Skip West Wing; Watch Roswell

The network premiere of the evening is NBC’s The West Wing (9 p.m.), but Culturebox suggests that, come October 6th, you spin your dial to the WB’s Roswell (9 p.m.) instead. Here’s proof that hybridization can succeed. Generically, Roswell is the spawn of TheX-Files and Dawson’s Creek, but the first episode, at least, has more charm than both. It’s the story of two teen-agers, of course–it’s on the WB! She’s a normal girl who fears she looks like a freak (she doesn’t); he’s an alien boy who looks like the kind of shy dreamboat a girl could get a crush on (he is). Girl, who has waitress job, takes hit from passing bullet in coffee-shop altercation; boy, who has special powers, heals her with his unearthly touch. This prompts the revelation of his ancestry–he descended to earth as an incubating fetus in Roswell’s notorious 1947 alien spaceship crash–the suspicions of a grim-faced local sheriff, and, of course, a star-crossed romance.

According to EntertainmentWeekly, Roswell’s creators (an X-Files director and a My So-Called Life writer) originally offered it to Fox, which demanded changes and planned to launch it mid-season. They then took it to the WB, which put it in the best slot of the week, immediately after Dawson’s Creek. Once again, the WB has demonstrated its superior programming abilites. Roswell’s Liz (Siri Appleby) and Max (Jason Behr) are fine-tuned combinations of poise, awkwardness, and eloquence. The hunger on the alien Max’s face when he looks at the forbidden Liz is as raw yet sublimated as James Dean’s displaced homoeroticism. When Liz processes the facts of Max’s non-humanity, the scene lasts a minute or two, an eternity in TV time, in order to register her sequence of expressions: incredulity, hilarity, disgust at the cheesiness of the whole idea, terror, longing.

But what makes the show endearing is the tone: matter-of-fact in the manner of Buffy (you feel alien? You are alien), yet with a lighter touch. Roswell’s writers  have clearly studied their teen romantic comedy history, and understand that an adequate representation of the teen condition requires the presence of well-meaning but oppressive adults and friends who try and try but just don’t get it, but also an absence of condescension. Ignore the naysayers who will complain, as they do about Dawson’s Creek and Felicity, that teens don’t talk like that–that they lack such advanced powers of introspection. Teens never talked the way Romeo and Juliet do, or agonized as deeply, and who takes their creator to task for that?