Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"The X-Files" revival

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The news that Fox is bringing "The X-Files" back for a limited 6-episode run is a week or so old now, but here are my thoughts.

At one point, "The X-Files" was my favorite TV show on the air. (This was well before I had TiVo, but I did tend to record them on videotape so that I could skip commercials. The downside of videotaping, as opposed to DVRing, was that I had to wait for the episode to finish airing before I could rewind the tape to start watching.) I liked the alien-government conspiracy myth arc stories better than the monster-of-the-week ones, for the most part, and I was not a 'shipper.

However, the central problem with the long-time stability of the series was that it became impossible to sustain plausible Scullysque explanations for the phenomenon being depicted on-screen. About midway through the third season, it became clear that Mulder's view of the world was indeed correct and that Scully's continued refusal to accept the existence of extraterrestrial life was just pig-headed stubbornness.*

* The last time she had an explanation that might have squared with what we were shown was the two-part arc "Nisei" and "731" in the first half of the third season, when Mulder is in a train car with a locked compartment containing what he thinks is an ET, but what Scully believes - and is provided some "evidence" to support such belief - is a leprosy survivor. That we viewers were given only glimpses of the entity in the locked compartment made it hard to tell who was right. (Of course, now that I think about it, Scully was introduced up close and personal to the shapeshifting alien bounty hunter in the previous season, and I can't remember off-hand how she rationalized that away....)

Season 4 was still very good, and season 5 had its share of really good episodes, but the wheels were coming off already. I watched to the very end of season 9. But basically, the last four seasons were a pale shadow of what the show once was. A second movie, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, came out in 2008 but was just a so-so sci-fi/horror flick, with a plot twist that was done much better in Allan Folsom's thriller novel The Day After Tomorrow.

Of course, revivals are something of the in-fashion thing to do these days. "24" came back last year with the 12-episode "24: Live Another Day," NBC is bringing "Coach" back some 18 or 19 years after it ended its run in 1997, and Fox has made some noises about possibly another "Prison Break."

I thought "Live Another Day" was terrific, easily up there with seasons 5 and 7 as among the best that "24" has produced, so there's some reason for some optimism about "The X-Files." On the other hand, "24" didn't sputter creatively in its latter years, and the track record of the "24"-team of Joel Surnow/Howard Gordon/Robert Cochran is better than "X-Files" creator Chris Carter's. Besides "Le Femme Nikita" (which Surnow and Cochran produced prior to "24"), Gordon is responsible for Showtime's "Homeland," which I haven't seen but have heard good things about. Carter, on the other hand, was a superstar with "The X-Files," but subsequent efforts "Millennium," "Harsh Realm," and "The Lone Gunmen" were, to varying degrees, disappointing. He produced a pilot called "The After" for Amazon, which was picked up for a season but then quietly dumped.

It's not that Carter is a one-hit wonder; "Millennium" wasn't bad, and I actually liked "The Lone Gunmen" series, but one gets the sense that much of "The X-Files"'s success was due to outstanding writers like Glen Morgan, James Wong, Darin Morgan, and Vince Gilligan (who would go on to create "Breaking Bad").

So, I'm cautiously hopeful that "The X-Files" revival will be worth watching. But that leads to the question of, what will it be about?

The indications are that the estimated six episodes will be stand-alone monsters of the week. That's an interesting choice in that the most recent trend has been toward greater serialization (see, e.g., "Once Upon a Time," "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," "Gotham," "Grimm," "How to Get Away with Murder," "Scandal," among others). Specifically about "The X-Files," though, keep in mind that the series ended with a cliffhanger - the Cigarette-Smoking Man tells Mulder and Scully that aliens are due to colonize the Earth on Dec. 22, 2012; at the end of the series, Mulder expresses hope that they can survive.

Curiously, this impending doom is nowhere mentioned in the second movie, even though colonization would be a mere four years away. Perhaps the revival will similarly ret-con that inconvenient cliffhanger away ("this is not the storyline that you are looking for...."). Or there will be some throwaway line that the Cigarette-Smoking Man had been smoking too much of something else when he told the duo about 12/22/12.

Speaking of standalone episodes, if that's what we're getting, here are my favorites from the series:

"Bad Blood" (season 5) - we get to see a vampire investigation gone wrong from the hilarious viewpoints of Scully and Mulder

"The Pine Bluff Variant" (season 5) - no supernatural monsters, no aliens, just domestic terrorists with Mulder undercover

"Jose Chung's From Outer Space" (season 3) - you can't really describe this episode, it's so bizarre

"War of the Coprophages" (season 3) - cockroaches, and an insect scientist named Bambi who seems to stir some professional jealousy in Scully

"The Host" (season 2) - the notorious Flukeman ....

"Ice" (season 1) - as tense as "The Thing" without the spectacular, over the top gore from that movie

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