, and centers around Liz Parker, your typical pretty bio nerd who works as a waitress in her father’s alien-themed diner.

Liz’s life is irrevocably changed when she’s hit by a stray bullet in a shooting at work.  As she lays dying on the floor, one of her classmates, Max Evans, runs up and heals her (turns out he’s an alien, along with his sister and best friend).  Now that he’s effectively blown his cover, all manner of villains come out of the woodwork: the Sheriff who’s too smart for his own good, evil government agents, other aliens, and obnoxious ex-boyfriends.

It was equal parts Romeo & Juliet and The X-Files, at times representing the worst of both elements – a soap-opera-esque chain of relationships and an incredibly convoluted mythology.   But that was also what made it such good fun – the jaw-dropping moments, the ones where you’re yelling at the screen, and the suffocating intensity of puppy love erm, true love.  Right.  And it could also be flat-out funny – while it’s got its moments of super-awkward teenage drama, it doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as, say, Twilight.

Hmm, while we’re on the subject of Twilight – I know that it cribs from the same source as Roswell, Romeo & Juliet, but some of the similarities in the TV show pilot are eyebrow-raising.  A scene in a biology class particularly reminded me of Twilight, only in this instance, the fact that they have bio together has a point.  In fact, imagine Twilight, only with humor, and Edward wants to make sweet alien love instead of eat Bella’s face.  There, doesn’t that sound better?  I mean, if you’re going to indulge in teen melodrama, might as well have more fun.

While the show certainly has its moments poking fun at geeks – the gullible tourists who come looking for evidence of a government cover-up, the conspiracy nuts who run alien museums – it’s always in a loving way (Jonathan Frakes was an executive producer, and has a cameo in the pilot).  It’s always done with a wink – because, after all, in this show aliens do exist, and the government is out to get you.

Now, how did it affect me at the time?  Well, it served the same function a lot of sf serves – something to relate to even under the fun frosting of escapism.  As a teen, I was dramatic as all teens are, and my relationships seemed as important and star-crossed and fated as anything served up in fiction.  The show is often bookended with a voiceover of excerpts from Liz’s diary, and it probably could have come from the diaries of any teen, whether or not they were trying to hide the presence of alien life.

Practically, I was an unabashed fangirl, even reading the novels the TV series was based on (good but different).  I collected alien ephemera with even more zeal, and I bought some Native American silver jewelry because it reminded me of stuff on the show.  I squealed and giggled about the show with my girlfriends, mother and sisters; during the commercials on broadcast nights, the phone didn’t stop ringing as we called each other to squeal some more.

Unlike some other shows, Roswell was allowed a proper end – that is to say, they knew it was coming and planned accordingly.   I have mixed feelings about the last season, and the end of the series, but I don’t know if that’s because the third season was disjointed and sub-par – though it would certainly be understandable, given the network change and the uncertainty about the show – or if it was just me.  You see, for the final season I was in my freshman year of college – in a much different frame of mind than the hormonal 16-year-old who started watching the show.  My interest was fading even as the show was canceled.

Still, for that brief moment in time, it was the perfect show for me.  And now that the show is available on Netflix Instant, it’s a fun way for me to reminisce and be nostalgic.  It does show its age a bit – not in terms of how long ago the show was made, but the age of the intended audience.  If you know a teen who you’d like to wean off Twilight, this might be a perfect first step.  And if you’re tired of indulging your inner teen with shows about vampire love, why not give this one a try?  It’s got all the elements of a guilty pleasure – with less cognitive dissonance.


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