For some reason, various old series are being exhumed and given an unholy revival. The X-Files was not a likely candidate for this procedure. I think most fans would agree that the show was already well past its prime by the time it went off the air. It had a last episode that provided closure and this was followed by a disappointing movie that had already showed that maybe it was best to leave well enough alone. Admittedly, early in its run The X-Files was a true cultural phenomenon, but around five or six seasons in, the running conspiracy storylines had grown unwieldy and David Duchovny was restless, likely bored with playing Fox Mulder.
Returning to their roles eight years after the disappointing film The X-Files – I Want to Believe, you’d hope that Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as Scully would bring renewed energy with them. But no such luck. Duchovny says the lines he is given without much enthusiasm, though this is understandable considering how wooden the dialogue is overall. And Anderson gamely spouts large amounts of cringeworthy pseudoscience with an admirably straight face.
The six episodes throw in a bit of all the familiar X-Files elements. There are a couple of standalone cases, there are some dense – in both senses of the word – conspiracy strands running throughout and there is a comedic episode that breaks tone with the rest of the series. At points The X-Files finds its groove, but it never lasts long before something feels off again. There are emotional threads running throughout that do not pay off – such as the one about the FBI couple’s long-lost son. And the pacing is downright weird. The final episode feels frantic, like the writers were told at the last moment that they only had one episode left to wrap things up.
The X-Files used to have its finger on the pulse and managed to be very ‘hip’ – but now the stories feel like they were written by people out of touch with current technology and social media. Where the series used to be cool, it now feels like they are trying hard to achieve coolness, which is never cool. The scripts seem undercooked, not properly thought out. When Mulder has to be tracked down at one point, not only does his laptop have zero protection against snooping, but there also is a convenient phone tracker on the desktop, showing exactly where he is. Despite being such a paranoid man, Mulder is very sloppy with his privacy.
The series begins with a cringeworthy recap of the story so far, someone unseen piling up a stack of relevant photos, while a dangerously laid-back voice-over by Duchovny plays over it. It feels so awkward that you almost instantly lose faith in what’s coming. The many wink-wink variations on ‘I want to believe’ that keep popping up in the dialogue are ironic, because the series makes it really hard for viewers to buy into its world.
The seeds for potentially more X-Files stories have been planted. Two young agents are introduced, who have the familiar Mulder (believer) and Scully (sceptic) dynamic. The cliffhanger ending leaves the door open for Duchovny and Anderson to return, but if they don’t, their younger versions could take over. Maybe that would be for the best, freeing the series from some of its convoluted history, although the writing and plotting would also need to improve to regain interest. This was an awkward reunion.