Va­cant char­ac­ters in empty ro­mance

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - DATEBOOK - By Car­los Val­ladares

I’m sure some­one out there will en­joy the CW’s “Roswell, New Mex­ico.” If that “Satur­day Night Live” Net­flix sketch has proved any­thing, it’s that there’s a show for ev­ery­one. Un­for­tu­nately, in a mini-screened Amer­ica, the pool of use­less, de­graded, empty im­ages only grows each day — and “Roswell” doesn’t help re­duce the quota.

The pi­lot of this es­capist but timely show has to do with a young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant named Liz (Jea­nine Ma­son — the sea­son five win­ner of “So You Think You Can Dance”). Liz re-falls for her long­time crush (Nathan Par­sons), who moon­lights as a po­lice of­fi­cer. He turns out to be an alien (get it?) whose fam­ily crash-landed in Roswell years ago. She gets shot in her father’s cafe one night, and the crush res­ur­rects her (aliens can do this), caus­ing a host of prob­lems. There’s hid­den iden­ti­ties. There’s sci-fi mys­tery. There’s ro­mance be­tween 2-D cutouts whom we’re sup­posed to in­stantly care for.

(You could copy their sex­ual ten­sion with a Xerox ma­chine.) There’s ob­nox­iously con­tem­po­rary com­men­tary: an over­worked, too-ob­vi­ous crack­pot of a pod­cast host fed lines like “Aliens are comin’, and when they do, they’re gonna rape! And murder! And steal! Our! Jobs!”

There is a lot of mil­que­toast drab­ness. There’s the “OC”-ish mile-long stares be­tween for­mer flames set to pop tunes, and a non­stop stream of male angst you thought you were rid of af­ter the Sadie Hawkins dance. The blank char­ac­ters talk about noth­ing but their sit­u­a­tion. They ex­ist only to plot-dump, and don’t seem to have any scur­rilous in­ner life.

Ev­ery now and then, there is an in­cred­i­ble im­age or two: Liz uses a rock to ham­mer her dead sis­ter’s dis­placed cru­ci­fix back in its place on her grave. Tears stream down Liz’s face, then, out of nowhere, she shakes her head as if she were think­ing “racists will be racists,” as the lead singer of some generic Chris­tian rock band sings in the back­ground, “I wish it were me in­stead of you …” This gar­ru­lous earnest­ness, reach­ing for an ef­fect and fail­ing wildly, is hard to for­get, es­pe­cially when it is sur­rounded by so much puffed-up non-drama — in one eye and out the other.

The per­for­mances deal in in­sipid car­i­ca­tur­ing on the or­der of the Mil­len­nial who con­fuses polo with po­lio in “Three Bill­boards.” “We are youths,” the whip­per-Snapchat­ters de­clare, what with their end­less Tequila shots and pile­ups of mi­croag­gres­sions (Mil­len­nial bar­tender Maria to her cow­boy cus­tomer: “You’re not dis­tract­ing me from my money with your thinly veiled racism. That was 10 dol­lars” — an­other kook mo­ment hard to for­get, in spite of the clunky han­dling).

If this is sup­posed to be a hip and with-it trans­mo­gri­fi­ca­tion of Mil­len­nial life for the CW, I’ll pass. For a great show that gleans young life (ro­mance, hookups, anx­i­eties), watch “Sex Ed­u­ca­tion” on Net­flix. For some­thing about aliens that speaks to the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal tire fire, re-watch Paul Ver­ho­even’s “Star­ship Troop­ers” (1997).

Ur­sula Coy­ote / CW

Nathan Par­sons (left), Lily Cowles and Michael Vlamis ap­pear in “Roswell, New Mex­ico,” which be­gins Tues­day, Jan. 15, on the CW. The series is based on the pop­u­lar “Roswell High” books.

Ur­sula Coy­ote / CW

Jea­nine Ma­son plays Liz, who finds her feel­ings for for­mer crush Max, played by Nathan Par­sons, rekin­dled in the sci-fi ro­mance “Roswell, New Mex­ico.”

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