The X-Files is, not to put too fine a point on it, one of the best series in television history – its spot-on dialogue, sharply defined characters, ample atmosphere, and the extraordinary flexibility of its premise all combine to make a production that casts a long shadow in the annals of entertainment. (There’s also the little fact that its writers’ room has produced some of the most extraordinary future showrunners, not the least of which is Vince Gilligan and his similarly medium-defining Breaking Bad.)
But such heaping helpings of praise don’t necessarily mean that the show should make a return appearance, which is exactly what it’s doing with a six-episode “event series” on Sunday, January 24. Sure – there’s tons of narrative potential left to mine, particularly since the cliff-hanging series finale and the follow-up film, 2008’s I Want to Believe, left little in the way of resolution. But there may be even more warning signs gathering on the horizon that this might not be the revival that fans are looking for.
Join us, then, as we open the case on the 10 Reasons Why We’re Worried about the X-Files Reboot.
When The X-Files went off the air, it was supposed to transition almost immediately to a feature film franchise, just as the first two Star Trek series, The Original Series and The Next Generation, did previously; indeed, creator/showrunner Chris Carter and his staff had already seeded that future in audience’s minds by doing the first movie, Fight the Future, right in the middle of the television show’s run (it came out in June 1998, in between seasons five and six). A long-running lawsuit between Carter and 20th Century Fox prevented that possibility from happening, however, and by the time I Want to Believe hit theaters six full years after the show had ended, the air had gone out of the paranormal bag, leaving the film series dead and The X-Files’s myriad plot threads dangling.
So why resurrect the property now, as a glorified miniseries? There’s the official reason, which is the sudden burst of ‘90s nostalgia – witness such sequels as Dumb and Dumber To and the proposed continuation of the TV series Coach. But one can’t help but get the feeling that the lack of (consistent) work for the principals involved, starting with actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson but also including Carter himself, plays a big role in the pick-up – Carter, after all, has only one post-X-Files credit to his name, Amazon Studios’s The After, and that didn’t even make it past the pilot stage.
Though billed as an event series by Fox, the cast and crew are treating the revival as if it were (a shortened) season 10, and they’re only too happy to hint that there could very well be a season 11 or more, each consisting of a similarly limited number of episodes.
But here lies the rub. When each new miniseries would air, and just how many installments it would consist of, is entirely up in the air, mostly dependent upon the cast and crew’s schedules – meaning that audiences wouldn’t be able to fall into a particular rhythm or pattern with the series. It may seem like a rather irrelevant point, but it’s actually quite important. April, for instance, has long been associated with Game of Thrones, while September has already been established as the domain of Agents of SHIELD, allowing even the most casual of fans – those who aren’t glued to news feeds or who don’t obsessively follow every leaked rumor or shooting location – to easily locate and enjoy the content.
It’s only those stand-out series, the ones that dominate the popular consciousness to a near-absolute degree, that can come and go as they please, even skipping entire calendar years at a time. The Sopranos was able to command this level of freedom, and while The X-Files probably could’ve done it in its heyday nearly 20 years ago, it’s questionable whether it will retain this level of clout today – and, if not, whether such an irregular schedule will be hamstrung ratings-wise, leaving fans with an unresolved story all over again.
Chris Carter, James Wong, and brothers Glen and Darin Morgan, who were all instrumental in helping get The X-Files off the ground and finding its voice in its early years, have all signed back on to lead this new, post-modern charge. While it’s refreshing to see such hallowed names return, it comes coupled with a sobering fact: none of the faces that shepherded the series through the vast majority of its run are returning. Where’s Frank Spotnitz, Carter’s number two? Or John Shiban (who worked on the show for seven of its nine seasons) or now-superstar writer-producer Vince Gilligan (who worked on eight)? How about other early formative voices, such as Alex Gansa (Homeland’s showrunner) or Howard Gordon (a heavy influence on 24)?
