Pop Culture Confessional is a weekly column where our writers can divulge and indulge in their most deeply embarrassing cultural passion — and then tell you why it actually rocks. Everyone has a few dirty little secrets. Only the truth shall set us free.
Everybody wants something to believe in. When I was 12, I was sucked into the WB’s world of vampires, monsters and aliens. While I’m still a huge fan of Buffy and Angel, Roswell was that show I’d never admit I liked, but wouldn’t dare to miss — and that was before TiVo.
Roswell started on the WB (now the CW) in 1999, when I was 11. It was based on a series of books that I’ve admittedly never read, but the original writers were screenwriters for the series. The main idea of the series was that four aliens, who landed in Roswell during the 1947 crash, were trying to pass off as normal high school students. They were clones of royalty on their home planet, which has been torn apart by civil war.
The first season — the only one available for streaming — is pretty typical of the “main character has a secret and can’t tell anybody” show. Mysterious boy does something amazing, girl falls in love with him and eventually finds out his secret. The secret proves dangerous, and then the entire group has to deal with the ensuing danger while trying to keep the secret.
Compelling stuff, but it wasn’t the only thing that made it great. It was a primetime soap opera for the teen set, if nothing else. The “star-crossed lovers” storyline with Max Evans (Jason Behr) and Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby) was straight from Romeo & Juliet, but we all still fall for it. There was the “sidekick couple” Michael Guerin (Brendan Fehr) and Maria DeLuca (Majandra Delfino), who seemed to have more issues than anyone, and the ice-queen sister, Isabel Evans (Katherine Heigl).
The formula may be familiar, but the subject matter can’t be beat. When I need an escape — formerly, from adolescent drama and now from the unending pressure of midterms — Roswell gives me a few minutes to chill out. It’s universal and it’s special, something I like to think I want to be.
Max Evans is probably the most “special” person on the show. He’s all secrets. On the outside he seems normal, but by the end of the first episode we all know it’s an illusion. He has a secret that’s worth killing for — or at least, killing him for. We all want someone to share our secrets with, which Max finally finds. But in the process he inadvertently reveals part of his secrets to not-so-scrupulous people, and ends up fighting for his life with a secret division of the FBI. Maybe being mysterious and special isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But even being normal on Roswell isn’t that great.
Liz Parker was the normal girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and ended up with a secret she couldn’t really tell anyone. I say I want to be special, but sometimes special isn’t a good as we would hope. Watching her suffer through her “specialness” gives me a sense that it’s alright to be ordinary — or as ordinary as someone juggling 5 extracurriculars and 4.5 credits can be.
I always wanted to be extraordinary, but in the range of Northwestern students, I’m really not. I take too many classes, do too many extracurriculars, and probably drink enough coffee to single-handedly sustain the economy of Columbia. Roswell reminds me why it’s okay that I don’t have a secretly alien boyfriend or a top-secret contingent of the FBI after me. Maybe being ordinary is a lot better than I thought it was.
The show was canceled in 2002, and I quickly forgot about it in the frantic rush of beginning high school. Then, in the spirit of midterms a couple of weeks ago, I was looking around Hulu for something to watch that wasn’t Community. I noticed that they had a Roswell channel, and decided to check it out. And my re-obsession was born. I had forgotten how easily translatable all of the experiences of these people from the other planets were to mine, even though I’m no longer and awkward middle-schooler who wished she could stand out.
Roswell allows me to escape, but only far enough that I can find my way back out — hopefully in time to make that next class.