The CW’s new take on Roswell, New Mexico premieres tonight (January 15) after the midseason opener for The Flash, and the series promises extraterrestrial romance, drama, aliens, and real-life social issues as the concept is updated for the year 2019.
Developing Roswell, New Mexico is writer and Executive Producer Carina Adly MacKenzie whose credits include The Originals and an episode of The Flash. A longtime fan of the genre — she has owned a dog that is named after a character from Dawson’s Creek, after all — Carina looked to the original Roswell High series book and found what made each character special. We spoke with her about this and other topics related to the new show last week in Hollywood.
“I went through the books and extracted what I thought was the core DNA of each character; the one singular trait of each character that was the most important,” Carina recalled. “Max’s moral compass, and Liz – I liked her sort of ‘science brain.’ I liked that Maria was really eccentric; I liked Michael’s rebel without a cause thing, though in our show, he has a cause. Everybody has a cause. But that was what I went through. Honestly, though, I really tried to make it my own and take it in a different direction. It’s been 20 years. You should have to be different. And I feel like the best way to honor the original thing is to do things super different, so you’re not stepping on toes or messing it up,” she explained.
Orbiting around this story of heroes and aliens on Roswell, New Mexico is a murder mystery.
“I am obsessed with murder. I love murder documentaries, and before Roswell sort of fell into my lap, I really wanted to write a show that was a murder mystery, and so I came at this with the perspective of ‘that’s a really good scaffolding for a story. That’s a really good setup for a show’,” Carina remembered.
“I mean, Veronica Mars was, like, the best thing that’s ever been on television, and I was like ‘how do I build a season around a murder mystery?’ So that’s where it came from, and I made it a cold case that’s been set aside for a while, because I like nostalgia, and I wanted to be able to tap back into that sort of high school feeling of the original show in homage. Actually, weirdly enough, the murder mystery turned into something else for me as a writer, because I experienced some loss at the beginning of the season, so it became an opportunity to explore levels of grief, and it was really cathartic for me. I think we did something different and special,” she continued.
Another thing that is very important to MacKenzie is the diversity in the pilot. Not only are there characters at the forefront that are not white; there is also a LGBT romance within.
“It’s so important to me,” Carina said. “The only reason to do a reboot or a reimagining 20 years later is if you can make it to the current times, and I’m tired of seeing straight white people on TV. I saw straight white people on TV my entire time growing up, and I want to tell a story about LGBT people that’s as nuanced and complicated and difficult and sometimes unhealthy and sometimes amazing as any straight romance that I’m telling. So, that’s what we’re trying to do,” she said.
One will note, though, that the three actors playing aliens on Roswell, New Mexico — Nathan Dean Parsons, Lily Cowles, and Michael Vlamis are all… white. This was intentional.
“It was a controversial decision,” Carina admitted during a “Crashdown on Sunset” event last week.
“Obviously, I want to put as much diversity on television as I possibly can. It’s my entire goal. But my experience that I wanted to talk about on the show was the idea of ‘passing.’ The idea of having the privilege of the opportunity to pretend that you are a part of the majority when you’re not. I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut. I was 14 when 9/11 happened, and I was raised Islamic, and I’ve always been blonde and blue-eyed, so people would say things around me that they didn’t know applied to me. I was a really shy kid, and I sort of had to develop a backbone and develop a voice in order to stand up for myself and my family, my heritage, my culture, and my religion in a way that I think that the aliens are over the course of the series are going to have to make the decision to do,” she explained.
“So the idea is that Max, Michael, and Isobel are a cop, a cowboy, and a housewife, basically. They blend right in,” she continued. “They look really safe to everybody that is frightened by anything that doesn’t look really safe. And they are ultimately going to be faced with the decision of whether or not to be the voice, and to put themselves at risk, and to make themselves a target in order to stand up for what’s right and what matters, and that’s sort of the idea of the entire show. That was something that shaped me and turned me into the loud, obnoxious person that I am now.”
Going back to our discussion before the panel, Carina said that the typical CW viewer might notice a different pace to the story when watching Roswell, New Mexico.
“I try to strike a balance between the breakneck speed of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals that I was used to, where every episode is like, life or death, high stakes, run run run, and the super slow version of the shows that I’d watch as a kid, and I tried to meet a middle ground, and I hope people like it. I wanted to leave room for these big character moments, and for slow reveals, and for romance… so, it might be different from what CW audiences expect today, but it’s what I like, and I hope it’s what the audience will like.”
You can see photos from the Roswell, New Mexico pilot below.