The supernatural drama’s remake will give new meaning to the phrase “illegal alien.”
If seeing a bottle of Tabasco sauce still reminds you of Max Evans, Michael Guerin and the Crashdown Café, the news that teen alien drama Roswell is set to return to screens should make you very happy. Variety are reporting that the cult hit, which helped Katherine Heigl, Shiri Appleby and Brendan Fehr break out, is the latest nostalgic favorite to earn a remake. Development has just been announced at The CW in partnership with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin TV, Bender Brown Productions and Warner Bros. TV. A director is not currently attached.
The original series was set in the conspiracy-fodder New Mexico town and was based on close encounters between alien and human teens. It charted the romances, friendships, and rivalries that blossomed between the youngsters, and – as if teenagehood isn’t fraught enough – the life-threatening danger posed to them by snooping FBI agents. Original executive producer Kevin Brown (who is returning to produce the reboot) described Roswell as being “a combination of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ meets ‘The X-Files’” back when it was still airing, and that’s pretty much an on the mark description of the show’s competing themes.
The reboot, however, is updating its plot with characters that better reflect the reality of modern America. In the vein of shows like Jane the Virgin and Netflix’s One Day at a Time, Roswell’s remake will be told from the POV of a young woman with undocumented migrant parents. As per The Hollywood Reporter, here is the official synopsis:
“After reluctantly returning to her tourist-trap hometown of Roswell, New Mexico, the daughter of undocumented immigrants discovers a shocking truth about her teenage crush who is now a police officer: he’s an alien who has kept his unearthly abilities hidden his entire life. She protects his secret as the two reconnect and begin to investigate his origins, but when a violent attack and long-standing government cover-up point to a greater alien presence on Earth, the politics of fear and hatred threaten to expose him and destroy their deepening romance.”
Migration was hardly covered in the original series, and looking back, its absence is conspicuous given Roswell’s proximity to the border with Mexico. Centring this theme in the reboot also makes sense in light of current politics; the recently announced termination of the DACA program is just the latest in an expanding line of developments souring the political climate and threatening the futures of millions of undocumented migrants and their families.
There’s no question that, during these troubling times, more shows that unashamedly give voice to the migrant experience are needed. Roswell’s positive plot shift will place the series amongst a growing cohort of TV shows based on issues of migration that are also in the works: Casa, Illegal, Have Mercy, Welcome to Maine, In the Country We Love, and a Party of Five remakes are all set to feature migrant protagonists.
Executive producer Carina MacKenzie, scribe for the Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals, will be writing the script based on Melinda Metz’s book series, which also formed the inspiration for the show that ran from 1999 to 2002. MacKenzie’s prolific experience on The Originals – she worked on 53 scripts for the show – makes her attachment to the reboot a promising one, given the good grounding she already has in writing the supernatural.
The death of the original series was partly down to its writing, so MacKenzie has her work cut out for her. During the first season, the show seemed torn; was it primarily sci-fi, or was it angsty teen drama? Viewers were put off by its ambivalence, but even a decisive pull to the sci-fi side with the hiring of screenwriter Ronald D. Moore (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica) for the second season failed to convince audiences. Viewership continued to decline, ultimately leading to the show’s cancellation after three seasons.
Juggling divergent themes is a common problem amongst genre crossovers, so this Roswell reboot will likely be prone to the same dangers. Its migration theme does give it a hopeful edge in this respect, though, since the official logline hints at an overarching connection between the two themes. The “politics of fear and hatred” it references with respect to anti-alien sentiment will most likely be echoed in the protagonist’s own onscreen experiences, given that she is explicitly identified as having undocumented migrant parents.
Despite its faults, the original show’s cancellation seemed premature. Now, with the addition of a compelling central theme that makes it politically pertinent, Roswell’s reboot has all it needs to shoot for the stars.