This is truly a family show that feels both real and aspirational.
Lots of folks are worried about illegal aliens, including some folks in the small New Mexico town of Roswell. One podcaster who hangs out at the local diner seems particularly put out by the possibility the hamlet might be overrun. “Aliens are going to rape and murder and steal our jobs!” he fumes.
‘Course, the aliens this guy’s talking about wouldn’t be stopped by a hypothetical border wall: They’d just fly right over it. In fact, they already have.
Most of us know, of course, that Roswell was the site of the most famous alleged alien visitation ever back in 1947—a little extraterrestrial stopover that the government initially seemed to confirm before quickly denying it. Folks have been speculating madly ever since.
For Liz Ortecho, the speculation is over. Turns out, her high-school beau, Max, was one of ’em—not little or green at all, but big and burly and attractively unshaven. Seems he and his kin—no-nonsense sis Isobel and perpetually brooding wild child Michael—had crashed to earth in 1947, gestated in intergalactic eggs for a good 50 years or so, then popped out as fully formed, rather clueless humans.
Found wandering down the road as toddlers, they were swiftly swept up by social services and just as swiftly adopted. (Or, at least, Isobel and Max were.) They quickly undertook to assimilate, and they’ve been assimilating ever since. Better that than being shipped back to the Pentagon for some quality dissection time.
But ever since Liz learned their secret (and swapped interplanetary spittle with Max to boot), life for the aliens has gotten a little less certain. Seems the dastardly U.S. government never stopped searching for the survivors of the 1947 crash. A master sergeant at the base is particularly zealous. “They despise compassion, despise freedom and love, and they feed off our tragedy!” he blusters about the aliens. “They are at their very core killers!” So best kill them first, right?
He’s wrong about the compassion thing, of course. Liz knows that. She knows that these galactic tourists like them some lovin,’ too. All kinds of lovin’, in fact.
But while Liz has all sorts of reasons to like her alien pals better than most of the humans in Roswell, those intergalactic siblings haven’t told her everything just yet. Some secrets hide behind Max’s very human eyes. Clearly, Liz might just have to get to … probing.
In a fragmented television landscape, The CW feels like it’s found the formula for, if not breakout success, at least continued viability. It can be summed up by what I’m now calling the three S’s: soap, sex and the supernatural.
The CW never met a Halloween monster it didn’t try to turn into a teenage heartthrob. Vampires, ghosts and witches have all gotten Gen Z makeovers here, and most have found their romantic inclinations—and libidos—set to overdrive. Super-silly plots and overwrought relationships blend with superhuman powers in CW’s perpetual quest for ratings zinc. No need to mess with a good formula when you’ve found it, the suits at the network’s home office seem to believe.
But while Roswell keeps the template intact, it does slather on another layer or two.
First, it’s worth noting that Roswell is pointedly political, attempting to tie the plight of the show’s intergalactic aliens with the real-world issues that dominate today’s headlines. (Liz, with her Latino background, suffers bigotry of her own in the small town, thus making the already-obvious parallels unmistakable. Indeed, the talented doctor/scientist was forced back to Roswell because her funding was cut. Why? “Because somebody needs money for a wall,” she says.)
And even in the CW’s perpetually salacious confines, Roswell feels particularly libertine. In the very first episode, Isobel’s shown engaged in an S&M game (admittedly with her presumed husband), and Michael smooches a former same-sex flame of his. Later in the series, we see Michael passionately kiss his boyfriend, and the two are shown in bed together after an offscreen romantic encounter. Forget ostentatious displays of wealth: Sex is Roswell’s currency, and people spend and flaunt it with abandon.
Roswell, New Mexico and the CW feel like a perfect fit for each other. A fit for the family? This is one show you might want to hope flies away as mysteriously as it came, never to be seen again.
Max reveals to fellow aliens Isobel and Michael that his heart is failing and he doesn’t have long to live. Liz discovers that her research is being used for commercial purposes and enlists her coworker Heath to help stop it from being misused.
