Review: ‘The X-Files’ Revival Feels Much Less Alien With Less Aliens
A bit of housekeeping to start, as obviously the first outing of The X-Files’ 2016 return aired last night (technically having debuted at New York Comic-Con last year), while the second of only six installments will air later on tonight, in turn marking this review as a weird hybrid of spoilers and objective assessment. “Weird hybrid” might be the central theme overall, just as easily referencing the first three episodes as an atonal mashup of classic X-Files conspiracy rants with modern, post-9/11 techno-paranoia, the revival’s calculated mixture of mythology and stand-alone episodes, or the fixation on alien-human hybrids themselves.
The X-Files is far from the first classic series (or movie) given a revival of sorts, albeit tilling much more fertile ground than, say, Heroes Reborn, in that X-Files mythology actually left questions the audience had desire to revisit. One wonders what the new FOX iteration might have looked like in 2012, to pick up directly on the alien colonization thread that loomed over the series, vs. the 2016 approach strangely retconning near of the entire extra-terrestrial element in favor a more nefarious, decidedly human conspiracy.
The X-Files practically created the broadcast drama’s mixture of serialized and standalone episode, and it isn’t any surprise that diving back into that pool fourteen, even six years later would feel a little strange, ultimately boiling down to your own relationship with the franchise. I haven’t sat down to watch either type of X-Files episode in years, but remember most, if not all of the major character and story beats. What I don’t remember, is if Mulder’s conspiracy theories ever felt as laughably ridiculous as they did last night, rambling back and forth connect every sinister American conspiracy trope of the last 30-40 years into one backwards mega-theory, in the process undoing years of the series’ own investigation into the paranormal.
Perhaps “My Struggle” faced too steep of an uphill climb, to simultaneously address newbies and die-hard fans alike with a general recap of the premise, add in a more topical layer of government surveillance, catch us up with Mulder and Scully, and still bake in a few new characters and conspiracies. Spouting out the classic catchphrases and meta-referencing the series’ nostalgic edge doesn’t exactly help matters, feeling more like efforts to keep David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s interest in the project, rather than our own.
As you’ve probably heard by now, the standalone hours fare much better, even if it seems perhaps odd to give us four of those, rather than one long interconnected story. I remember less about the classic series’ individual cases than the mythology, but here they allow for a much stronger sense of fun and stylistic flair than the first hour. Not only that, but the weirdness inherent to both “My Struggle” and “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” actually succeeds in reviving the natural chemistry between its leads, rather than attempt to pull some renewed sense of urgency out of the air.
The third episode in particular (written by X-Files vet Darin Morgan) feels the closest to whatever the X-Files reunion ultimately wants to be, balancing its meta-weirdness with a refreshingly old-school approach to the unknown. Rather than scrutinize an impossible (and frankly ridiculous) event for some kind of explanation, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” uses the idea to reinvigorate Mulder and Scully’s belief in the weird, simultaneously seeming like the most fun either character has had in years. Seriously! Mulder actually smiles with a genuine warmth, to have his life’s ambition even partially validated by the encounter of such a strange creature, while Scully herself remembers how much fun her time with Mulder can be.
I’m hard-pressed to say that kind of camp-endearment is what The X-Files should feel like at its best, or perhaps if we’re meant to look at the revival as a tenth season acknowledging its age, or a new iteration skewing more topically serious. Still, the two stand-alones at least feel like a series confident in its identity, something sorely lacking from the premiere.
That’s half the series right there, and while it’s worth noting that “Founder’s Mutation” at least sprinkles in a bit of mythology, it remains difficult to predict how well these six episodes can stick the landing. I worry for the mythology-laden closer, to burden itself with just as much overwrought melodrama and nostalgia as its predecessor, let alone provide some kind of reasonable closure. There’s reason to believe The X-Files needed an episode or two to get its mojo back, but what purpose such a weird hybrid ultimately serves is, as ever, a mystery.
The X-Files returns tonight with “Founder’s Mutation,” picking up again next Monday with “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.”
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