As we hit day 25 of the longest federal government shutdown in history, Roswell, New Mexico offers a look at the tensions that brought us to this point. The CW’s remake of the beloved 1999 teen drama about aliens living among us comes with some welcome updates that place it firmly in the present day, layering social commentary into the sci-fi romance that highlights our politically divided nation.
Of course, the new iteration of the show still has all the requisite tentpoles of a young adult sci-fi drama. There’s the central alien story line, in which Max (Nathan Parsons), Michael (Michael Vlamis), and Isobel (Lily Cowles) are siblings from another planet, who have thus far successfully assimilated into human culture. There’s the love story, in which Max pines for Liz (Jeanine Mason), to the point where he tells her his secret, jeopardizing his and his siblings’ safety. There’s the drama, coming in through sibling tensions escalated by supernatural powers and through a love triangle with Liz’s ex-boyfriend, Kyle (Michael Trevino). There’s intrigue and mystery: What are these aliens hiding, and will they be found out?
But unlike the previous TV show, which starred Shiri Appleby and Jason Behr as the star-crossed lovers, Roswell, New Mexico takes place ten years after high school, making all of their problems a little more serious, a little more intense, a little more adult — and because of that, a little more political.
Liz, a scientist, has become everything Max and his siblings have always feared. “It’s the science that scares us the most,” he tells her in the premiere episode. And Max, now a cop, has become the same for Liz, the Mexican-American daughter of an undocumented immigrant in a border state.
Our southern border is, of course, a hot issue right now; our government is in a stalemate over funding for a wall in that very space. President Donald Trump refuses to sign any government budget (and thus end the shutdown) that does not allow for his $5 billion fence meant to prevent people from entering the country illegally through Mexico, while members of Congress — namely, Democrats, plus an increasing number of moderate Republicans — refuse to waste money on a symbolic gesture that fuels racism and won’t even solve the non-existent problem it’s intended to address, preferring to instead use those funds for immigration reform.
On the show, that wall is also the reason that Liz is returning to her hometown after all these years — her Denver lab “lost funding because someone needs money for a wall,” leaving her jobless — and the veiled racism that fuels cries for the wall is the same hatred targeted at Liz’s father, a diner owner trying to contribute to his community to the best of his ability.
While this seems like a perfectly timely for early 2019, it’s important to note that the show was actually made in 2018, before the government shutdown and before a GoFundMe was created for a citizen-funded wall — which goes to show that the country’s latest divisions are the foreseeable results of years of underlying animosity.
Part of this was a choice, and part of it was the natural result of aligning this iteration of Liz with the character in the book series Roswell High; choosing a present-day Latina lead meant making a political statement.
“We’re living in a world where certain people feel disenfranchised or certain people feel threatened, and I feel like those things come up in conversation all the time in our daily lives,” writer and executive producer Carina Adly MacKenzie told MTV News and other outlets at during a visit to the show’s Santa Fe set.
And for these modern times, the allegory between the aliens and the immigrants actually works out well. “We try to tell the story on the sci-fi metaphorical level and then to also tell the story on a more real level,” she said. “We have undocumented immigrants on our show that are feeling threatened the same way that we have aliens on our show that are feeling threatened, and I think that they’re not that different … Storytelling in general, I think, is about humanity.”
Since humanity extends beyond border politics and racism, as the story progresses, the show tackles other less talked-about but equally prevalent social issues, like sexuality, mental health, and returning military support, all woven into the alien-dominant storyline in such a way that you almost don’t realize just how many issues we’re dealing with until you pause and list them — kind of like marginalized issues in real life.
Taking care not to tokenize any characters and to offer varying perspectives, MacKenzie noted the overall goal was to tell “stories about what it feels like to be an ‘other’ and to feel all alone and to not have a community that you can look at” — something that we can all relate to in some way or another.
“Overwhelmingly, I think the through line is this idea of looking for a place to belong and looking for acceptance for what you are — you know, the truth of what you are and being able to be accepted for that,” Cowles said. “Tolerance and acceptance, versus intolerance and feeling threatened and endangered by something that’s foreign.”
Tolerance and acceptance, a message apt for Roswell, New Mexico, and for everyone living in the United States in 2019.