Welcome to “Roswell, New Mexico”: Home of Intergalactic Gay Bars and Bisexual Aliens

Series showrunner Carina Adly Mackenzie on keeping the CW reboot so queer.

When you think of TV shows with major LGBTQ representation the usual titles that come to mind are ones like Pose, Queer Eye, and RuPaul's Drag Race. One that usually doesn't get mentioned is the CW's reboot of Roswell, New Mexico, even though it has featured queer characters since its first episode.

In addition to introducing the show’s trio of alien siblings, Max (Nathan Parsons), Isobel (Lily Cowles) and Michael (Michael Vlamis), who are undercover living as normal human residents of the small desert town, the series pilot also revealed that Michael is bisexual when he locks lips with his former flame, Alex (Tyler Blackburn) at the end of the episode.

Since then Roswell, which is about to wrap its second season on June 15, has embraced its queerness, with the introduction of a new gay character Forrest (Christian Antidormi), the casting of trans actress Jamie Clayton as special agent Charlie Cameron, and a recent visit to Roswell's local gay bar, Planet 7.

NewNowNext spoke with Roswell showrunner Carina Adly MacKenzie about the decision to keep Roswell queer, what's ahead for Michael and Alex's relationship, and the Orville Peck cameo she's still praying for.

Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SCAD aTVfest 2020

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - FEBRUARY 28: Carina Adly MacKenzie attends SCAD aTVfest 2020 - "Roswell, New Mexico" on February 28, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SCAD aTVfest 2020)

My first question is very serious: Where can I get a "I Got Probed at Planet 7" t-shirt?

I really would like to make those t-shirts available. We're working on it. Those were a creation from our writers, Rick and Vinny, who just really took the opportunity for a gay bar in Roswell and went for it. It's really fun.

Speaking of fun, it seems like the show is having more of it in the second season. Was that intentional going into this season?

Honestly, I think that it was. It's more a factor of learning how to better manage the time that we have on screen. Because in the first season, there were a lot of really hilarious jokes that hit the cutting room floor because our episodes kept coming in way too long. And so we had to make some difficult choices on cuts, and a lot of the lighter stuff is sort of low hanging fruit when it comes to trying to trim an episode down to size, and that always frustrates me. But I think we've just done a better job in season two of clinging to our jokes for dear life.

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I'm laughing out loud every episode. I love how funny it's become.

Thank you. I appreciate that. I had a professor in college once who very seriously said, "Carina, you're a good writer, but you're not funny. And you should stop trying to be funny." So I've spent every minute of my life since then trying to be funny.

That's brutal.

I know, right? Just follow your dreams, kids.

When I tell people how queer Roswell is, they're surprised. Where did that come from?

That's been an important thing for me since I became a TV writer. The only other show I've worked on was The Originals, The Vampire Diaries spin-off, and I pushed really hard for there to be a positive queer representation on that show. When Roswell came along, it felt very organic, even in talking about a very small conservative Southwestern town, and he talked about the different ways that people can feel, no pun intended, alienated. It just felt like there was an opportunity there for some really rich stories, and to put those stories at the top of the call sheet. On The Originals, frequently our queer storylines fell to guest stars. So I wanted to put a queer couple on this show, and have them be one of the main epic love stories that we're telling on the show.

I was a big fan of The Vampire Diaries back in the day, and even though I loved that show, I was always thought, "This could be gayer."

Yes. And I don't know if you watch [The Originals spin-off] Legacies, but it's actually phenomenal and it's super, super gay. So I think that we're all as creatives, we're learning. For me it was really about putting queer characters on the show without pushing an agenda. Without trying to make their story about their queerness all of the time, that was important to me. And I also think that I found myself a little bit frustrated because I felt like there were two kinds of TV shows, somewhere the queer representation felt like it was an afterthought, or like it was there to just serve one purpose, and then on the flip side, I also was starting to see a lot of TV in which characters were presented as queer, particularly largely presented as fluid, without putting them in what I knew to be the real world. And I feel like my generation is not a post-homophobia generation yet. I respect the desire to tell stories that are lighter and that aren't about the world being against you because you're gay. But I also knew that there were a lot of queer people of my generation, particularly again, small conservative towns in America under Trump, who were still facing very real threats and very real fear all the time. So I wanted to put that on TV. I wanted to tell a story in which coming out isn't a warm and fuzzy experience. But also in which being queer isn't the only thing about a character.

