Should Fox bring back The X-Files?
[Note from the editor: This review is by prospective staff writer Jonathan Campbell. Enjoy!]
If you haven’t heard the news, a few days ago, Fox announced that they were in the “logistical phase” of bringing back the cult ‘90s sci-fi hit The X-Files for a revival (which the internet keeps insisting on calling a “reboot” for some reason; Internet, a “revival” is when you bring back an old franchise that wrapped up long ago in order to continue telling its story; a “reboot” is a brand-new take on that same franchise that usually starts back at the beginning again).
By “logistical”, by the way, they only mean that they’re talking to the old cast and crew to see if they’re up for it. The buzz comes from the fact that both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have said yes, while the only problem creator Chris Carter (who co-owns the rights) seems to be having is figuring out if such a series would clash with his other commitments. Regardless, fans are excited, because Fox seems pretty serious about doing this, which was partially prompted by a recent Twitter campaign (#XFiles2015) that proved surprisingly popular.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I was a big X-Files fan back when it was on (for starters, I was pretty young—it ended when I was 15). I watched the show on and off, and mostly found it enjoyable, but I wasn’t especially committed. To be honest, I was one of those people who managed to mostly keep up with the storyline through articles in newspapers and magazines, and of course the ever-informative TV commercials that let me know about things like the T-1000 replacing Fox Mulder and stuff. But I still watched it, and tuned in for the (disappointing and forgettable) conclusion, which… I think had the Cigarette Smoking Man as an Indian in a cave or something; I don’t really remember. And of course, like many a casual poser X-Phile, I saw the two movies when they came out in theaters.
Nonetheless, being the sort of person who used to live in countries like Wikipedia and TV Tropes, I managed to do a fair bit of reading on the subject of this show, and I pretty much have the gist of it. In a nutshell: the aliens aren’t aliens, they’re just an advanced species that used to live on Earth and will enslave or kill us all when they return; the US Government (or the shadowy Syndicate within it) is conspiring with the aliens to save as many humans as possible, as well as their own skin while secretly figuring out how to fight back; the “black oil” is very, very bad; Adam Baldwin is also very, very bad (yep, Gamergate joke… uhm, #TrueNeutral?); Mulder and Scully are definitely-maybe-not-possibly-yes-I-think-they-finally-are-an-item?; and Chris Carter/the showrunners absolutely suck at planning and actually had no idea where half this stuff was going after all (so if you never really watched the show that much either, don’t worry; most of it doesn’t matter anyway).
Regardless of my qualifications (or lack thereof) on this subject, I have to ask the question: Is bringing back The X-Files a good idea?
Let me put it another way: one of the reasons Fox is considering this is because they brought back 24 last year, and it was a decent hit. I say “decent”, because while it did well ratings-wise, and many fans loved it, anyone who watched that show (and that one, I did watch) and saw the revival can understand me when I say it can be summed up as “more of the same”. It didn’t really add anything new, and while it was a mostly entertaining ride and Jack Bauer was as much of an unstoppable killing machine as ever, it still got pretty tedious at times. Its main saving grace was that unlike previous “days”, 24: Live Another Day only got 12 episodes rather the usual, you know, twenty-four (with a 12-hour time skip in the final episode because, you know, Jack may torture and kill people but that doesn’t mean he would dare resort to false advertising). A shorter season meant far, far less padding than the previous seasons suffered from, but there was still very little we hadn’t seen before.
Although 24 teased a grander myth arc at times (which would have benefitted the series immensely, in my opinion), it greatly favored a more story-arc approach, with each “day” being mostly independent of the next, and a massive and sprawling cast of “everyone who isn’t Jack or Chloe is probably going to die”. X-Files is not 24; its myth arc, its storyline about a pair of FBI agents who uncover a sinister alien/government conspiracy, is central to its premise and appeal. Both shows squandered their potential in different ways, but while 24 just gave us the same brutal and bleak action-drama-political thriller we came to expect over and over again, X-Files is guilty of promising its fans more than it knew how to deliver.
My point is, if you’re going to bring back this show, please do it right.
X-Files had plenty of episodic “monster mystery of the week” plots along with its grander conspiracy storyline, and fans of the show will be expecting a return of both formats. The former is likely to be pulled off reasonably safely, but if you’re going to do the latter right, the fans deserve far, far better plotting and planning than they got the first time around, particularly as the second movie, I Want to Believe, added precisely zero to that storyline, except to show us that neither Mulder nor Scully were especially worried about the impending alien invasion supposedly coming their way in 2012 (so, I guess they stopped them off-screen?).
No, the old show relied on the Lost logic of “make it up as you go along”, meaning it had numerous red herrings and seemingly important twists and revelations that ultimately amounted to nothing. This isn’t a symptom of bad writing only—it’s also a symptom of “lets milk this cow for all it’s worth”, a reminder that the crew and the studio have a vested financial interest in keeping the show going for as long as possible, and therefore, a vested interest in not giving people any meaningful answers or having any definite endgame (to say nothing of how rare it is for TV shows to be planned at all; it’s not at all uncommon for shows to start filming episodes before the scripts are finished, with some written or finalized at the last minute).
The fact that The X-Files teased “The Truth”, that it hooked its audience with plot-related questions it had no way or even intention of answering, is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The show’s fandom has been hurt before, and I don’t think it’s any accident that the original series had an unsatisfying ending that resolved nothing, as no doubt even then the idea of “we could bring this back one day” was at the back of everybody’s minds. That it took them this long is probably indicative of them not so much hoping to bring back the old fans as wanting to lure in gullible, newer, and more innocent viewers who don’t know any better.
Okay, that’s a pretty cynical interpretation; if you are an X-Phile, you’ll probably watch this anyway, and you’ll have more reasons to than just to see if they’re finally going to give you any real answers to the questions left dangling all those years ago. You’ll come back for the monsters, you’ll come back for the unique mixture of sci-fi and horror and humor, and above all, you’ll come back for the characters of Mulder and Scully and anyone else they manage to bring back. You might especially want to see what they can do with a bigger budget and modern filming techniques. You have every reason to be excited about this (potential) revival of a show that you loved.
But you also have reasons to be worried. So Fox, on behalf of someone else’s fandom: Please, please, don’t screw this up.