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All's Well in Roswell

Jason Behr recieves Katherine Heigl's
"Annoyed Look Version 1.0"

Before veteran writer and producer Jason Katims brought us the beloved Parenthood and Friday Night Lights, he worked on a little sci-fi high school drama called Roswell. While it centered on a group of aliens trying to fit in and avoid detection from the government and alien bounty hunters, all while learning to harness their out-of-this-world powers, Roswell actually had less in common with Smallville and was much more like Katims' other programs, including My So-Called Life, which Katims also wrote for.

As he did on Friday Night Lights, Katims was able to focus on developing the characters on Roswell and make each of them feel distinct and as real as could be believed. Thus, it was easier to identify with and care for these characters. Even the ones that were, literally, alien.

I recently rewatched the first season of Roswell and it's easy to see why, unlike Dawson's Creek and Smallville, I was so hooked on the show when it first ran. It's also easy to fall back in love with as the writing and acting still hold up.

Katims' smartest move was setting up the relationships early in the first season before heading into the more science-fiction heavy episodes that pile up at the end of the season. Now, I'm a big sci-fi fan. So, it's a testament to how good this show is that I actually wanted more of the high school drama stuff than I did of the undercover FBI agents and shape-shifting killer alien plotlines.

The basic set-up is that Max (Jason Behr), Isabel (Katherine Heigl), and Michael (Brendan Fehr) are aliens in human form that are high-school aged in 1999. Max & Isabel were found wandering the desert in New Mexico and adopted by the Evans family, while Michael was put into foster care. They all attend Roswell High and stick close to each other and try to keep each other, and their powers, secret. One day "The Crashdown," a local diner, two patrons get in an altercation, one of them whipping out a gun trying to shoot the other one. The shot misses, but hits Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby) in the stomach. Max rushes over and uses his power (he can "manipulate molecules" or something like that) to heal her wound, instantly. Then, he makes it look like she had just spilled ketchup on herself and leaves.

The next day at school, he tells her what he is. Since Max saved her life, and he's so intense and broody, she falls for him. Behr's actually quite charming in the role, as is Appleby as Liz. All the characters on the show are perfectly cast, actually. Heigl gets to be perpetually annoyed at Max and Michael whenever they threaten to expose their secrets. Colin Hanks plays the requisite geek that falls for Heigl's Isabel (and their relationship actually makes Heigl appealing just from her being in close proximity to Hanks' winning performance). Fehr is great as the aloof heartthrob with spiky hair that starts dating Liz's best friend, the excitable and overdramatic Maria (Majandra Delfino). Add in veteran cool guy William Sadler as the Sheriff and Nick Wechsler (now on Revenge) as his son Kyle, Liz's ex-boyfriend, and you've got a great cast to bounce off of one another.

The way Katims (who wrote at least 19 of the show's total 61 episodes) builds the relationships between these characters is quite masterful. The Sheriff is constantly suspicious of Max and his friends, and it doesn't help matters that his son is constantly looking for reasons to hate Max. Michael and Maria have a classic love-hate relationship that of course leads to them majorly having the hots for one another. And even Isabel can't help falling for the sincere Alex (Colin Hanks). As they all deal with trying to keep their own secrets and whether or not they should even get involved with each other, the Sheriff and even the FBI start snooping around these kids.

Things kind of go off the rails a bit near the end of the season when two more aliens are introduced, one being an older alien that's supposed to watch over Max, Isabel and Michael, and another alien their same age. The latter is Tessa, played by Emilie De Ravin (AKA "Crazy Jungle Claire" from Lost). She causes all kinds of trouble for Max and Liz and is super annoying in general. (I think she gets paired with Kyle in the second season and, if I recall correctly, that ends up being pretty fun to watch.) Anyway, the 1st season ends with too much sci-fi stuff going on for my taste, but the core group appears to be in a safe place for a little bit as they go into the second season.

It was fun to revisit this show and see not only Katims' evident talents in this early stage of his career, but also Heigl before she became so annoying, Hanks before he became a straight man to Bradley Whitford on The Good Guys, and Wechsler before he pined over Emily Thorne on Revenge. (Star Trek: The Next Generation's Jonathan Frakes was also involved on the show and directed a few episodes. But, the less said about that, the better.) The strong writing and acting on this show make it a joy to revisit and is surprisingly un-cringeworthy to look back on. Especially for a show more than a decade old. If you love either Friday Night Lights or Parenthood, you'd do well to go back and see just how good Jason Katims was already when he ran a show called Roswell.

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