Suddenly it’s 1993 again in TVland, just like it’s 1980 again out there in Movieland.
Like a certain football-themed film making the rounds now, the new The X-Files “event miniseries” does a wonderful job of being entertaining while helping us beleaguered citizens of the new millennium tap into a submerged part of our memories.
A part that recalls more innocent times when fewer things competed for our attention and it didn’t take much to fire up our sense of wonder.
(Relax, in the 1990s we said the same thing about the 1960s and 1970s. It has happened before and it will happen again.)
But, come on – The X-Files. Almost without peer in the way it captured the imaginations of so many, and took that sense of wonder to heights that few other TV shows could match. Even the title lent itself to its fan base (X-Philes).
It was so much more than a name, though. It was a bunch of great stories, (what started out as) a compelling series mythology crafted by series creator Chris Carter, and probably most of all, the brilliant casting of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, one of the best TV pairings ever.
I’m not a shipper, as in a fan who clamoured for their characters to be in a relationship (the word is a shortening of “relationshipper” which was first used on the old alt.tv.x-files online forum, then shortened to “R’shipper” which didn’t stick because it sounded like some kind of Cthulhu cultist).
What did win me over was their chemistry as colleagues, the believer constantly butting heads with the sceptic, but still always there for each other. Their repartee and witty asides remain etched in fans’ memories thanks to some brilliant writing, and Duchovny and Anderson’s impeccable delivery – like they had been born into the roles.
So it was like slipping on a familiar and comfortable jacket last week when we got to see the two of them back on screen in the premiere of this six-episode revival, the most annoying thing about it being … what the #@&%!, only six?!
Apart from some signs of the intervening years, it seemed like just last year that the show went off the air (it was actually 2002, with the so-so I Want To Believe movie coming out in 2008).
The first episode, My Struggle, sought to unclutter the mythology that had made the later seasons of the series difficult to get through.
It was spent mostly setting the stage for this revival, a way to spell out some of the fundamental things about The X-Files, to get the unit reopened, and to bring Mulder and Scully back into the fold.
The second episode, Founder’s Mutation, saw M&S back as agents, investigating a bizarre suicide, and brought us right back into familiar X-territory: nasty experiments, secret labs, sinister scientists, payback, mysterious kids.
We also saw some touching moments when Mulder and Scully wistfully (and separately) imagined life with William, the son they gave up for adoption.
So far, so good – decent episodes, not the best the series has had to offer, but also very far removed from the self-indulgence and credibility-stretching coincidences/big reveals that marred the later seasons.
But it was the most recent episode, Mulder & Scully Meet The Were-Monster, that provided the revival’s most enjoyable, self-referential and bizarre hour thus far, packed with “WTF?!” moments from the start to its very end.
Dumping the conventional “monster-bite victim turns into a monster” trope on its butt, this episode – written and directed by Darin Morgan, responsible for some of the original run’s most memorable standalone stories including the great Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose – seemed to be a lighthearted romp. On the surface.
Beneath the horny skin of its titular creature, the episode was not only chock-full of Easter eggs for diehard X-Philes, it also served a crucial purpose: to give a doubt-plagued, jaded and war-weary Mulder a reaffirmation of his life’s purpose.
Mulder’s scenes with guest star Rhys Darby (Flight Of The Conchords), playing cell phone salesman Guy Mann, primary suspect in the were-monster killings, were an utter delight – from their “philosophical” discourse on what it is to be human, to his wild fantasies and their deliberately silly fight and the resolution of their, well, acquaintance.
Having Mann clothed (most of the time, when he wasn’t in just his tighty whities) in a wrinkled suit and hat reminiscent of Carl Kolchak’s (Darren McGavin) outfit from The Night Stalker, one of the series’ inspirations, was icing on a nicely conceived and executed cake.
It was more a Mulder episode than a Scully one, though she did have her share of one-liners (for example, the Clyde Bruckman reference) and finally got a dog to replace her lost Queequeg (and one also named after a character in Moby-Dick).
I could devote an entire On The Air review to Were-Monster alone, but then they’d lock me up. Though it must be said that this episode really gave the revival its best reason for existing, so far into its six-episode run.
It took chances, it defied expectations, it amused us and provoked thought at the same time – surely the best qualities of The X-Files from 20 years past, still very much alive and relevant today.
The X-Files airs every Tuesday at 9pm on Fox HD (Astro Ch 724).