Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Rough Return of "The X-Files"

I was as excited for the new "X-files" miniseries as anyone else, as a long time fan of the show.  Surely after all this time, the creators would have some new stories for this universe and these characters worth telling, right?  I forgot, as so many fans did, that "The X-files" ran about two seasons too many, and by the end was a pretty awful mess.  Sadly, creator Chris Carter picked right up where he left off.

The six-episode revival tried to be the original show in miniature.  It brought back the convoluted conspiracy myth arc in two episodes that bookended the other four, which were stand alone, monster-of-the-week stories.  The stand alone episodes were a mixed bag, but we had one really strong one, "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster," written by Darin Morgan.  Two others, by "X-files" vets James Wong and Glen Morgan were also decent.  However, all the other episodes were written by Chris Carter and they were awful.  I mean, absolutely, irredeemably awful.  I seriously wondered for a few days if the original series had been worse than I'd remembered - but no, even at the bitter end it was never this bad.

And that's galling, because there's clearly a lot of potential left in the series.  David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson had no trouble at all taking up the roles of Agents Mulder and Scully again.  They work in the internet age as well as they ever did.  However, they're not able to escape the years and years of narrative baggage and bad creative decisions that ultimately sunk the original series.  Carter's episodes spend a lot of time harping on the fact that Mulder and Scully had a son they had to give up, but almost none on the impact of their brief romantic relationship.  We finally get to see the doomsday scenario hinted at in so many previous episodes fully play out, but in a very sloppy, slapdash manner.  There were always logic leaps and bad science propelling many of the old stories, but here they're endemic.

It felt like Carter just crammed in all the ideas he had left for "The X-files" into the two bookend episodes, treating them like his long promised third theatrical feature.  The trouble was that he didn't have the budget to fully realize the major developments, and far, far too little time to tell the story he wanted to.  Robbie Amell and Lauren Ambrose came onboard as a pair of younger agents in the fifth episode, and they sorely needed more than one episode of introduction before being flung into the chaos of the finale.  Alien DNA and plague storylines that would have been revealed incrementally over the course of a season or two in the past, are piled on so hard and fast that they come across as ridiculous.

Now, "The X-files" was always ridiculous, but its supernatural elements were always couched in mystery and suspense elements, so the stories had a certain amount of gravity.  The show was fairly groundbreaking in the '90s for using a toned-down palette and a more realistic, down-to-earth style.  I still got a sense of that grounding in some of the stand-alone episodes, but for Carter's stuff, it all went out the window.  I felt like I was watching a slick, dumbed down reboot of the franchise at times, where everything had to be explained in the simplest terms possible, and all the mystery and sense of the unknown were gone.  The final half of the last hour was pure B-movie silliness.

It worries me that the series did so well for FOX, because that means they'll surely want more.  Frankly, I think "The X-files" has run its course and shouldn't have been brought back in the first place, at least not in this fashion.  Maybe a proper reboot with Amell and Ambrose would have been better.  Maybe a real tenth season or a longer miniseries would have solved some of the big problems.  It's had to call these six episodes disappointing because half of them were genuinely entertaining, and brought back good memories.  I loved that they used the original titles.  But frankly, I just want "The X-files" to go away for awhile, and to point to this whole debacle as a cautionary tale for nostalgic fans.

I await the return of "Twin Peaks" with increased concern.

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