I totally agree how sometimes queer or gay relationships in shows can definitely seem like an afterthought, and you can tell. It definitely does not feel that way on Roswell, so I really appreciate that. Can you give us Malex [Michael and Alex] shippers any hope?

Listen, all I will say is that from the beginning, Malex has been my favorite ship on the show. How do I say this without getting myself into so much trouble? I like a bumpy road [for the characters]. I like watching people have to contend with their own faults along the way. And so I'm not saying that we're going to finally see them get back together at the series finale or anything like that. But I think that the men that we met in the pilot, had a lot of work to do and I think they're doing that work, within their relationships, within the way that they look at themselves in the mirror. Particularly for Michael, I think in his efforts to be a better man. I don't think that's an easy journey for anybody. So there's some bumps in the road for sure, but I will say we've been breaking Season 3 in the writer's room, and it feels like a really great breath of fresh air as far as a lighter story for those two guys, and a more joyful story. But I really think that we had to earn that. I think we had to earn the wide open, hearts open, eyes open joy. And we're getting there. I'm really excited about it.

Karen Kuehn/The CW

Roswell, New Mexico -- "What If God Was One of Us" -- Image Number: ROS204a_0176b.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Tyler Blackburn as Alex, Christian Antidormi as Forrest and Michael Vlamis as Michael -- Photo: Karen Kuehn/The CW -- © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved

I'm enjoying Forrest. Can you tease what's ahead for him?

Forrest was actually somebody who we initially were going to make one of our red herring villains. We were never going to make him actually the villain because I'm not really interested in a show where we've got a queer, blue-haired bad guy. So as of right now, Forrest is a good guy. And I think that he's representative of something really important for Alex. I think Alex kind of looks at Forest and sees a person that he could have been had he not had his father standing in the way. And I think that that's therapeutic and cathartic for Alex to see, and somebody who Alex is going to continue to connect with moving into Season 3. He's somebody who we hope to have around for a while. That said, I don't want people to hear that and like get scared that he's going to be this longterm obstacle for Alex. I think that he just represents something that is Alex's story. Everybody needs a little bit of their own story in the midst of all the alien madness.

Going back to Planet 7, I love how Isobel went home with Blair the bartender. Will she be more fluid with her dating in the future?

Yeah, her next love interest is a woman. It's not until Season 3. So one of the things that was really important to us with Isobel was to have her take a look at herself. She's only ever been with one person. She met Noah [her ex-husband] right out of high school, and then 10 years later found out that he was not who he said he was. And it made her look herself in the mirror and go, "Well, was I who I said I was?" And what we've done with Isobel this season is sort of taking away this performative "Stepford Wife," perfect Roswell daughter, wife, woman, and have her find out who she really is. And we've adjusted the way she dresses, we've adjusted the way that she talks. We've really loved the idea that she all of a sudden was like, "Was I straight? Or did I think I was straight the same way I thought I was supposed to dress like my mom? And supposed to be blonde? I'm supposed to be poised, I'm supposed to talk down on people." And so a lot of those things that she thought she knew about herself, she's questioning now. I think that her experience at Planet 7 with Blair was super fun on a lot of levels. I think one, I think we kind of played with the idea of the straight girl experimenting, and then in the next episode, she was like, "No, I loved that." And then I love the fact that the first woman that she was with, kind of looks like her. We're playing with that idea a little bit. This idea of Isobel kind of being her own type, which is sort of empowering, and really fun to explore in Season 3.

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What was the response to the threesome between Alex, Michael, and Maria?

