Roush Review: The Truth About ‘The X-Files’—It Gets Better
Don’t be surprised if your initial response to the second (or is it the third) coming of The X-Files is to utter a plaintive “Y”—as in: Why?
Why kick off this long-awaited reboot of such a beloved property with a turgid, sluggish deep dive into the murky swamp of alien-human mythology? Why turn David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder into a humorless exposition robot, spouting a new set of tiresomely muddled and convoluted conspiracy theories? Why am I nodding my head in solemn agreement with Dana Scully (the ravishing Gillian Anderson) when she sighs, “I have seen this before.”
Isn’t that the truth. But here’s a happier fact: Once you get past Sunday’s leaden self-parody, written and directed by series creator Chris Carter in a shroud of self-importance that drains his stars of much of their legendary chemistry, The X-Files moves to Mondays with stand-alone episodes—traditionally my favorite, especially as the original series evolved—that are much closer to entertaining form. It only takes three tries (out of six) for the show to truly rediscover its spooky-funky mojo, and it’s worth it to hear Scully proclaim, in the instant-classic Feb. 1 episode, “I forgot how much fun these cases could be.”
That’s the truth we charter-member X-philes have been waiting to hear. New rule for The X-Files going forward: the lighter the better.
It certainly can’t afford to get heavier than Sunday’s episode, prophetically titled “My Struggle,” in which Mulder’s otherworld-view is once again upended after exposure to a conspiracy-spouting web-TV blowhard, unconvincingly played by Community‘s miscast Joel McHale, and meeting a purported alien abductee (The Americans‘ lovely Annet Mahendru) who Mulder keeps insisting is the latest Key to Everything. “All these years we’ve been deceived,” he blathers, as if that’s anything new. And we’re off on a torrent of tangents about the military-industrial complex, a “conspiracy bigger than the Manhattan Project,” blah-blah about “elites” taking over “America and the world itself.” All a bunch of, quoting Agent Scully: “fear-mongering claptrap techno-paranoia.”
Ah, but come back Monday and find yourself in a more creepily inviting world of science gone awry, with genetic mutations affecting children in a sinister research facility, a gruesome case that taps into Scully and Mulder’s own troubled experience with parenthood. James Wong, who has a gift for spooky-icky excess, is the writer-director.
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A week later, at the mini-season’s Feb. 1 midpoint, we are reminded what it’s like to laugh out loud with, not at, The X-Files, courtesy of Emmy-winning writer-director Darin Morgan’s “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” a title bearing distant echoes of Abbott & Costello shenanigans. There is slapstick galore, including Mulder fumbling with a new camera-phone app he can’t operate nearly as efficiently as those trusty old flashlights. But the tone is mostly droll in this inspired creature-of-the-week whimsical escapade into the Oregon woods, where Mulder rouses himself from an existential funk—”Is this how I really want to spend the rest of my days, chasing after monsters?”—to chase after a most unlikely and comically cheesy shape-shifting monster. “Yeah, this is how I like my Mulder,” Scully approves (and so do we): “Bat-crap crazy.”
Playing the were-whatever, whose origin story is appropriately twisted, Flight of the Conchords‘ Rhys Darby is a forlorn hoot, with a take on humanity that is both bleak and hilarious. Best news: Mulder once again wants to believe. As do I, and when it comes to The X-Files, even with its occasional missteps, I probably always will.
The X-Files premieres Sunday, Jan. 24, 10/9c (approximate time, after the NFC Championship game) | Timeslot premiere, Monday, Jan. 25, 8/7c
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TV critic (and occasional TV therapist) Matt Roush answers viewer questions and concerns in his Ask Matt column each week. Wondering about plots, characters and twists on your fave shows? Submit your query to Matt via the form below: