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'Roswell' offers aliens, warmed-over teen love

Tuesday, October 05, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

For high school kids steeped in "Romeo and Juliet" or the 1996 Leonardo DiCaprio-Claire Danes movie "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet," forbidden romance is a familiar and enticing plot device.

You can't get much more forbidden than The WB's "Roswell," where a human girl falls for an alien boy. Talk about complications.



When: 9 p.m. Wednesday on The WB.

Starring: Jason Behr, Shiri Appleby, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fehr, Majandra Delfino and Colin Hanks.


In the first two episodes at least, biological compatibility doesn't come up. In the teen sex department, "Roswell" is pretty tame for a WB show, save for an unfortunate allusion to oral sex in the second episode.

Shiri Appleby stars as Liz Parker, a brainy and beautiful high school student (as if there's any other kind on The WB) who lives in Roswell, N.M., and works at her parents' diner, the Crashdown Cafe.

As "Roswell" begins, two patrons get into a fight, a gunshot is fired and Liz slumps to the floor. Max Evans (Jason Behr), who has long harbored a crush on Liz, rushes to her side, waves his hand over her stomach and - voila! - she's healed. But a couple of annoying UFO-hunting nerds start tattling to the local sheriff (William Sadler) about what they saw and suspicions rise about Max and his involvement.

Liz is simply spooked. Her life has been irrevocably changed.

In a series of clever and enjoyable scenes, Liz tries to make sense of what happened to her. She confronts Max and asks where he's from. He points up.

"Up north?" she asks.

He points higher.

Liz was touched by an alien. He healed her wounds and now he's stolen her heart.

"Max Evans has put a force on me," Liz says. "It's like my whole life changed in an instant. It's just so ironic that when something like this finally happened to me it was with an alien."

OK, so some of the dialogue is bound to make older viewers gag, but as teen shows go, "Roswell" is sweet and easy to cheer for.

The first 20 minutes of Wednesday night's pilot (9 p.m. on WCWB) is easily the best series introduction this season. Unfortunately, it loses momentum as Liz and her friend Maria (Majandra Delfino) try to help Max outsmart the sheriff, whose son (Nick Wechsler) Liz has been dating.

Liz also discovers Max isn't the only "not of this Earth" descendant from survivors of a 1947 spaceship crash in Roswell. In this show's version of history, the object that fell from the sky was no weather balloon.

Max's sister, Isabel (Katherine Heigl), and their friend, Michael (Brendan Fehr), are also aliens. In the second episode viewers learn all three emerged from pods in 1989 looking like human 6-year-olds. They've kept the charade going ever since.

Behr appeared last season on "Dawson's Creek" as an arrogant jock, but he easily makes the transition to sensitive, trusting alien in "Roswell." Newcomer Appleby is the real find. She comes across the way Katie Holmes did when "Dawson's Creek" premiered: the picture perfect embodiment of the fresh-faced good girl.

As Michael, the alien who drew the losing straw in the adoptive human family contest, Fehr has to show he's an outsider both because he's an alien and because he lives in a trailer park with an alcoholic foster dad. But mostly you'll just notice Fehr's constant bed-head hairstyle.

Colin Hanks has a minor role in "Roswell" as Alex, Liz and Maria's somewhat nerdy friend. So far he hasn't gotten to do much other than beg for inclusion, but keep your eye on this Hanks - he's Tom's son from his first marriage.

"Roswell" was developed by Jason Katims, who wrote for "My So-Called Life," and directed by David Nutter, a veteran of "The X-Files." "Roswell" capably combines the ethos of both predecessors, but it can't help feeling a little warmed-over. It appears there will be an ongoing thread about how the teen aliens are in danger of discovery, capture, experimentation and destruction.

In this week's premiere, the trio also discover there may be at least one other survivor of the Roswell crash, but that alien may have killed a human. But the glut of mythology shows makes their search for another alien less interesting than Katims intended.

Likewise, "Roswell's" main theme - adolescence is an alienating experience - has become overly familiar. Adding sci-fi elements gives it a twist, but it won't keep viewers coming back every week. The nervous glances between Max and Liz will. Their budding relationship is the key to luring teen viewers.

As for the aliens' ability to reheat tacos in the palms of their hands? Few will care.

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