Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Alien Angst

By Devin D. O'Leary

OCTOBER 25, 1999:  High school is that magical time when you can wear your alienation on your sleeve like a badge of honor. What teenager worth his or her salt doesn't feel freakish and outcast and utterly lacking in self-understanding? The most clever thing about the WB's new sci-fi series "Roswell," then, is that is has cast actual extraterrestrials in the roles of alienated teens.

Set in modern-day Roswell High (the actual title of the young adult book series upon which this show is based), "Roswell" introduces us to a trio of teenage space aliens stranded on Earth following the infamous 1947 "UFO crash" in southern New Mexico. These three human-looking aliens were stuck in "incubation chambers" and didn't emerge until 1981 when they were adopted by some unknowing local families and stuffed into the Roswell school district. Shy Max Evans (Jason Behr), his spunky sis Isabel (Katherine Heigl) and their best friend Michael (Brendan Fehr) now look and act just like any other bunch of model-perfect, angst-ridden teens on TV -- except, of course, that they are psychic, can microwave a taco with their hands and have the ability to "rearrange molecules" at will.

When perky part-time waitress Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby) is accidentally shot during a robbery attempt at her father's ridiculous alien-themed Crashdown Cafe, smitten Max jumps in to save the day, sucking the bullet from her body and healing the wound with one touch of his miraculous hands. Liz brushes it off as a fainting spell and a broken bottle of catsup, but the incident raises the suspicions of local lawman, Sheriff Valenti (frequently creepy movie actor William Sadler).

Liz is soon hip to our trio's spacey secret, and it ain't long before interplanetary sparks are flying. In addition to the star-crossed romance, "Roswell" keeps its class schedule packed with intrigue (hints that another, murderous alien is out there somewhere) and drama (alien teen Michael seems a tad pissed that he got adopted by a drunken redneck while his compatriots went to an upstanding whitebread clan). Toss in some jealous boyfriends and a government agent or two, and you've got an entertaining, just shy of campy mixture of "The X-Files" and "My So-Called Life" (no small wonder, since producer Jason Katims was behind that late, lamented teen soaper).

Thankfully, the show is also dipped in a shiny coating of humor to make the whole horsepill go down easy. Liz and her quirky pal Maria, for example, come up with the codeword "Czechoslovakians" when discussing "aliens" in public. "The thing you have to factor in about Czechoslovakians," confesses Liz in schoolgirl-crush voice-over, "is that they have these totally dreamy eyes."

"Roswell" has all the necessary elements to spell "hit" over on the teen-oriented WB. Which isn't to say the show won't become a guilty pleasure among older viewers bored by TV's tidal wave of dour "adult" dramas. ... Now, if Hollywood could just get rid of all those damn Joshua trees in the desert outside Roswell.

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