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Roswell: The Complete First Season

Roswell is one of those shows where everybody looks like someone else. The lead character, Liz Parker, a science-minded sophomore at Roswell High whose parents own the local diner, is played by Shiri Appleby, a lookalike for Jamie-Lynn Sigler of "The Sopranos." Meanwhile, the James Deanishly troubled Michael, one of three teens who learned at a very early age that they are aliens who crash-landed on earth in the famous incident that has preoccupied UFOlogists for decades, is played by Brendan Fehr, a visual blend of David Duchovny and Richard Gere. And Liz's best friend, the "wacky" Maria is played by Majandra Delfino, the spitting image of Molly Ringwald, c. Pretty in Pink. In addition, there is something a smidge damaged about many of the actors in Roswell, it being a somewhat lower-budget show than average. They have either slight speech impediments such as lisps, or aren't quite as pretty or ruggedly handsome as the Darwinian high-stakes of network TV casting usually demand (it's also depressing to see former L.A. punk rocker John Doe reduced to playing Liz's infrequently present dad). Roswell, which aired on the WB network for the first two of its three seasons, is based on a series of popular Young Adult novels by Melinda Metz (others now write them). As its romantic-teen-fiction origins might suggest, Roswell is a soap opera disguised as a science fiction series. Central character Liz has a huge crush on her mysterious fellow student Max (Jason Behr, from "Dawson's Creek." Max, on the other hand, is inseparable from his sister Isabel (Katherine Heigl, a good generation older than the rest of her classmates) and his friend Michael. Liz is officially dating Kyle (Nick Wechsler), the son of local sheriff Jim Valenti (the terrific William Sadler). The sheriff is himself suspicious of the three kids because of incidents in his past and experiences with UFOlogists who were close to him. He suspects that the trio are, indeed, aliens, deposited on the earth during the fabled Area 51 crash.

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As the season evolves over 22 episodes we learn a lot about these three alien teens and follow the ups and downs of Liz's interest in Max. Roswell, which is executive produced by Jonathan Frakes, is a well-written and mostly well-acted teen series. Like many debut seasons, the show took awhile to clarify many of its subsidiary elements. For example, Heigl's character starts out being one thing, then suddenly becomes something else (a "Heather"), before that personality is dropped and she evolves into something even more contrary. Since Isabel is fully aware of her alienhood, the viewer wonders why she would embrace the most pernicious aspect of high school life. If Roswell as a whole is a metaphor simulating the class structures and alienation of high school life, perhaps the writers might have made it clear that Isabel is desperately choosing to be a Heather as a survival strategy. Colin Hanks (son of Tom) is the obligatory nerd, but subplots of him being angry at best friend Liz because she won't be "honest" with him feel contrived. Also, some episodes, such as the early one in which Liz's grandmother comes to visit, feel like they are out of order from the episodes around them. Nevertheless, Roswell quickly became something of a cult, and it's easy to see why, given its evolving story of impossible love and "Superman" fantasy elements: The alien kids aren't really dorks, but in fact creatures from another planet with superhuman powers they must keep hidden. After dragging out in piecemeal "X-Files" fashion the mystery component of the series — who the teens are and where they came from — the last few episodes of Season One tumble out revelation upon revelation, setting up the conditions for an even more complicated Season Two (which almost didn't happen, until, in protest, fans peppered the WB network with Tabasco bottle caps, in homage to the aliens' unexplained appetite for the hot sauce on everything they eat). Roswell is an enjoyable if somewhat slow-paced show that manages to wring a surprising amount of permutations from its finite gang of characters.

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Fox Home Entertainment's release of Roswell contains the full 22-episode season across six discs, with one episode per platter selected for audio commentaries. These comprise the pilot (with producer writer Jason Katims and producer David Nutter), episode eight (with Nutter), episode 10 (producer-writer Thania St. John), numbers 16 and 17 (both with Shiri Appleby and Majandra Delfino), and the season climax (with Katims and director Robert Norris). Other supplements include, on Disc One, deleted scenes from the pilot, and on Disc Six, two featurettes, including "Area 51: Behind the Scenes of Roswell" (30 min.), an adequate and unusually well-photographed "making of" that gives a lot of background to the show (it seems to be a blend of new footage and original promotional footage shot on the set while the show was in production), and "Roswell High: The Making of Roswell" (10 min.), in which Laura Burns, who developed the paperback series, and Melinda Metz, who wrote the novels, sort out the history of the books versus the history of the show and delineates the differences between the two, while paying fealty to the fans of Roswell at Crashdown.com and other sites. Also on hand are two audition videos with actress Emilie de Ravin, who arrived late in the season to play the mysterious Tess (4 min.), and finally, a video, "Save Yourself," by Sense Field (3 min.). The set enjoys good widescreen transfers (1.78:1) with sharp Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The dual layered discs also come with English subtitles, as well as subtitles in Spanish and French. Six individual sleeves enclosed in a slipcase.

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