Hearing the first bleep-bloop-bleep-bleep-bloop-bloop of The X-Files theme song come out of your television is like opening up an old high school yearbook. As you watch the opening credits, it all comes flooding back. Those outfits! That hair! Those cheesy graphics! You remember them fondly without necessarily wanting to go back. That feeling pervades for the entire (dreadful) first episode of Foxâ€™s six-episode resurrection of the show, which debuts Sunday 24 February at 10pm EST â€“ the following month on Channel Five in the UK. But donâ€™t worry, things get better from there.
Hereâ€™s the problem with the TV reboot which, these days, is more of a resuscitation than it is an actual reconfiguration. The X-Files has both of its original stars and Chris Carter, the creator, all back for another go-round. That means that formally there has been no rejuvenation of the product. They created a 2002 X-Files episode and aired it in 2016 as if it was sucked through some kind of wormhole that Mulder and Scully would be tasked with investigating. We donâ€™t watch television like we used to. We live in the age of the binge, in a land where there is so much on television that episodes canâ€™t take their time to unfold anymore. Everyone is in a hurry to hook the audience because their next favorite show is just a Netflix recommendation away. Has Carter even seen Empire?
The first episode puts us right back in the middle of the big black ooze conspiracy right where the show left off. The X-Files were closed but Tad Oâ€™Malley (Joel McHale getting his serious on), a conspicuously-named cable news conspiracy nut, calls Mulder, now grisly and off-the-grid, and Scully, a successful surgeon, out of retirement to examine the body of a Russian girl who claims to be continuously experimented on by aliens. Of course, after a few hours together, the FBI enlists Mulder and Scully to reopen their old spooky branch of investigation.
The X-Files was never in a big rush to give us all the answers to the vast conspiracy that underpinned it, and the same holds true here. Formally, this episode behaves just like a classic, though Carter tries to give Mulder some new justifications for why the world might be against him. I donâ€™t want to give it away, but letâ€™s just say that the name Edward Snowden is batted around. It is too ridiculous to be believed. Itâ€™s as if he says, â€œOh, it wasnâ€™t the zeitgeist of the 90s that was the problem. It was the zeitgeist of now!â€
As crazy and convoluted as Mulderâ€™s new hypotheses might be, it doesnâ€™t quite drag the show into the present. Itâ€™s more like Madonna hiring some hip produceror your uncle trying Snapchat. Carter knows that he needs to stay current, but just adding some of our new anxieties without updating the visual style (though the special effects have come a long way in the past decade) leaves it going both too far and not far enough at the same time.
The first episode ends on a great X-Files mythology note (no spoilers here) and I thought that, with only six episodes in the new season, we would be wading deeper and deeper into conspiracy land, sort of like reading Reddit after watchingMaking a Murderer. Instead the series throws us a curveball and starts the second episode in the â€œmonster of the weekâ€ vein that bridged the gaps when Mulder wasnâ€™t hunting his lost sister or UFOs.
The show wears this trope like an old varsity jacket that is so retro itâ€™s cool again. In a world awash with NCIS-es, this is a procedural done with some guts. The second episodeâ€™s big monster seems a little bit tired, since it is a little too similar to many of the things weâ€™ve seen from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the past couple of years, but itâ€™s a good yarn that puts Mulder and Scully back in familiar positions.
The third episode, however, is one of the best The X-Files has ever done. It reevaluates old cases and discusses how many of the X-Files arenâ€™t relevant anymore. Itâ€™s a complete dismantling of the showâ€™s entire formula, subverting the way we look not only at this program specifically but horror movies and other genre pieces as well. An amazing performance by Rhys Darby (of Flight of the Concords fame) anchors what should be another â€œmonster of the weekâ€ case but adds a new dimension to all of those old episodes that weâ€™ve been binging on in preparation for this return. Itâ€™s a re-evaluation, which is a wonderful and justified reason for the cast to reconvene.
The best reboots need to make a case for their very existence, otherwise itâ€™s just the members of Fleetwood Mac getting together to play Rhiannon for the millionth time as we clap along and remember the good old days. New episodes should create something new, should take a series to a different place or comment on their legacy rather than just muddling around in the past hoping itâ€™s enough for some good ratings. So far only one of the first three episodes manages to do that.