R is for…
Long-time readers of this blog will have probably heard me mention the television show ‘Roswell’, especially in connection with the fanfic and fanart I’ve created based on the show. It’s a bit of an interesting story how I got so involved in Roswell fandom. It’s not really one of the best shows that have been on television, but I think that possibly its flaws are just big enough to give fans room to slip through and play on their own.
I tuned into the show in the fall of 1999, after it had been on the air for a few months – mostly because I wanted to see what Julie Benz was up to since leaving Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ironically, the first episode I saw was the end of Julie’s recurring arc on the show – she returned for one more episode later in the season, and I caught most of her other episodes in reruns, but that was all for Julie.
But I started following the show – the teenage leads had some charisma working for them, the writing was witty and engaging, (Jason Katims knows his stuff, and so does most of the writing team he put together,) and most of the plot holes that crept up were easy to gloss over.
Around this same time I was participating in a crazy crossover RPG on egroups, and later yahoo groups – Roswell wasn’t part of the canon for the RPG, just Buffy, Angel, Charmed, and the movie ‘Sleepy Hollow.’ It was a lot of fun, and the moderator of the game was also a big fan of Roswell. She ended up pointing me to a few fan sites, and gave me my first taste of Roswell shipper controversy.
To explain this part fairly briefly, over most of the first season of the show, there were roughly parallel romantic arcs between three couples in the show’s teenage cast – Max Evans with Liz Parker, Michael Guerin with Maria DeLuca, Isabel Evans with Alex Whitman. Each of these pairs was one alien character, (Max, Michael, Isabel) and one human, (Liz, Maria, Alex.) There was also another teenage regular human, Kyle Valenti, Liz’s ex-boyfriend, but he was more of a foil for Max than anything else at this point.
In the last arc of season one, a new recurring character is added – Tess, a new transfer student who turns out to be alien, makes a play to steal Max away from Liz, and also makes known her opinion that Michael and Isabel should be together, as some strange sort of an alien plan. In the first season finale, part of that plan comes to light, with the revelation that the four alien teens had a prior life on the alien planet, where they were married or betrothed, and then brought back as half-human hybrids because their prior selves had been killed by a political rival.
Somehow, this notion, and the potential drama it had for the characters, was what really inspired me to start writing stories in the Roswell fandom. If Max and Tess had really been married in a past life, did that make Liz the ‘homewrecker’? Each character could have very different reactions to the news and to the central question of past lives and how it affected the show’s themes of making your own choices in your life.
A lot of the other fans I met didn’t seem to value this sense of conflict, which just made me more stubborn about trying to explore it for a while. I sympathized with a lot of the views of the ‘Conventional shippers’, who felt that no undue angst should trouble the love lives of Max/Liz, Michael/Maria, and Isabel/Alex, and that possibly Kyle and Tess should pair up to keep both of them from causing any more trouble. Over my years of writing Roswell fanfic, I’ve started to become more ‘conventional’ myself, if only because I feel I’ll get more readers who’ll say nicer things that way, and because I’ve gradually absorbed a lot of interesting story notions from ‘conventional couple’ friends.
In that time, the show went on for two more years, most of which presented really interesting ideas and then failed to execute them in a satisfying way. I’m not going to list off all the notions that fit that description, though the time-warp field as a weapon and the alien pilot who doesn’t ever want to fly a spaceship again deserve passing mention. More than anything, I thought that there was a great opportunity to show these hybrid kids as torn between the familiar life of their human sides, and trying to find out more about their alien heritage – which was explored a few times, and then completely subverted because each time, their alien lives were portrayed as being completely without merit or worth.
In many ways, it was a magical show because most of its fans saw something in it that none of the writers or actors appear to have been able to relate to, though the author of the original book series that the show was based on comes close. (And she got the idea from the publisher, who brought in a lot of different authors to audition for the series.) But for a little while, what each of those people were contributing added up into something that none of them were trying to get to. And then, around the end of season one, that perfect storm went off-balance. But I’d probably better stop myself there before I truly begin to rant.
It’s still a show that keeps inspiring me, and that’s a blessing that I don’t want to turn my back on, even as I focus more of my time into writing ideas that I can make entirely mine in a way that I can’t do with fan fiction. Nowadays I’m doing more crossover mashups than straight Roswell fanfic, but that’s a lot of fun too.