Tuesday, March 08, 2016

A disappointing comeback from The X-Files

tv series review

After a 14-year hiatus, the sci-fi series returns for a six-episode continuation with both the leads reprising their roles. Instep takes a look…

The X-Files
Season 10

Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and Mitch Pileggi
Created by: Chris Carter
Tagline: The truth is still out there.

2016 is shaping up to be the year of revivals and reunions with a number of familiar faces returning to our television screens. One of the most prominent series that has made a comeback this year is The X-Files, the science fiction drama that made David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson household names in the 1990s.

The widely popular series originally ran from 1993 to 2002, and followed the story of FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder (Duchovny), a believer in alien existence, and his sceptic partner Dana Scully (Anderson), as they explore mysteries that may have their roots in extraterrestrial or paranormal phenomena. Now, 14 years after the show was cancelled, the drama has been resurrected for a six-episode continuation with both the leads reprising their roles.

The new miniseries finds the X-Files unit being reopened by FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) after a right-wing webcaster, Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), exposes a conspiracy dating back to the UFO crash at Roswell, and tries to seek Mulder and Scully’s help. The main arc of the season revolves around the assertion that the government has been hoarding alien technology for 70 years; a takeover of America, and then the world, by a “well-oiled and well-armed multinational group of elites that will cull, kill, and subjugate” is imminent, leaving it up to the protagonist duo to find the truth, which, the show reminds us, is out there.

As soon as the familiar title sequence begins in the season premiere, the iconic Mark Snow theme tune instantly sucker-punches you with nostalgia, and when Mulder and Scully appear on screen, it is hard to deny just how exciting it is to see the two characters again. Duchovny and Anderson still have chemistry and play their roles well. But once the initial surge of joy over their return wears off, the cracks in the fabric of the series start to become more and more noticeable.

While the premise of delving into the unexplained is still compelling, the way the series handles its subject matter seems far less convincing now than it did in the less jaded, pre-internet-on-smartphones world of the ’90s. Now that more people are familiar with conspiracy theories, it takes something out of the show. As a result, it starts to feel like The X-Files is taking itself too seriously and is too enamoured with its own convoluted mythology, even though the conspiracies that it is dramatically presenting through laughable dialogues and tedious monologues seem more preposterous than intriguing. Perhaps the worst offence of this uneven return, however, is that it leaves us with a cliffhanger, which is not the best course for a short series, especially one with no scheduled return date, making the season 10 experience all the more frustrating. If you go in seeking a resolution, then you are bound to be left disappointed.

At this point, it seems like the series’ creator might also be its weakest link. It can’t be a coincidence that the three worst instalments of this short season – the ho-hum premiere ‘My Struggle’, the ham-fisted fifth episode ‘Babylon’ which spectacularly misfires, and the terrible finale ‘My Struggle II’ which annoyingly offers no closure – were all written and directed by Chris Carter. Admittedly he does come up with fascinating ideas, but then invariably falters in their execution, and seems to be too close to the project to see what is and isn’t working.

All of this becomes all the more obvious in the standout ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’, the third episode of the miniseries which finds writer Darin Morgan mocking and deconstructing the show while giving us the season’s strongest instalment. Different in tone and style from the rest of the revival, ‘Were-Monster’ is fun and interesting, and its tongue-in-cheek handling of the show’s hogwash makes it all the more delightful.

On the whole, this continuation of The X-Files is a mixed bag and probably won’t go down as anyone’s favourite season of the beloved series. The monster-of-the-week episodes work better than the season’s central arc, as Carter fails to transform the absurd main story into an entertainingly plausible mystery. (The grating overuse of the ‘I Want to Believe’ catchphrase doesn’t help either.) Still, fans of the show are very likely to enjoy this revisit and will definitely be pleased to see the characters again.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 8th March, 2016 *

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