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The Return of the X-Files
FOX recently announced that the long-lived and wildly popular Sci-Fi series X-Files is going to make a comeback. While the beloved series is just as popular as ever, especially thanks to its presence on Netflix and its ubiquitous popularity in the 90s should we fans be excited or simply worried to see it return after more than a decade off the air.
In this hub I'm going to talk about the obstacles the new series will face and offer my own reaction to the news that we will see Agents Mulder and Scully on TV again.
The State of Television Today
When X-Files began airing in the early 90s television was a far different place to be. A show about two FBI agents searching for aliens and chupacabras (amidst a myriad of other strange and sometimes supernatural entities) was a relatively novel idea. Other than Kolchak the Nightstalker, a brief series about a journalist and reporter who hunts down unexplained monsters American TV had very few shows with a premise even close to the X-Files.
Growing up in the 90s I can remember a time when science fiction and superheroes were the exception, not the rule. Far from being wildly popular they were generally viewed as niche topics about which the public new little about. Enter X-Files, a show which covered even more obscure ground, delving not just into the unexplained and extraterrestrial but into conspiracy theories, cover-ups and the government secrets too dark to ever be seen by the public.
For myself growing up X-Files was a source of thrills and chills, and of interesting ideas and phenomenon to research. It was also one of the few “adult” shows my fundamentalist parents were willing to let me watch (they had odd double-standards, X-Files was okay but Scooby Doo wasn't, go figure). I had a major interest in UFOs and cryptozoology growing up and while I now consider myself a skeptic of these phenomenon I am still interested in them to this day.
In much the same way the the Twilight Zone functioned in the late 50s and early 60s as the penultimate anthology of weird TV the X-Files dominated the 90s and early 2000s.
But today, in the mid 2010s (amazing how time flies), television is overpopulated with TV shows about the unexplained and supernatural. Dozens of paranormal investigation shows have come and gone, reality shows like UFO Hunters, Ancient Aliens, Monster Quest, Destination Truth, and so many others, have aired in the post X-Files universe. And on the fiction side there are shows like Fringe, Supernatural, Grimm, Constantine, Doctor Who and so many others that delve into folklore, cryptozoology, aliens or the paranormal.
While I don't feel like any of the shows that have come since X-Files finished its run in 2002 have lived up to the legacy Mulder and Scully left behind it still begs the question, do we need another show about unexplained phenomenon, the paranormal and folklore? Do we need the X-Files back?
The End of the World as We Know It
My general reaction to the news of the X-Files return has been a negative one. While I would love to be excited about the return of Mulder and Scully it is hard to see how the show will work. In the final episodes of the series SPOILER ALERT Agent Mulder discovers that the alien invasion will begin on December 21st 2012. This date ties directly into the Mayan Doomsday which in 2002 when the show aired was just beginning to gain traction on the internet (apparently after the whole Y2K thing didn't happen people immediately began looking for a new doom date).
So a new X-Files series taking place in 2015 or 2016 wouldn't make much sense in my opinion. Unless they explain that the invasion was somehow stopped or have the series take place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Perhaps it was postponed, perhaps it was stopped altogether, all I know is they will have to come up with some reason why the aliens have not annihilated humankind.
Regardless of the invasion there is the question of whether the new series will complete an arc for the characters or whether it will be Monster-of-the-Week episodes. I know many people would crave the former, another more definitive conclusion to the Alien Conspiracy plot that dominated the show in later seasons but I for one think X-Files was its strongest when it stuck to Monster-of-the-Week episodes. Sure it was a bit formulaic but at least each episode had its own mystery to unravel and its own strange phenomenon or reveal its own monster.
I for one was satisfied with the way the series ended and was not at all impressed by I Want to Believe, the sub-par borefest attempt at an X-Files movie they released in 2008.
Six Episodes - Quality over Quantity?
One of the issues I had with the announcement of the shows revival is it coming back, at least initially, for only six episodes. If these are similar to the X-Files episodes of old they will likely have a running time of about an hour, with commercials of course. Back in the 90s a show like X-Files produced far more episodes than the average television viewer of today would be used to. Today you're lucky to get 13 episodes in a season of a TV show, but a season of the X-Files typically ran for over 20 episodes.
That sort of thing would unheard of today and yet back then shows like X-Files, Star Trek (TNG) and Mystery Science Theater 3000 would pump out over 20 episodes a season on shows meant to take up one hour time slots. And yet here we are getting only six episodes?
What story-arc are they going to cover in six-episodes that is going to be nearly as satisfying as seeing twenty-four new episodes? I know I may be going against the grain once again but I will take quantity over quality here especially because I have reservations that they can do six good episodes to begin with. If the episode quality is already going to be low give us more episodes.
We live in a new age of binge-watchers and if six new episodes of X-Files come out they will be over before they can really begin and we will be left with that empty feeling that comes from having no more episodes of a show to watch. Why not give us more? Some meat with our side of potatoes, perhaps a dozen Monster-of-the-Week episodes mixed in with the ones that further the story arc, just like it was in the old days.
It Might be Good
Despite my generally negative reception to this news I am somewhat hopeful that the episodes are at least passable enough to let my nostalgia do the rest. And although I wish Hollywood and the television industry would just let some shows and franchises end the way they originally ended I have to admit that sometimes we do get revivals of shows and movies that are better or equal to the predecessors.
For an example look at the long-lived British comedy Red Dwarf, a fantastic Sci-Fi comedy about the last living human being stranded in space with a best friend he hates, a semi-intelligent creature that evolved from the population of cats on board the ship, and a submissive and quirky android. When the show finally came back to do a new proper season, Series X, it turned out to be great, with strong writing, interesting plots and plenty of laughs. The pitfall with Red Dwarf is, like this new series of X-Files, we get only six episodes at a time (British TV is often funny like that though).
Another mainstay of British TV, Doctor Who, also made a come back after a long time in cancellation and has now become more popular than ever even gaining a mass following here in the United States. And of course the aforementioned Star Trek the Next Generation was on decades and decades after the original series had aired although it was a reboot of sorts (as was Doctor Who).
The point is that while I hope the new show is good and look forward to it I cannot shake or overlook that feeling in the pit of my stomach that says too much time has passed and that nostalgia driven revivals of long dead series are only a good idea when the show itself did not end in a satisfactory way. I was satisfied with the way X-Files ended.
It will be hard for the writers to convince me that after all these years Mulder and Scully can simply pick up where they left off investigating the unexplained and unraveling the dark conspiracies that keep us in the dark about aliens. If Chris Carter and the other writers feel that the truth is still out there, I guess we are at their mercies.
I want to believe... that it's not going to suck.