Credit: Ursula Coyote/The CW

Aliens have landed in Roswell, New Mexico… again.

Almost 17 years after the conclusion of Roswell — the WB/UPN sci-fi series about a couple of star-crossed teen lovers (one alien, one human) — a new adaptation of the popular Roswell High books has hatched from the mind of Carina Adly MacKenzie, this time titled Roswell, New Mexico.

“I wasn’t really looking to do another supernatural romance because I’d just come off of five years on The Originals and was feeling really politically engaged,” MacKenzie says. “I wanted to write a show that meant something. I wanted cowboys, grown-ups, murder — and I wanted politics. We thought the CW would be like, ‘Cool, thank you, next,’ but they ended up buying it at the table.”

With Shiri Appleby, the star of the original series, unavailable, MacKenzie immediately knew she wanted to opt for a stand-alone series instead. “It wasn’t even a question of would Shiri want to do it, it was just, she can’t do it,” the showrunner says. “From there it was clear we were not doing the continuation.” The new telling is set 10 years after Roswell residents Max (Nathan Parsons), Liz (Grey’s Anatomy’s Jeanine Mason), and the rest of their friends have graduated from high school, with Liz returning to town unaware that three of her former classmates (Max, Michael Vlamis’ Michael, and Lily Cowles’ Isobel) are extraterrestrials. “The first show was about how everyone feels like an alien in high school,” says MacKenzie. “But the stakes of that feeling get raised dramatically when you’re not in high school anymore.”

Credit: Ursula Coyote/The CW

And in 2018, the stakes for outsiders are higher still. “The real Roswell is a cowboy town, and I wanted to explore what that world looks like for people who don’t necessarily fall into the binary,” MacKenzie says. That meant making some character changes from the original series, including making Liz the Latina daughter of an undocumented immigrant and other characters as members of the LGBTQ community. “I don’t have any interest ever in my life making a show with a bunch of white leads — I hope I never do,” says MacKenzie. “So I really wanted to make sure there was a diverse representation on this version of the show.”

For Mason, it was that inclusivity that drew her to the show in the first place. “We don’t just want to show one perspective on this show,” she says. “Our show is very socially conscious; that’s just been such a blessing to be part of. Liz is an unapologetic activist. I’m so excited to live in that brash, I’m-going-to-call-you-out energy.” While MacKenzie describes casting Mason as a “sure thing,” finding a Max to play opposite her Liz presented more of a challenge.

When MacKenzie asked her close friend and fellow Originals alum Nathan Parsons — whom she initially pictured playing Max’s brother, Michael — to come in and read Max’s lines as a favor, she didn’t expect to suddenly see him as exactly what she needed for the male lead. “He was very different from the Max that I imagined, to be honest,” she says. “I saw Max as someone with purity and a wide-eyed, idealistic innocence to them, and Nathan Parsons, God love him, has seen some sh—. It took on a different tone, but I actually think it kind of saves the show. Frankly, I don’t think that we would’ve gotten picked up if had we not made Max this layered, interesting, and darker character. He feels like he has secrets from the minute you meet him, and I like that.”

Credit: Ursula Coyote/The CW

Max may be a bit of a conundrum, but the chemistry between Parsons and Mason was clear from their very first read together — it brought some executives to tears — and Mason knew it too. “From the second we bumped into each other outside of the building at WB, I just knew immediately,” she says. “Honestly, maybe it’s just because of my dance background, but the physical life is very important to me, and just standing across from him felt like it worked.”

Like all good CW shows, the more palpable the chemistry, the more complicated the love story. Sure, one’s an alien and one’s a human, but there are plenty of other terrestrial problems to keep things far from running too smoothly. “I like to say that Liz is like a jaded-A.F. Lorelai Gilmore,” explains Mason. “She’s a fast talker, she’s sarcastic and dry, and life has been hard on her. Obviously this is a love story at its core, but the spine of this show is murder mystery.” For years, Liz has believed her sister died as the result of a DUI, but when she gets back to town it starts to unfold that there was much more to her sister’s death than she thought. “Liz is very in touch with her intuition and is going to speak up when she thinks she’s been wronged,” says Mason. “She’s not set on the story that she’s been told for 10 years. That murder mystery runs through the entire show and is also what complicates things for Liz and Max and keeps them apart.”

Political engagement, murder-mystery intrigue, and forbidden love? Sounds like Roswell, New Mexico might be exactly the alien invasion we need right now.

Roswell, New Mexico premieres Jan. 15 at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.

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