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The question has to be asked: Why on earth is Roswell High in trouble with its ratings at all? Everybody should be watching it.

Highs & Lows / Dreamwatch June 2000 pg. 22

Roswell High bears many similarities to another highly popular teen fantasy series, as Keith Topping discovers when investigating it's possible demise..

We all know the scenario so well. It's a universal constant in science fiction, isn't it?

You find a series that you really like. You start to get interested in the characters, investing time and emotional attachment to them and their story. You look forward to forthcoming developments and then, just when you think that the future is in good hands and that nothing can go wrong, a bit of horrid reality shattered your little bubble universe and the rumours start that you series days are numbered. Typical. Most readers will, I'm sure, be able to quote dozens of examples of bygone favourites that have ended on the whim of a TV executive somewhere who, frankly didn't understand the whole concept of what the series was all about. And even if there was only you and four of your mates watching it well, what the hell, you liked it.

Television, being the business of compromise that it is, we sometimes have to take the rough with the smooth. True we only got five years of Quantam Leap when another two or three would have been nice. True, Dark Skies had far more potential than it was ever allowed to display. True (and just to prove that the principle is neither new nor wholly confined to the US networks), there is no way that Star Cops deserved to last only nine episodes. But sometimes, such threatened cancellations can really hurt. The latest victim of the rumours circuit is Roswell High. If you believe everything you hear, then all we may ever get to see of this strangest of strange love stories between Liz Parker and Max Evans is twenty two episodes. Just one season of looking at a world of hormone charged teen angst set amid the staggering New Mexico landscape. A mere six months worth of stories of alien children and suspicious adults. Roswell ('High' suffix added only for overseas sales) is one of the best new series (SF or otherwise) to have emerged from the US in the last five years. It's right up there with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Stargate SG-1. Yes, it really is that good.

For those of you who have never watched it on Sky, you're missing out on a genuinely impressive piece of imaginative, clever cross-genre television. A teen soap that wants to be science fiction, or an SF show with pretensions to be Dawson's Creek? In reality Roswell High is both. And it's neither. In actualy fact, it's so much better than any oneline description of it that, like Buffy, you have to wonder how it was that the series ever got off the ground in the first place. But once it did, it matured rapidly, showing a fine ability to be wryly amusing whilst keeping the dramatic storylines of creator Jason Katims and executive producer Jonathan Frakes never far from the surface.

So, the question has to be asked: Why on Earth is Roswell High in trouble with its ratings at all? Everybody should be watching it. The simple truth is that Roswell is possibly a victim of its own chameleonic abilities. Many viewers simply don't know what to make of it. The series to which it is most akin, Buffy, also had these problems early on when its critical standing was far higher than its audience appreciation. Roswell High's very clear agenda, from episode one really, was to stand aloof from the vast lore of the town that gave the series its name and to send up the whole idea of little green men and dodgy autopsy footage (the episode The Convention which poked merciless fun at SF and UFO conventions and all of the stereotypes that they throw up, is particularly noteworthy here).

So, if Roswell doesn't want to be a series that takes the staple elements of your average SF concept (and it seemingly doesn't) then what, exactly, does it have that makes it so watchable? So special? The answer to that is simple. It's got a terrific cast. Again, Buffy is the most obvious template here; an ensemble piece centered around, but not exclusive to, a pair of central characters with comic and aesthetically interesting foils that can be paired off to great effect. (Anybody else see an obvious link between Maria's role in Roswell High and Willow's in Buffy? Or compare the pairing of Isabel and Alex with Cordelia and Xander?) Ultimately, like Buffy, Roswell features a superb bunch of young actors: Shiri Appleby (Liz Parker), Jason Behr (Max Evans), Brendan Fehr (Michael Guerin), Katherine Heigl (Isabel Evans), Majandra Delfino (Maria DeLuca), Colin Hanks (Alex Whitman) and Nick Wechsler (Kyle Valenti), all of whom are attractive and charismatic and can do comedy and dramy in equal measure.