Carter has gone on the record stating that they could only scoop up those individuals whose schedules allowed it. That may be unavoidable, but it also leaves a considerable amount of creative muscle off of the revival – and begs a rather foreboding question: if most of the staff who was the most experienced with the original series is not pulling the strings, will that mean that the new X-Files won’t feel like The X-Files at all?
On the flip side of the filmmaking coin, the list of directors is similarly shunted compared to the breadth and depth of the original series’s roster. Legendary director Kim Manners, who had been involved with The X-Files since its second season, unfortunately passed away seven years ago, but that still leaves veteran stalwarts Daniel Sackheim, Tony Wharmby, or Michelle MacLaren (a Breaking Bad/The Walking Dead/Game of Thrones director, who everyone seems to forget got one of her first big breaks on the series) – and, if Carter and company really wanted to make a splash and a return to form, there’s always Rob Bowman, the show’s best and most visionary helmer.
Perhaps even more controversial is the set of directors replacing them: the writers. James Wong may be an established name, going all the way back to 2000’s Final Destination, but Glen and Darin Morgan have only a scant few credits to their names (with the latter having only helmed episodes of Chris Carter’s various television shows). And Carter himself is certainly one of the more accomplished directors the show has – most of his X-Files credits play like a greatest hits of the entire series – but he’s sitting in the director’s chair for three of the miniseries’s six episodes.
On the one hand, there’s quite the collection of returning faces from the original nine seasons (and two feature films). There’s series regulars Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), and Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), and then such legendary recurring characters as the Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis), Scully’s mother, Margaret (Sheila Larken), and, but of course, the Lone Gunmen (Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood, and Dean Haglund).
On the other hand, there’s a glut of characters that are nowhere to be seen but played an equally valid and influential role in X-Files’s development: Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens), Mulder’s half-brother; Marita Covarrubias (Laurie Holden), a rogue former operative of the government conspiracy involving extraterrestrial life on Earth; Gibson Praise (Jeff Gulka), a human who essentially has alien physiology and, therefore, telepathic abilities; Dr. Chuck Burks (Bill Dow), one of Mulder and, later, John Doggett’s (Robert Patrick) advisors; the Toothpick Man (Alan Dale), who was supposed to replace Cancer Man as the series’s principal nemesis in the final season; Alvin Kersch (James Pickens, Jr.), deputy director of the FBI and secret ally to the X-files office; and, most importantly of all, Agent John Doggett himself, who did replace Mulder as the show’s main protagonist for its final two years.
It’s hard to imagine that, with so many blank slots in the roster, season 10 will be able to sufficiently address much of the huge mythology that has amassed over the past 23 years.
Speaking of which…
What The X-Files slowly, painstakingly pieced together across its nine seasons and two feature films was the return of the so-called alien colonists, who seek to use Earth to propagate and, therefore, further their interstellar conquest. The long-ago established date for this colonization was December 22, 2012 – a fact that the series bent over backwards to establish was immutable (the series finale was even totally given over to underscoring this little tidbit).
Back in 2008, when I Want to Believe released, it seemed like Chris Carter and company still had ample time to tell the climatic tale of how Doggett, Reyes, Mulder, and Scully would be able to fend off the inevitable and save humanity, but then, of course, the franchise fizzled out, and X-Files fans resigned themselves to never getting the long-awaited resolution.
One would assume that a driving factor behind the revival would be to address such a fundamental plot point, but Carter has made it clear that (a) the miniseries is set in the present day, with the extraterrestrials never having launched their invasion, and (b) the full story of why the alien colonists suddenly got cold feet would largely be saved for another day. If the cornerstone of the show’s entire mythology is suddenly changed, it can make for a rather slippery slope of other such narrative realignments and do-overs, potentially turning the revival into a reboot.
Continuing to do a mixture of both mythology and standalone episodes is an essential for the series, even in its new form and even in a changed television landscape that favors serialization over episodic storytelling; doing comedy as well as horror or character-study pieces is one of the most dramatically satisfying aspects of The X-Files, after all.
