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'Roswell' recap: Revisiting the aliens

The story is as old as time: Boy likes girl, girl likes boy, girl uncovers boy’s secret identity. Hilarity ensues. No, but seriously, the epic love story of Liz Parker and Max Evans in Roswell deserves to be remembered and introduced to a new generation of fans.

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pilot” | Aired October 6, 1999

In honor of the “flashback Friday” trend, I thought I’d kick off my time as an EW Community Contributor by recapping the best episodes of Roswell, a criminally underrated WB/UPN sci-fi series from the late 1990s/early 2000s. If you’re new to the series, I highly suggest adding it to your list of summer Netflix binge watches. Even if you’re already a fan, it’s always a good time to rewatch!

One of the brains behind the show may sound familiar to you now: Jason Katims. As in, the Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, and About a Boy creator. If that doesn’t sell you on the show, maybe the cast will do the trick. Jason Behr, Shiri Appleby, Majandra Delfino, Brendan Fehr, Katherine Heigl, Nick Wechsler, and Colin Hanks round out the cast. Fun fact: Many of them reunited at the Austin Television Festival earlier this month for a panel in honor of the 15th anniversary.

We’re first introduced to Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby) as she’s christening a new journal with a strange beginning: “I’m Liz Parker, and three days ago, I died. After that, things got really weird.” Uh, I’d say so! Cut to her and her best friend, Maria (Majandra Delfino) working as waitresses in a kitschy tourist trap of a diner known as the Crashdown Cafe. (We later learn that Liz’s father owns the cafe, and the Parker family even lives in the apartment above it.)

Liz no sooner gains the attention of some tourists in town for the alien festival than she’s the accidental victim in a shooting, when two other customers get in a fight and a gun is fired. This is where Max (Jason Behr) and Michael (Brendan Fehr) come in. They witnessed the shooting, and Max rushes to save Liz’s life. We see visions of a younger Liz that Max is witnessing as he heals her gunshot wound before the cops even arrive. As soon as the sirens get closer, though, Max smashes a bottle of ketchup and begs Liz to go with the story that she slipped and a bottle broke on her.

Sheriff Jim Valenti (William Sadler) instantly starts investigating this case. Witnesses in the cafe, including the tourists, all confirm that a gun was shot, but no bullet can be found anywhere. When Liz gets home that night, she discovers a glowing handprint left on her stomach where Max touched her.

The next morning, everyone is back at school but all anyone can talk about is the shooting. Maria bugs Liz to tell her what really happened with Max, but so far, Liz is keeping her word and staying mum on the subject. Maria and Liz’s friend Alex (Colin Hanks) wasn’t at the cafe at the time, but he’s equally concerned about the incident.

Meanwhile, Max’s sister Isabel (Katherine Heigl) and Michael are getting on Max’s case about the very public risk he took in saving Liz’s life. Not only did he save her life, but he also revealed his true identity as an alien to Liz. Now Michael and Isabel want to skip town before anyone else learns the truth about them.

Oh yeah, it was super-convenient that Max had walked into biology class chewing on a pencil and got freaked out when the assignment was to take a swab of cells from inside your mouth and view them under the microscope. He got a bathroom pass and missed the rest of class while Liz did some detective work of her own. With his pencil eraser at hand, she discovered that his cells were wildly different from her own. The conversation that follows this discovery confirms Liz’s suspicions that Max is an alien, or as he prefers, “not of this Earth.”

Sheriff Valenti isn’t letting go of this case so easily. His son, Kyle (Nick Wechsler), caught of glimpse of the glowing handprint on Liz’s stomach when he brought her home after a date. For whatever reason, he must have told his dad, who then confronted Liz about it in school. He showed her pictures of an unsolved murder case from 1959 where the victim was found with a similar handprint left behind. It turns out Jim’s father worked on that case, and it is hinted that he eventually drove himself crazy over the circumstances surrounding it. The apple may not have fallen so far from the tree because, like his father, Jim is very interested in getting to the bottom of this story.

In order to find a way to throw the sheriff off Max’s case and allow Max and company to stay in Roswell, Liz comes up with a plan for the upcoming Crash Festival by staging a similar accident where there are bound to be witnesses. Maria plays the “victim” of a hit-and-run in the parking lot while Michael, dressed in a cliched alien costume, runs over and places a hand of silver paint onto her. Liz has her timing down pat as she makes sure that even the tourists who were so interested in her after the shooting at the cafe witness this scene.

Valenti chases after the person in the costume, only to be led to his own son, Kyle. Obviously shaken up, Valenti has no choice but to lay off of Max for now — but not before he vows to find out the truth eventually.

As if Max and Liz’s chemistry isn’t obvious enough, there are literal sparks flying in the background when they talk about how they really shouldn’t be together because it’s just too complicated. With the addition of Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash into Me,” this is an admittedly cheesy ending, but it works so well. It definitely stands the test of time, as this pilot remains on my list of favorite episodes.

I’ll be highlighting the 10 most essential episodes spanning the course of this series. Feel free to follow along and share your comments with us! Whether you’re watching Roswell for the first time or you’ve lost track of how many times you’ve rewatched the series, let me know what you think.

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