This article is presented by Roswell, New Mexico. It contains minor spoilers.
Going into The CW’s new science fiction drama Roswell, New Mexico, you may think you know what you’re getting when it comes to the exploration of the “alien.” However, in the first few episodes of Roswell, New Mexico, it becomes immediately apparent that this show is not your parent’s alien story.
Roswell, New Mexico isn’t interested in simply telling the same kind of alien-come-to-Earth story we’ve seen before; it is looking to explore the concept of the “alien” as it is depicted in today’s America, and that choice makes for a pretty exciting addition to the 2019 TV landscape.
You can watch our video here, or keep reading for a more in depth look!
The Alien as “Other”
From Mary Shelley’s genre-sparking Frankenstein to sci-fi TV pioneers like Star Trek: The Original Series, science fiction storytelling has always been interested in exploring and empathizing with the “alien.” Sometimes, that means a creature reanimated from an amalgamation of others’ corpses. Often times, it means visitors from another planet. Whatever the specifics, the concept of the sci-fi alien is a wonderful way to explore our culture’s discomfort with the “other,” whatever that may mean to a specific American cultural moment.
In Roswell, New Mexico, it’s not hard to figure out which perceived “other” the show is looking to explore. A Roswell-based radio show host fear-mongers over the local airwaves:. “Aliens are coming, and when they do, they’re gonna rape and murder and steal our jobs!” Roswell, New Mexico may not always be subtle in its depiction of anti-immigrant racism, but even that lack of subtlety feels topical in a world that feels like it is getting louder, faster, and less patient in its conversations.
We first get a clue that Roswell, New Mexico means topical business in the opening scenes of the first episode, which see main character Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason) stopped at a Border Patrol interior checkpoint on her way home to, you guessed it, Roswell, New Mexico. Not only is Liz returning home partially because funding has been cut on the biomedical research project she was working on (de-funding of scientific research is very 2019) but she immediately assumes, most likely rightly, that she is being stopped for driving while being a person of color.
The exploration of Liz’s identity as both a Latinx American and the child of undocumented immigrants doesn’t stop there. When trying to decide whether to stay in Roswell or leave for another 10 years, Liz can’t help but factor in her father Arturo’s precarious situation, as ICE presence increases along the border. It’s vital representation for an America whose current leader in large part ran on a platform of building a wall to keep certain people, represented here by Liz and her family, out.
Liz is constantly worried about Arturo, whose options are severely limited by his undocumented status, and that concern is reinforced as valid by the show itself. At one point early in the season, Arturo is beat up, but he is unable to seek justice because of his undocumented status. If he files a report, he will most likely be deported. Everyone may know who committed the crime, but it doesn’t matter. Immigration anxieties trump justice and consequence for a violent crime.
Queerness in Roswell, New Mexico
When taken most literally in science fiction storytelling, “alien” means a being from another planet. When taken less literally, it is really just another way of saying something foreign to the perceived norm. In our culture, one of the perceived norms is heteronormativity, which is to say an assumption that there are two genders with natural roles in life, with heterosexuality being the assumed sexual orientation.
This rigidity is starting to change, as we begin to talk about concepts like gender and sexuality as existing on a spectrum and young people in particular seek out and champion stories that have more diverse representation. Roswell, New Mexico is an example of that change… which leads me to my personal favorite storyline in Roswell, New Mexico: the relationship between Michael (Michael Vlamis) and Alex (Pretty Little Liars‘ Tyler Blackburn).
Refreshingly, while these two have major problems, the queer love story is notable for its lack of “alien”-ness. In other words, we’re getting to a place, at least in pop culture, when we don’t have to denote a love story as queer. On Roswell, New Mexico, Michael and Alex’s romance isn’t defined by its queerness.
Alex, recently returned from war and struggling to figure how where he fits in Roswell, is hesitant to rekindle things with Michael not because he is ashamed of being attracted to another man, but because he is ashamed to be attracted to someone of Michael’s socioeconomic status. Michael is a white, working class man who grew up in the foster system and who sometimes resorts to petty crime to make ends meet.
Alex’s discomfort surrounding Michael stems from his father’s prejudices, passed down from to his son. He doesn’t disapprove of Alex’s relationship with Michael because they are both men, but because he sees Michael as white trash, and therefore unworthy of his war hero son. It’s pretty fascinating to see a show so explicitly about “other”-ness include a queer love story, but to shy away from overrepresented tropes like Gayngst or the Coming Out Story that rely on situating gayness as “other.”
In this increasingly busy media landscape, it’s not enough to simply tell a competent story; you also have to make a case for why that story is worth telling. In that respect, and many others, Roswell, New Mexico is off to a promising start.