Heath invites Liz to have a drink with him, clarifying that he’s not asking her on a date, just suggesting that they have a bottle of wine and maybe “succumb to the moment.” Later, Liz kisses him passionately. Michael makes out with his boyfriend Alex, and we see the two lying shirtless in bed together. While attending an art therapy class, Wyatt, the brother of a girl that Liz’s sister killed in a car accident, draws male genitalia. (We don’t see his canvas, but he’s called out for it by his teacher.) When scolded about it, Wyatt claims that “art is gay” and leaves in frustration. Women wear revealing outfits at a bar, including crop tops and short shorts. References are made to one-night-stands, BDSM and pornography.
Maria, a bartender and Liz’s best friend, pours glasses of mead for her and Alex’s brother Gregory. Patrons drink at a bar, and Liz and Heath have glasses of wine with dinner. Kyle, a doctor in Roswell, pours Isobel a glass of tequila. Max drinks bourbon out of a flask and injects nail polish remover into his veins in an attempt to slow his heart failure. When attacked by Wyatt, Liz’s sister Rosa forcibly injects him with a sedative to knock him out.
The aliens use various supernatural powers, mostly to move objects with their minds. Before engaging in a one-night-stand with Max, a singer from the bar assures him that there are no strings attached, saying he won’t have to “go to church with my mom.”
Wyatt breaks into the bar where Rosa is working and threatens her with a gun before knocking over a few tables in anger. Maria is attacked by a group of aliens that she’s able to fend off with a knife. She stabs one in the chest, though we don’t see any blood.
The expletives “d–n” and “a–” are each heard twice, while God’s name is taken in vain once.
After years away, Liz Ortecho returns to her hometown of Roswell, New Mexico, where her first night back she’s shot by a mysterious gunman. (We see lots of blood staining her shirt and pouring over her chest.) Luckily for her, Max—a policeman, Liz’s old boyfriend and, as we soon discover, an alien with superhuman healing powers—is on hand to heal Liz on the spot. But Max’s intervention puts his secret, along with that of his extraterrestrial siblings, Isobel and Michael, in jeopardy.
Her second night back, Liz is encouraged by her BFF to drink heavily and have “random sex” with a “different guy.” She nearly does, coming close to doing the deed with another former flame. (She asks him if it’s a problem that the sex would be merely a distraction; not so much, he tells her, and she straddles him in a parked car before he gets distracted and she realizes the whole thing is a bad idea.) Max and Liz nearly kiss as Max presses his hand above her breast—a way, apparently, she can psychically share his memories.
Max’s sister, Isobel, is engaged in an S&M game with a guy: She’s wearing revealing lingerie and he’s tied to a bed, nearly naked and sporting a blindfold. (We later hear that Isobel’s happily married, so we can assume he’s her husband.) Max’s brother, Michael, meanwhile, passionately kisses a soldier named Kyle (apparently an old flame of his). Michael also snidely tells Kyle (before we’re privy to the extent of their relationship) that Michael’s trailer is home to “a little weed, a lot of casual sex and covert plans to overthrow the government.”
Liz bears a mark from where Max touched her: It looks like a bruise but ultimately grows into a prismatic handprint. Michael has the power to move objects with his mind, and he also seems to manifest superhuman strength at times. Isobel, we’re told, can influence people’s thoughts.
Liz quips to a wild-eyed podcaster that aliens abducted her great-grandfather and impregnated him. (Yes, that’s right: him.) We hear lots of racist comments and innuendo. We learn that Liz’s sister, Rosa, did drugs, and that when she was under their influence one night she killed a couple of people in a traffic accident. (She was later killed herself.)
People drink, sometimes in excess. Michael lands in the police drunk tank. Liz offers to put some bourbon in Max’s soda. People lie. We hear references to resurrection and prayer. Characters say “a–,” “b–ch” and “h—.” God’s name is misused twice.
Lauren Cook is serving as a 2021 summer intern for the Parenting and Youth department at Focus on the Family. She is studying film and screenwriting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. You can get her talking for hours about anything from Star Wars to her family to how Inception was the best movie of the 2010s. But more than anything, she’s passionate about showing how every form of art in some way reflects the Gospel. Coffee is a close second.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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