Beside them are some equally impressive representatives of the older generation; actors like William Sadler, Julie Benz and Mary Ellen Trainor who add the same anchoring qualities to proceedings here that Anthony Stewart Head and Kristine Sutherland bring to Buffy. But where Roswell goes even further than Sunnydale's finest is that it can afford to drop its adult characters at will and spend entire episodes concentrating purely on its teenage stars and the sometimes near-the-knuckle nature of their trials and tribulations. (Buffy, of example, was well into its second year before it got anywhere near doing a storyline on child-abuse with Ted. Conversely, Roswell was doing so, openly and with an sense of outrage, by episode fifteen -- the staggeringly adult Independence Day).

The back story of Roswell High is relatively straightforward. Liz Parker is a highly intelligent sixteen year old high school girl from UFO mecca Roswell, New Mexico, working in her spare time as a waitress at her parents diner, the Crashdown, with her feisty friend Maria DeLuca. One evening, whilst on shift, she is shot during a argument by two meathead customers. As Liz lies, dying, on the diner floor her life is saved by a mysterious "laying on of hands" by the darkly brooding local hunk, Max Evans. Liz keeps Max's gift a secret but, when confronting him with it later, he is forced to reveal that he, his glamourous sister Isabel, and their wild-outsider friend Michael Guerin are not from 'around here'. They are from... 'up there'.

After an effective pilot that sets up the characters nicely and displays a keen sense of dry humour, subsequent episodes detail the alien trio's search for clues as to their ancestry, whilst simultaneously attempting to hide their secret from sinister local sheriff Valenti, whose son is Liz's ex-boyfriend and who has his own agenda for wanting to discover aliens in Roswell, and the attentions of the alluring but mysterious school counsellor Kate Topolsky. Writers like Thania St John (a Buffy veteran) and Cheryl Cain tap effortlessly into the teenage psyche and episodes like Monsters (focusing on the uneasy alliance between Maria and Isabel), 285 South ( a mini-road movie) and River Dog (where Topolsky's elaborate trap for the aliens comes close to success) demonstrate an accurate understanding of what, exactly, makes these characters so interesting.

The outrageous sexual undercurrents of an episode like Heat Wave shouldn't be underestimated either, whilst St John's epic The Balance casts the group into Michael's psyche in an effort ot save him, literally, from himself. In Roswell High there are frequent revelations and dramatic twists, but there are also moments of quiet reflection and touching resonance (Sexual Healing) that takes the viewer a long way from where they probably imagined they were going to in a seriers about alien teenagers. A character like Alex, for instance, appears at first glance to be nothing more than a literal Zeppo. A comic wall for the others to bounce insults and sarcasm off. But Roswell's view of outsiders is essentially proactive. Again, like Buffy, here all of the characters have something to stand outside of and be embittered by. And for that reason, if nothing else, Roswell scores again over many of its contemporaries.

The world of Roswell High School is a world in which growing up and becoming normal may be a horrible reality for some, but it is also an impossible dram for others. Roswell began well in the US, a Wednesday night feature on the WB network fitting perfectly into the mid-evening slot that Buffy had made its own on Tuesday. But the ratings have been sluggish as conservative viewers opt for less challenging (and, as a consequence, less demanding television).

It's difficult not to criticise heavily those who choose to watch Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, ahead of Roswell (although to be fair, earlier in the season, Roswell's competition included Star Trek: Voyager and NBC's acclaimed West Wing). The WB have got nervous and, in an effort to attract new viewers have taken the desperate step of moving Roswell to Monday nights. Initial response seems positive but it remains to be seen if, in the long term, Roswell has any sort of future. If there's any justice in the world (which, in television terms, there usually isn't) it will.

This is an unofficial site. I am not affliated with Warner Brothers, Jason Katims, or Levis.

I am just a fan like yourselves. This site was created by Sonya.

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