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.

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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.

Should Fox bring back The X-Files?

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?).

Should Fox bring back The X-Files?

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.

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  • Thomas Stockel

    I remember the first five seasons and loving the show, and I loved the first movie because it felt like they went a long way towards pushing the storylines forward. It really felt like we were getting somewhere.

    Then Scully’s bee got lost when being transported to the evidence locker, even though she knew by then there was a conspiracy and evidence had been lost before. I’m not saying she should have held onto the bee, but wouldn’t the smart play have been to place said bee in a safe place, like a county sherriff’s lockup to preserve the chain of evidence, then turn in another bee to see what would happen? If the bee disappeared that would have been definitive proof of a conspiracy, as it showed a
    pattern of key evidence being stolen where X-Files cases were concerned.

    But no, Scully was written like an idiot, and I hate if when smart people are written like idiots. It was even worse when we had to put up with all those episodes where Mulder and Scully weren’t part of the X-Files but were thrown into weird cases anyway.

    Oh, and I’m supposed to believe Mulder could magically restore all those burned files?
    Bullshit. I’m so glad I got off the bus a third of the way through season six.

    • Scully was so thick at times it made me want to tear my hair out. She spends hours covering an invisible man with yellow powder and when the body disappears she writes it off as a hallucination. The mutants, the monsters… Scully? Baby. Darling. The night is dark and full of terrors, get your head out of your ass.

    • maarvarq

      I’m glad I never got on the bus.

  • I can’t imagine it working in the modern world. Back in the 90’s you could play it fast and loose, counting on people to miss a few episodes, or go a few weeks without a major plot point being of consequence, so the audience couldn’t scrutinize things with the laser focus they can now. A marathon of this stuff is like eating a jar of jelly and occasionally biting into a shirt button that just happened to be mixed in, an inconsistency that makes you distrustful of the creators and hesitant about eating the rest of it.

    Maybe if they brought it back with more of a “Buffy” style, with season long conspiracies that unravel while the agents investigate different things. The occasional standalone episode… overall I just do not know how this thing would work nowadays. For god’s sake, smart phones nuke completely the ability to take government conspiracies of this magnitude seriously… It is the same reason why “Animorphs” doesn’t work anymore.

    They would also have to deal with Mulder retiring (David is 54, and the FBI has mandatory retirement at 56), while Scully is only in her mid 40’s (which is odd, as she was an MD in addition to being an agent in the first series… When did she go to medical school when she was 20?)

    • CaptainCalvinCat

      Well, in the german crime-comedy-show “Adelheid & ihre Mörder” (Adelheid and her murderers), the two main roles Adelheid Moebius (played by Evelyn Hamann) and Ewald Strobel (played by Heinz Baumann) would’ve been retired somewhat around season 4 or 5, if one would use real-life-circumstances. The show only got cancelled because of Evelyn Hamanns untimely and tragic death.

      Concerning Mulder retiring – I don’t know, that could be an interesting idea. Imagine, Mulder is working two more years at FBI, retires (mandatorily) and yet continues to work freelance as an advisor of sorts? Bring in two young agents, who do the legwork – or in Buffy terms: Make Mulder the Giles of the group.
      That could bring some interesting moments for Mulder, when he must come to terms with the fact, that he isn’t in his 30s anymore – that he cannot do the stuff, that he was able to do 20 years ago.

  • Toby Clark

    “No, the old show relied on the Lost logic of “make it up as you go along”
    That was really only the first season, they started planning ahead more after Carlton Cuse came on board.

  • Christian Berger

    The world has changed. Back in the 1990s outrageous governmental conspiracy theories were still cool, today we know that part of it turned out to be true (massive surveillance) while other parts became even less plausible.
    So I don’t know what they can do in a new series.

    • It’s the same with 24 really. That thing was so much a creation of the post-9/11 war on terror era that it’s lost any and all relevance now.

    • CaptainCalvinCat

      Well, on the other hand, Captain America 2 – the winter soldier – deals with the same premise: Conspiracy Theory, massive surveillance, death lists – and yet the movie is working. So, why wouldn’t it work in a new series? After all, now we know for a fact, that SOME theories in the show would be true, so couldn’t that work for the shows benefit?

  • Bouncy X

    i’m a huge fan, only started watching during the reruns before Season 2 started but i got hooked by the time it returned. i’d love to see a return, whether permanent or a limited series like 24, its all good. and hopefully if this happens, it means the show will finally see the light of day on Blu. i don’t know if Fox would spend the time and money Paramount did with the TNG sets and redo everything but its the one show i wouldn’t mind double dipping on despite owning the whole series on dvd already.

  • Sardu

    Chris Carter created a show that was really really good for about 4 seasons or so, then drove it completely into the ground. Of course after the debacle of the final seasons of X Files and the movies he did go on to redeem himself with nothing, ever. Why should I waste a minute on this>

  • MichaelANovelli

    I can’t help but wonder if Twin Peaks getting revived was also a factor? An…X-factor, if you will… ;)

  • JustMe

    I don’t know… I’m not actively opposed to them doing this but, to be honest, I greeted the news with a yawn. The show was really great in it’s time but it did seem to lose a lot of steam towards the end. And, to be honest, it was pretty obvious that the mythology behind the show was only supposed to go for 5 seasons – starting in season 6 it became really tortured and convoluted. But, that said, it’s monster of the week entires still were entertaining and worth the headaches of the story arc episodes…

    I’d watch it if it came back. But I am just not exactly excited at the news… It’s sort of the same way I feel about late seasons “Simpsons” episodes – sure, I’ll watch them… but I just don’t set aside time to do so anymore.

  • Nasty In The Pasty

    For God’s sake…Lost ended up answering at LEAST 75%-to-80% of its recurring “mysteries” by the time it ended. The whole “they were making it up as they went along” meme is a complete falsehood.

    • Jonathan Campbell

      That they answered those questions doesn’t actually mean they weren’t making it up as they went along. It means they didn’t know what those answers were going to be when they started the show.