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'Roswell' improbable but enjoyable soap

Sunday, October 07, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

There was plenty of hype surrounding the move of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" from The WB to UPN, but another series made the same journey but with much less fanfare.

That's always been the fate of "Roswell," which premiered on The WB in fall 1999 to high praise from critics, but after the pilot, the series too often felt the same: teen-age aliens facing the same angst familiar to human teens.

It wasn't bad; it just got old.

Alien Max (Jason Behr) saved the life of human Liz (Shiri Appleby), thereby getting her attention and setting the stage for an alien-human, Romeo and Juliet-style romance. Max's fellow aliens, Michael (Brendan Fehr) and Max's sister Isabel (Katherine Heigl), were nervous about the Max-Liz romance, as were Liz's human pals Maria (Majandra Delfino) and Alex (Colin Hanks).

Last season the show took a different direction, placing a greater emphasis on sci-fi elements and continuing stories. The season ended with a compelling murder mystery arc that led to a shock as supposed good alien Tess was revealed to be Alex's killer. She then spirited away from Earth on the aliens' only space ship, taking Max's unborn child with her.



When: 9 p.m. Tuesday on UPN.

Starring: Jason Behr, Shiri Appleby.


Oh yeah, earlier in the season Tess convinced Max they were fated to be a couple, drawing him away from Liz.

The new season that begins with Tuesday's episode jumps all over the time continuum, from Max and Liz taking their first steps back toward a relationship a few months ago to their arrest for robbing a convenience store in the present.

Not that they've turned into small-time crooks. Max discovered another spaceship was hidden in a military hangar beneath the store. After getting a mental message from his unborn son, Max decided he had to find a way off Earth to rescue his alien baby.

If it all sounds too preposterous, well, it is. The show acknowledges that.

"I just want to put everything that happened behind us," Max tells Liz.

"I would, too, if I had impregnated an alien killer who murdered one of our best friends and then left the planet with my unborn child," Liz replies.

There's good reason why "Roswell" gets lost in the shadow of "Buffy." "Buffy" is an infinitely superior show, far more sophisticated, creative and intelligent. But "Roswell" developed into an enjoyable alien soap opera last season. You'd tune in and never quite know what you'd get, whether it was a trip back in time to the crash of an alien spacecraft in 1947 or a visit from the Max of the future, who warned Liz their relationship would doom the world.

Tuesday's season premiere, written by series creator Jason Katims, gives only a few hints about the direction the show will go in, but there definitely seems to be a greater concentration on the more human aspects of the show. The parents of Max and Liz, previously seen in small doses, have prominent roles in the episode and even conspire to keep the young lovers apart.

At the same time, Isabel, sporting a new short hairstyle, has taken up a secret affair with an older man: a 25-year-old lawyer who works with her father.

"Roswell" on UPN does seem, at first glance, a bit steamier than it was on The WB, with lots of makeout sessions between the various couples. Tuesday's episode isn't one of the show's finest hours, but it's a serviceable start to the season.

This summer, Katims indicated "Roswell" will have fewer serialized stories on UPN.

"One place we differed slightly [with The WB] is that they were clearly pushing us to do more mythology, arc stuff," Katims said. "Now we're trying to do more stand-alone episodes, so you don't have to have seen the episode before to feel like you've seen the story."

While Katims could pick out episodes from each of the show's first two seasons as favorites, several cast members expressed a clear preference for season one.

"Story-wise, I did like the first season better," Delfino said. "I liked playing into the metaphor of kids being aliens as opposed to really dealing with aliens."

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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