The response to the threesome was extremely mixed. I got a lot of really touching messages from people in the poly and pan community, who were thanking me for putting a representation of them on TV because I hadn't thought about it from that perspective. I realized that there's this whole other community that's still seen as taboo. I got a lot of messages that I felt were, to be honest, tinged with racism. I felt that there was this idea that this moment that I really, truly, feel was based in love and comfort and just a desire for connection after a really scary day. But people felt like it was something that Maria inflicted on Alex. We were very careful to make sure that throughout the episode, Alex had been talking about the fact that Maria's touch had always brought him comfort. And we made sure that he consented verbally and non-verbally, that all of them did, and that he was an active participant in the moment. It's funny to me because I sometimes feel like there's this desire to infantilize Alex because he's been through so much, because he is disabled, and because he was abused as a kid. But he's a man who has come out the other side of war. He's not a weak character. He's not a character who needs to be coddled. He was very much an active and enthusiastic participant in that. I think that Tyler [Blackburn, who plays Alex] and I were both really surprised by the idea that people thought it seemed like Alex didn't want it. Because he thought it was pretty sexy. It wasn't very long ago that people weren't comfortable seeing two men together on screen and going, "That's icky. I don't want to see it." So I get a lot of messages that are along the lines of, "That's icky. I don't want to see it." I don't feel like I'm pushing the wrong boundaries.

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I also think that one of the things that was very important to me about this show, and when I pitched it, was that we age the characters up. The original characters were 16, and I really believe that for my generation, our true coming of age is happening later. This idea of figuring out who we are and who we want to be, is happening over and over and over throughout our twenties and into our thirties. I think that an experience with a woman doesn't make Alex any less a gay man. And I think that was sort of a surprising reaction to me, was that people felt that we were stripping him of his identity. I think that really what we were doing was just telling a story about the way that love gets messy when sex is brought into the equation. And that's his love for Alex, Michael's love for Alex, Alex's love for Maria, Maria's love for both of them. I thought that was messy, for sure. I'm not saying it's healthy. I think I'm going to add a disclaimer on Roswell, New Mexico, that's like, "This is not a guidebook for how to be a bisexual man. This is not a guide book for how to be a gay man. This is not a guidebook for how to be a decent, healthy person." It's certainly messy and certainly not the healthiest way to deal with it, but I did feel that it really came from a place of love and connection. So I stand by it. I'm proud of it. I think that it's something that made me feel like there's a lot more work to be done.

Nice. I like that.

I'm not saying it was awesome to read some of my comments. It was the first time since Roswell started that I got death threats. But if stuff scares people, it's a sign that I'm knocking on the right door.

Were you able to finish production on Season 2?

Yes. We were in the thick of post-production when the world came to a screeching halt. But we really got ahead of it, we got microphones to our actors' houses so they could record ADR in quarantine. I'm really proud of how these last episodes came together.

How far into pre-production are you on Season 3?

Well, we did about two months in the writer's room and then we actually had to shut the writer's room down, because we don't know when we're going into production. So right now we're on a pause, but we're pretty optimistic that we'll get to go back to filming in the fall.

Can you tease what's ahead for the rest of the season?

Yes. We have CrashCon coming to Roswell. UFO Con is really famous in Roswell, New Mexico and we wanted to do our own version. So we have the whole town is in CrashCon mode, and then we have a closing night carnival, which was so fun to shoot because we actually got to shoot at a carnival for four days, fried Oreos and all. But a very scary threat closes in on the busiest night of the year in Roswell and Liz (Jeanine Mason) is faced with some difficult choices as to whether to save a few people that she loves, or whether to save an entire town. She can't do everything at once and it changes things in Roswell forever. One more thing that I want to tease, specifically speaking to the Alex and the queer storylines, is that the song that Alex has been writing all year, he finally plays in full in the finale, and that's the song I wrote with my friends, Leslie Powell and Charlie Snyder. It's a really beautiful moment and all of my royalties are going to The Trevor Project. Once that thing hits iTunes and Spotify, hopefully, it'll do some good for the show and do some good for the world.

If you go back to Planet 7 in Season 3 I would love to see a drag number.

Our original pitch had Orville Peck there. So we're already on your level. We eventually got an Orville Peck song in the episode, but we really wanted him to make an appearance. After we had pitched that moment I went to Austin City Limits, and he [Orville] was playing as I walked into the festival and I was like, "Here it is. This is fate. He won't come do my show [laughs], but..."

Roswell, New Mexico two-part season finale begins Monday, June 8, on the CW.

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