For those of you who weren't thirteen-years-old and female in 1999, Roswell was on after 7th Heaven in the pre-CW golden days of the WB, and almost nobody watched it.
That isn't to say Roswell didn't have its glory days — the pilot debuted strong but began tanking fairly quickly. Executive producer Jason Katims (My So-Called Life) was good at making shows about teens who stared longingly at each other, but he didn't know nothin' about no aliens, so WB execs called in heavy-hitting Star Trek writer Ronald D. Moore.
The two guys must have thumb-wrestled for who got to write episodes and when, because Roswell was an utterly inconsistent miasma of adolescent hormones, stewing in a genre which one might call, very loosely, soft scifi. Soft to the point of flaccidity. And I obviously watched the shit out of it, because...well...fuck 7th Heaven.
To this day, every time I hear Dido's "Here With Me" it's like doing an amyl nitrate popper of my own middle school heart. If you don't want to live in these opening credits, something is wrong with you:
Yes, Katherine Heigl was on Roswell. Although I'm sure if you asked her about it, she'd probably murder you and then flail away at your formerly inquisitive corpse, weeping tears of blood.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. What was Roswell about? Two high school girls in Roswell, New Mexico – the protagonist Liz Parker and her sassy best friend Maria – are waitresses at Liz's parents' diner, the Crashdown Café. This is where everyone "hangs out," like the Bronze from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but for mouth breathers. Liz (Shiri Appleby, who later starred in the Oscar-nominated Swimfan) keeps a diary throughout the series that serves as the show's main voice-over narration. She's a "good girl," or at least literate, as evidenced by her reference to Shakespeare.
Maria, on the other hand, is being raised by a single mom, and it very clearly states in the WB Teen Drama Handbook circa Y2K that girls raised by a single mom are, on average, 60% sassier than those from nuclear families. Below, Maria wears a belly shirt because she doesn't have a father.
They're also friends with Colin Hanks. In a typical pilot episode twist ("Oh no, random man we never see again pulls out a gun!"), Liz and Maria and Colin Hanks find out that three of their classmates are extraterrestrials. When they were little, they came out of pods in the woods of New Mexico and got adopted by normal families. The FBI is looking for them, but they've successfully blended into high school. Until now.
More importantly, two of them are guy aliens who happen to be totally cute, and Liz and Maria like, totally like them, and they totally like Liz and Maria back.
Max is the ringleader of the three. He and Liz are soul mates, which we're expected to take for granted from the first moment they lay eyes on each other and keep in mind throughout that their love is True and Important. Maria's romantic counterpart is Michael, the guy alien "badass." We know immediately that he's a badass because his There's Something About Mary coif in Season 1 clearly indicates his a lack of respect for authority, doy.
Michael and Maria's tumultuous relationship is the foil for Liz and Max's pure and relatively chaste love. At first, Michael and Maria hate each other. Eventually they progress to an "on-and-off argue and make out" situation, and Michael stops gelling his hair to reflect his character development.
Amazingly, there are tons of fan videos for Michael and Maria on YouTube set to terrible late ‘90s songs like the one below, because ROSWELL LIVES ON IN OUR MINDS AND OUR HEARTS. Well, at least betwixt the neurons and ventricles of the four of us who watched it.
The third alien is Katherine Heigl, who's the Meryl Streep of the show because the rest of the cast acts with their hair. She plays Isabel, a cheerleader who dislikes Liz and Maria until Colin Hanks teaches her the miracle of trust.
So Liz, Maria, and Colin Hanks and the aliens are all bound together by this big secret. And the thing about teenage aliens is, since they're aliens, they sometimes teleport and heal and can't control their powers. And since they're teenagers, they sometimes get scared of feelings and act like dicks for no reason. And everything is just, like, so complicated.
Roswell's antagonist, Sheriff Valenti, is the stereotypical "I know something's weird about those damn kids but I just can't put my finger on it" local cop who hangs around the Crashdown Café trying to overhear the kids' conversations and follow them around in his station wagon. The fact that a grown man was constantly tailing these attractive, plucky kids instead of oh, solving crimes, always made me highly uncomfortable. If there's ever a Roswell reunion episode, there needs to be a scene in which Sheriff Valenti proves on-camera that there's not enough bound-and-gagged teenagers on his police computer to staff a Dairy Queen. You will have saved the purity of my childhood.
No true Roswell scholar can discuss the series without tackling the keystone episode "Sexual Healing." Because it's a WB teen drama, sex is a Big Deal. So in lieu of actual penetration, the brain-trust of the Roswell writers room crafted a wonky orgasm metaphor: when the kids French-kiss each other, and it gets "intense," they suddenly see each others' pasts in telepathic visions. And apparently it feels just gangbusters.
Max and Liz discover it first. They're making out, and then Max sees Liz as a little girl in Roswell and Liz sees Max's home planet. Liz tells Maria about the visions, and then Maria tries it with Michael and it works for him but not for her, but she lies and tells him that it does because she doesn't want to hurt his feelings. GET IT?
As the series progresses, it gets increasingly out there and more focused on the extraterrestrial element. It's like Ronald D. Moore clocked Jason Katims on the head with a ball-peen hammer and stashed him in a WB broom closet. In brief, Colin Hanks gets his brain sucked out through his ears and dies because he had to go make the movie Orange County. Emilie DeRavin joins the cast as Tess, Max's "rightful wife," according to some prophecy we didn't know about until the first episode in which she appears. Max From The Future visits and tells the kids stuff. It was craziness, and then it was canceled.
Whatever. It was still better than 7th Heaven.