Review By Paul Mount, 4.5 out of 5 Having escaped cancellation at the end of its first season by the skin of its teeth – and with considerable help from its small but vociferous fan base – ROSWELL returned for its second year a very different, much leaner, keener machine. Incoming producer Ronald D Moore eased the show away from the rather soppy soapy humans-love-aliens teen drama of much of the first season and injected liberal doses of solid science-fiction along with much-improved characterisation, more confident acting and a nice line in sharp humour. The results are astounding; ROSWELL season two is a revelation, a series very clearly taking its cues from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER but rising easily to the challenge and – I’ll be frank here – creating a season as riveting and enthralling as the very best of our favourite Slayer’s exploits.

At the end of season one our three aliens (Max, Isobel, Michael) had been joined by a fourth – the enigmatic Tess – and found a mysterious alien chamber out in the desert. Lovestruck waitress Liz realised that she and Max were destined never to be together and she gently ended their troubled relationship. Our heroes also discovered that there was another race of aliens out there – and that they weren’t quite as benign as the Roswell group and that they were on their way to earth. Season two picks up some months later and the dramatic ante is upped almost from the start. The new aliens are here; they’re ruthless and they’re called the Skins. Over the course of the first handful of episodes we’re plunged headlong into fast, pacey sci-fi adventures involving all the familiar genre cliches – shape-shifters, aliens-in-human-form, time travel, alien possession – with the previous year’s soft-focus teen romance stuff neatly sidelined. ROSWELL benefits enormously from this new emphasis and the scripts become tauter and much more fun. The characters have more time to breathe and behave like real people in an unreal situation.

The continual comparisons to BUFFY are unavoidable but the resemblances are becoming startling. There’s now a nice line in self-deprecating wit – Majandra Delfino (with her new, Sarah Michelle Gellar hairstyle) is a joy as Liz’s best friend Maria and it’s fun to watch the cold, aloof Michael (Behr) thaw as he comes to terms with his humanity and his feelings for Maria. There’s more screen time too for William Sadler as Sheriff Jim Valenti who puts his own job on the line to protect the Roswell aliens and Nick Weschler earns his comedy spurs as Valenti’s newly-Buddhist son Kyle. Liz and Max remain the dourest, least-interesting characters but now their drama is no longer the series’ driving force it’s easier to tolerate Max’s wistful star-gazing and Liz’s moody pouting. Lots of new characters too, from Brodie the wild new owner of the UFO museum, Sean, Maria’s bad boy cousin with a crush on Liz, and Grant the visiting archaeologist who takes an entirely-understandable fancy to the frankly-gorgeous Isobel.

The beauty of this excellent season of ROSWELL is in the sheer scope and scale of its storylines. There are story arcs, mini-arcs, subplots, a couple of self-contained two-part stories – so much going on that the show is never less than enthralling and frequently edge-of-the-seat exciting. The series even manages to surprise occasionally, particularly towards the end of the season when a regular character dies – but was it just an accident or was he/she murdered? The resolution provides a final twist for a show which manages to transform itself from a turgid BUFFY-wannabe to a fine piece of solid SF drama in its own right and with its own identity. The greatest tragedy is that these changes to the show’s format, creatively a barnstorming success, did little to change the series’ flagging fortunes in the US and the third and sadly final season found itself on the smaller UPN network. Still, that at least means there’s another 22 episodes for new converts like me to glory in. Bring ’em on, Fox?

THE DISCS: Rich, beautiful transfers, a fine 5.1 sound mix, commentaries and some nice features on the last disc including a reunion chat with Appleby and Delfino and cast and crew comments on individual episodes. Romantics will enjoy the compilation of Max and Liz’s sloppy moments. Awwwwww?

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