But the extremely limited number of installments in the event series means that, of its six eps, only the first and second will be mythology chapters – a somewhat shaky proposition, given just how much the writers will need to address from the previous nine years and how much set-up they’ll need to establish for this go-round, specifically (namely, how Mulder and Scully not only get back together, but how they also are reinstated into the FBI’s ranks after a 14-year absence). Frankly, six episodes might potentially not be enough time for such a tall order.
Many fans contend that The X-Files headed off the rails at some point in its last few years, particularly when Agent Fox Mulder was shuffled off the cast and replaced by John Doggett, but, in point of fact, the series maintained a strong, engaging narrative and a remarkable variety of standalone stories all the way up until its ninth and final season.
It’s in that last year that everything somehow fell apart. Characterizations started to inexplicably change (especially with Agent Reyes, Doggett’s new parter on the X-files), ongoing villains were dropped, and the overall narrative started to retread past ground instead of heading out to new horizons – all of which isn’t to mention the extremely open-ended finale. And now, season 10 will have to answer for it, to some degree or another, by going back and setting everything right once more (which seems to already be in evidence in the event series’s trailers, with much of Mulder and Scully’s dramatics being devoted to their inexplicable decision to give up their child in the show’s final few episodes).
Still, with so little time already present – and with so many new mythology wrinkles having occurred between 2008’s film and now – there’s only so much Carter will be able to do to redress old wounds. It may be that audiences will have to make due with a tiny Band-Aid instead of full reconstructive surgery.
The Cigarette-Smoking Man was killed in the fifth season premiere, although the show took pains to establish that no body was ever found. He was brought back into the fold halfway into that season but then killed off a second time, in the seventh season finale, when his former protégé, Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea), dumped his deteriorating body down a flight of stairs.
Cancer Man saw his third return to life (surviving both terminal illness and that nasty crash) in the final few scenes of the series finale, appearing for the sole benefit of sneering in Mulder’s face that nothing he could ever do would be enough to thwart the December 22, 2012 colonization date. He was literally torn apart by an exploding missile for his troubles, with the camera delighting in seeing his skin being peeled off of his skull.
Now, the man formerly known as CGB Spender is returning yet again, presumably just to twirl his proverbial evil mustache once more, probably for one single episode (since there’s only the two mythology installments to begin with). If that seems like a bit much, that’s because it certainly is – and Spender won’t even be alone, as the three deceased Lone Gunmen will be joining him.
There is a scene towards the end of The X-Files’s eighth season when Fox Mulder, knowing that he’s about to be booted from the FBI, passes the symbolic torch on to John Doggett, his more mainstream replacement in the X-files office, hoping that his credibility with the FBI hierarchy would garner their work in the paranormal more recognition. It truly felt as if the show were turning a new page.
And it did for the entirety of the next year – until Duchovny came back for the final installment, and, just like that, the focus of the show abruptly, jarringly switched back to him, with both Doggett and his partner, Monica Reyes, being relegated to side-show status. Their remarkable and unceremonious short-shrifting would continue with the follow-up movie, I Want to Believe, and continues on with season 10 – Annabeth Gish has, essentially, a cameo, while Robert Patrick reportedly refused to even participate (and who can blame him?).
While it’ll certainly be wonderful to see Mulder and Scully reunited and once again spending exorbitant amounts of the government’s money investigating supernatural cases, there’s undeniable damage that’s been done to the foundation of the show’s narrative, as whatever evolution the show was clearly undergoing was artificially redacted and then summarily ignored. The X-Files was arguably never better than the last six episodes of its eighth season, when all four agents – Mulder, Scully, Doggett, and Reyes – were all working together to unravel the alien colonists’ conspiracy and covering each other’s backs.
Now, it seems, audiences will have to settle for only half of that equation.
Are the warning signs really not that gloomy? Or do you just not care and are happy to see (part of) the old gang back together again? The comments below await.