There has been no shortage of reboots gracing the television landscape in recent years, with varying degrees of success. But in the case of Roswell, New Mexico, which is a reimagining of the WB/UPN drama that ran from 1999 to 2002, it’s not really much of a reboot. The most basic tenets of the original series are there, but there are plenty of changes that make this one feel fresh, giving the superhero-heavy CW a new drama/mystery to add to its slate. That’s especially good given that The Vampire Diaries and The Originals have both ended, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin are both wrapping up their runs in 2019.
The premise here is that biochemist Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason) returns to her hometown of Roswell while she’s in between research positions, and gets wrapped up in the secrets and lies of the alien race that has been living there since the infamous UFO crash of 1947. Liz becomes privy to this information when she is fatally wounded by someone shooting up her father’s restaurant, but her high school friend Max Evans (Nathan Parsons) is able to use his alien powers to resurrect her.
Evans has never before used his powers in such a big way, but he’s been in love with Liz since they were kids and he can’t bear to let her die. When she grows suspicious of the incident, Evans reveals to Liz the cave where the alien pods are kept and tells her that he, his sister Isobel (Lily Cowles) and their friend Michael (Michael Vlamis) are aliens who awoke as babies in similar pods in said cave back in 1997.
Meanwhile, Liz’s high school boyfriend, Kyle (Michael Trevino), sees the alien handprint that Evans left on her and goes to see local Air Force master sergeant Jesse Manes (Trevor St. John) to find out what it means (per the instructions his father gave to him before his passing). This puts Kyle firmly on the side of the government that is trying to find and destroy the aliens, though there is sure to be some conflict and drama on Kyle’s part, because what would a love triangle be without conflict and drama?
At its most basic narrative level, the show’s premise is only mildly interesting, but two things manage to elevate it enough so as to demonstrate the potential for good storytelling, and there’s also change from the original that gives the show more fertile ground to work with than a lot of CW dramas: The first is the immigration parallel. Liz’s family is Latinx and it’s implied by her worrying about her father’s deportation that he may be undocumented (not that it’s only undocumented immigrants who have to worry about deportation nowadays). So the Ortechos and other families like them are blasted by hateful rhetoric and hunted by immigration officials the same way the aliens are hunted by the government and blasted by hateful rhetoric courtesy of a local nutjob podcaster. At times, it feels like the parallel could be handled with a little more subtlety, but on the other hand, there has been no shortage recently of people calling immigrants things like violent monsters, something the aliens are referred to as on Roswell. So, maybe it’s not actually that heavy-handed.
Either way, it’s a change from the original series that immediately makes the reboot feel updated and connected to today’s world. There’s even a reference to “the wall” in the pilot that could have dated the episode a bit (as production would have happened long before the premiere), but the show is now going to debut as a government shutdown over said wall drags into its third week, so the reference is actually incredibly timely.
The second big thing Roswell, New Mexico has going for it is the mystery planted in the pilot. Liz’s older sister Rosa (Amber Midthunder) was killed 10 years prior to when the show begins, after she caused an accident while under the influence of drugs that also killed two other girls. Except, of course, that’s not the whole story and some people close to Liz are determined that she never know the truth. It’s a solid nugget to drop, giving Liz some believable stakes to stay in town, while also giving the audience a mystery to become invested in.
Finally, the original series, which is based on Melinda Metz‘s Roswell High YA book series, was set in high school. That’s all well and good, but the reboot has aged the main characters up by 10 years. In fact, they all come together in the pilot for their 10-year class reunion. That’s a strong change because A) they can have more adult problems and B) if the show is successful, the writers don’t have to invent some cockamamie scheme to keep everyone together after two seasons.
Whether or not this is The CW’s next big drama hit remains to be seen. The network has had its fair share of quick cancellations in recent years where supernatural dramas that sounded OK on paper just couldn’t find an audience — anyone remember Star-Crossed, The Tomorrow People, The Messengers, or Frequency?
But Roswell gets off to a solid enough start that this may be one reboot that quickly finds its own voice and its own audience. Its popularity certainly won’t hinge on having been a fan of the original; those who liked the first Roswell will also like this, but those who didn’t watch it won’t be missing anything from the past by starting with this one.
Roswell, New Mexico premieres Tuesday, January 15th on The CW.