The X-Files Mondays, 8 p.m. (premieres January 24, 10 p.m.), Fox.
During its initial run (from 1993 to 2002), The X-Files aired 202 episodes over nine seasons, and plenty of them weren’t very good. The show’s concept, with FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigating various paranormal phenomena, allowed for a wide range of tones, formats and stories, and especially in the show’s later seasons, a lot of what the producers tried didn’t work out. Over the course of that many episodes, though, occasional duds weren’t such a big deal, and even as the show’s long-term narrative, about the vast government conspiracy to cover up the presence of aliens on Earth, became unwieldy and tedious, the standalone episodes were frequently brilliant.
The new six-episode revival doesn’t have the same luxury of producing a mix of strong episodes and failed experiments, and the three episodes available for review represent many of the show’s weaknesses without many of its strengths. For longtime fans, that may not matter much: Duchovny, Anderson, co-star Mitch Pileggi (as Mulder and Scully’s stern but sympathetic boss), creator Chris Carter and writer-producers Glen Morgan, Darin Morgan and James Wong are all back, as is the iconic theme song and even the exact same opening credits. The episodes are all mediocre versions of familiar X-Files templates, starting with the convoluted, exposition-heavy season opener, written and directed by Carter, in which Mulder discovers yet another overarching explanation that puts the show’s entire tangled mythology in a new context.
The second episode is a forgettable story about an amoral scientist whose experiments spin out of control, and the third (written and directed by Darin Morgan, who was responsible for many of the original series’ most entertaining episodes) is a strained effort at comedy, which even typically funny guest stars Rhys Darby and Kumail Nanjiani can’t save. Both Carter and second-episode writer-director James Wong mine some effective material from Mulder and Scully’s fraught personal relationship (after being shown as a cohabitating couple in the 2008 X-Files feature film, they are now separated), and Duchovny and Anderson slip easily into their old roles. But character chemistry and nostalgia are not enough to carry a new season, even (or especially) such a short one. The X-Files’ influence is still being felt on many genre series on TV today, which means the show itself needs to do more than just repeat old patterns with updated references.