Contains possible spoilers for British Roswell High viewers.
As any media studies student would be able to point out by the end of the “last week, on Roswell High” flashback, the show is an obvious metaphor on the alienation felt by every teenager. While all teens feel they are somehow misunderstood, these four American kids really are different. You wouldn’t know it though, and not thanks to the clever alien genetic engineering that created them. While all angst-ridden youngsters are, in reality, just the same as everyone else, so the quartet of troubled off-worlders are identical to the rest of the Earthly population (or, at least, Americans). Not because they’ve managed to blend in perfectly with the regular small-town inhabitants, but because none of the locals appear to be human. All of them share the shallow characterization and stilted, melodramatic speech patterns of the well-scrubbed quartet, with the sole exception of Maria, the feisty but frustrated waitress who seems like the only genuine human trapped in a world of aliens. Perhaps this could be used when the increasingly preposterous plotlines begin to flag in a couple of series time.
Normally of course, one can watch the show without worrying about such details. Hey, it’s teen drama from The WB, what do you want? Angst-lite, pretty faces, a cosy world of reliable friends, all aspects that make it enjoyable viewing (if only it could lighten up and absorb an ounce of the humour from the same channel’s Buffy or Felicity). But there are occasions when shows make the mistake of breaking an unrealistic but comforting illusion. Way back when I was more naive and less bitter I thought the characters in Friends would be a fun, and even cool, crowd to hang out with. All it took was one episode for my eyes to open, allowing me to see them as the annoying and universally stupid gang that they are. What caused this sudden enlightenment? The episode where they get excited about a Hootie and the Blowfish concert. In moments they were transformed into the clueless, annoying, self-obsessed brats I know today.
Roswell High’s brief excursion to New York in the second series had a similar effect on the drama, suddenly bringing our heroes’ cosy lives into perspective. While the show’s usual gloss and glow could blind one into rooting for their dynamic displays of defiance, a couple of hours in the company of their identical East-coast clones made one realise how stultifyingly bland the Gap-clad rebellion really was. Itself bringing up interesting points in the nature vs nurture debate, the genetically identical New York quartet had matured into thieving adolescents who lived underground, listened to loud music and did interesting things with their hair, purely due to growing up unloved in this standard screen version of the city (sirens, steam, darkness, etc, etc). The street-wise foursome could hardly be described as portraying an authentic picture of gritty anarchy, but even this brief chance for the cast to have some fun hamming it up in black clothing made the original small-town heroes out for the dull and insular folk they really are. The simple sight of NY-Isobel glowering through her fringe and stealing fruit from a street stall (insolent yet healthy!) makes one aware of the spectrum of rebellion that was easily ignored when the only point of reference was stitching up bad guys in beautifully lit desert research centers. How tame this behaviour would seem if they were allowed to really have some fun! What if they used their incredible (but rarely used) alien powers to thwart the concerns of network executives and run rampant, doing whatever they liked, ruling the world! But no, best to carry on flipping burgers in New Mexico.
Of course, Roswell High isn’t the only drama whose teenagers are the acme of mundanity while giving the illusion of individuality. Dawson’s Creek expanded on the Friends Hootie episode, going out of its way to make the curiously eloquent gang as dreadfully small-town as possible. I’m not suggesting I ever thought these kids were hip to begin with, but to spell out their rigid squareness is only to shatter any possibilty of ignoring such minor flaws. In the episode ‘Great Xpectations’ the writers display an intimate knowledge with all the latest crazes by having the kids drive out to one of these “rave party” things. Of course, they don’t all rush at once, bringing an inkling of the horror to come. Dawson, as square as his jaw, declines the offer, preferring to stay at home and listen to his parents’ CDs, only coming round to the idea when he realises his folks would rather he went out instead of moping around (and who can blame them).
There is no better way to demonstrate wholesomeness than feature a reformed character, and Jen is as reformed a character as one could get. She has a wicked history back in New York (again, a place of evil, and obviously the natural enemy of small-town America) and the shadows of sex and drugs only flicker past thanks to Drue, a charming but nasty piece of work from her past who is doing his best to make Capeside an interesting place to live (with little thanks). Jen has undergone a true metamorphosis becoming a hard-working student, a caring friend and even head cheerleader (despite half-hearted protests that she’s really not the type). So she naturally has reservations about this evil rave, despite apparently having had a fun time at such events in her previous life.
The kids do, to be fair, at least try to have fun, but put little effort into it. The only people to enjoy themselves are Gretchen (who is less than wholesome in the first place, having a horrendous secret (a recent abortion)) and Andie who is not only clinically insane but has taken some evil, EVIL ecstasy. One might expect Pacey, the rebellious but articulate underachiever who won Joey’s heart over the droopy Dawson, to enjoy this good time. But no, he marks the completion of his Jen-like conversion from the Dark Side by disparaging the music and stating that he doesn’t understand what all the “kids” are into. Kids? You’re supposed to be 18! How can one rebellious teenager become so square so quickly? Is this a transformation typical of small-town America? In my small-town English experience kids only seemed to go the other way, from reasonable students to defiant vandals onto who knows where. The UK equivalent of New York no doubt.