While there are more queer relationships and characters in film and on TV than ever before, there is still a long way to go before queer representation is truly mainstream or even portrayed well. These characters often fall victim to the “bury your gays” trope, bi and pan-erasure, and a heaping helping of queerbaiting. Frankly, some of these shows make me wonder if the writers have ever met someone who is non-heterosexual, let alone whether there was any input or representation behind the scenes.
Enter, Roswell, New Mexico. A reboot of a late ’90s cult classic show about aliens, one of the details made public about the show before it even debuted was that they were changing the sexuality of two of the main characters, Alex and Michael, and putting them in a relationship together. Both were straight in the original show and in the books that the shows take inspiration from, and Michael was one half of an extremely popular ship with his love interest, Maria. I was skeptical going in — was this going to be a shallow stopover on the way to a Michael/Maria pairing at the end of the show? Were they just going to be doing shallow queerwashing as many reboots have done as a form of virtue signaling? Was it even going to be well-written?
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I don’t think it ever crossed my mind that I could expect the relationship to be good. At the series start, the two are reunited after being together in high school but torn apart by unfortunate circumstances, not least of which is Alex’s going to war and Michael’s severe personal issues. Meeting up again ten years later when the plot kicks off, their relationship is running purely on chemistry and hindered by Alex’s internalized homophobia, his psychotic father, Michael’s secret identity as an alien, and the alien serial killer on the loose. Since The CW shows are known for being mildly soapy, this comes across as all part and parcel. Sure, they’ll argue and fight and go back and forth and it’ll be toxic, like most TV relationships are when you break them down, because drama means more viewers and more ratings.
While I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect, I comforted myself with the fact that toxic drama is a staple in straight fictional relationships as well, so at least this was on even footing. Plus, no one was dead yet!
Then they broke up at the end of Season 1, so Michael could pursue Maria. I hadn’t wanted to be right about the relationship being brief, but it was hardly surprising. Plus, shockingly, they broke up because they were actually aware that they were bad for each other and that they didn’t think they had a basis for a stable relationship. While it was apparent that they still had lingering feelings for each other, they started on the rocky road to friendship, aided and abetted by the season’s overarching plot of crazy people looking to kill aliens. Towards the end of the season, Alex’s kidnapping and the various brushes with death that both of them encountered drew them together, but Michael stood by his choice to be with Maria in a normal, non-dramatic relationship.
Then she broke up with him at the end of the season, Alex took steps towards addressing his internalized homophobia, and his father was subsequently put out of the picture, and all of that went summarily out the window. Except that, by the time they finally get back together in the latter half of Season 3, it’s very clear that Season 2, the break-up, and their friendship was actually well-thought-out character development on the part of the writers, rather than just a cheap ploy for more drama and more views. They not only have things in common now but are also both more emotionally stable and are helping each other work through their difficulties instead of adding to them. As a bonus, they’re both still alive!
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Make no mistake, the relationship and the whole show still has that soapy, CW drama feel to it, but there’s character growth and development and acknowledgment of toxicity. To boot, the show also deals with homophobia and abuse in a mature way and features other queer relationships without feeling like they are there for virtue-signaling or worse, cannon fodder.
Queer relationships don’t need to be perfect in fiction, nor should they be, but they should be part of the process of treating queer characters as multi-dimensional, faceted people. That, more than anything else, is where Roswell, New Mexico gets it right, by equally putting their characters through drama, love, abuse, and character development, regardless of sexuality. Plus, all the queer ones are still alive!