“My life’s become a punchline” remarks Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) as he resignedly watches a YouTube clip of Barack Obama facetiously discussing the subject of UFOs with Jimmy Kimmel. We’re only seven minutes into this underwhelming revival exported by Channel 5 and it’s already become self-aware. It seems to be doing its damnedest to desecrate everything that engrossed viewers of The X-Files’ original run in the Nineties, with superfluous padding of the already convoluted mythos that led the show astray in its later seasons and brought the generally first-rate “Monster of the Week” episodes crashing down with it.
Showrunner Chris Carter, once considered a pioneer of intricate, speculative fiction and unbridled terror, has now seen his name become a byword for ‘making shit up as one goes along’. Twenty-three years on in 2016 the truth is still out there, and we’re left with a Sisyphean landfill site of a narrative as question after question is thrown into the mythos with no forward planning, meaning that answers to these questions are as illusory as bacon-flavoured Coke.
Fourteen years following the closure of the titular The X-Files with the series’ cancellation, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) have resigned from the FBI and into the peripheries of society, Mulder becoming a recluse and Scully making a living as a medical doctor, before the actions of a right-wing webcaster force them back into the fray. The pre-title sequence sees Mulder recap the series’ events up to that point, ostensibly with the purpose of re-orientating fans who haven’t watched an episode in aeons, and is a cavalcade of continuity, with iconic monsters of classic episodes such as the Flukeman and Eugene Victor Tooms making fleeting appearances, before segwaying into more filibustering about the existence of extraterrestrial life and a government conspiracy to colonise Earth, accompanied by description of real life incidents suggestive of such.
And that’s where the funeral pyre of coherency is lit. The opening titles roll- they’re almost entirely unaltered from those you remember (or don’t) at the series’ genesis back in ’93. No overhauls to reflect the aging of the lead actors, or advancements in visual effects in the two decades since seemed to be necessary. That expository diarrhoea will come to typify much of what follows in the next 40 minutes, as the writers become dependent on rambling monologues accompanied by illustrative stock footage to carry the narrative.
Duchovny and Anderson both jadedly grumble and sleepwalk through dialogue as if the realisation has hit like a freight train that they’re ‘getting too old for this shit’, as we’re expected to believe the testimony of one person, Sveta (Annet Mahendru), who claims that extraterrestrials are an elaborate hoax, perpetuated in a false flag operation by the government – enough to fracture Mulder’s lifelong conviction to the contrary (despite him having been abducted and seen them with his own two eyes). The reintroduction of a familiar villainous figure, whose last onscreen appearance showed him graphically incinerated, at the episode’s close does nothing to wash out the aftertaste of discontent.
On paper, the idea of an The X-Files revival was worth investing in, attempting to inch towards closure that the series was aggravatingly denied; but it is consequently impenetrable for new viewers, and estranges itself from longterm X-Philes by smuggling in extraneous layers of mystery, rather than attempting to work with the nine seasons’ worth of mythology already available. Sheer nostalgic value isn’t enough to offset this. With five more episodes of this miniseries still to follow, one can still cling to hope for course-correction. Or, at least – I want to believe.