'X-Files' Reboot Brings Back Mulder, Scully And The Search For Truth

Jan 22, 2016

When The X-Files appeared on TV in the 1990s, there really hadn't been anything quite like it on TV for a long time. The Twilight Zone, with its monsters and flying saucers and anything-goes mentality, was an obvious inspiration and precursor. But investigations of unusual or unearthly phenomena, dramatized in a weekly series in ways that could be scary or funny, or both? As TV shows go, that's about as rare a sighting as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

The closest thing to The X-Files, before The X-Files, was a short-lived TV series from the post-Watergate '70s called Kolchak: The Night Stalker. In it, Darren McGavin played an old-school newspaper reporter — so old-school he wore a light-blue seersucker jacket. He chased down vampires and zombies and witches and things, only to have his stories spiked or censored by the government or his own editors.

It was a clever show — sometimes creepy, sometimes comical — and when Chris Carter created The X-Files, he cited Kolchak as a key influence.

The X-Files, though, has enjoyed its own dynamic from the start, thanks to the chemistry between David Duchovny, as FBI agent and conspiracy theorist Fox Mulder, and Gillian Anderson, as FBI medical expert Dana Scully.

Scully was paired with Mulder by her superiors and asked to report back on him and his theories. The very first time Scully visits Mulder's cramped basement office, where he sits surrounded by his unexplained case folders and his "I Want to Believe" UFO poster, you can tell the tension between them is going to be very dynamic indeed.

The first time around, The X-Files lasted for nine seasons — the last few of them without Scully and Mulder, which was a mistake. There also were spinoffs, including a pair of big-screen movies, released 10 years apart — the first in 1998, the second 10 years later, long after the TV series The X-Files was over.

And now it's back. Again. For six episodes, this time, with the possibility that all involved — Duchovny, Anderson, and series creator Carter — may want to keep reuniting down the road for more limited-run short bursts of shows, just like the cast and crew of Sherlock.

I've previewed three of the six episodes about to arrive — the first airs Sunday night, the second in the show's regular Monday time slot — and I think they're good enough, and entertaining enough, that I hope more episodes of The X-Files will be produced. To quote Mulder's poster: "I want to believe."

The original X-Files, as it developed, was divided loosely into three types of shows. Some were devoted to the ongoing story of Mulder and Scully's investigation into UFOs and government conspiracies — the show's so-called "mythology" episodes. Others were "monster of the week" episodes, similar to the structure of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. And still others were just flat-out weird and fun — usually the ones written by Darin Morgan, like "Humbug" and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space."

All three of those sub-genres of The X-Files are represented in these six new hours, which also bring back such familiar faces (to fans of the old series) as Skinner, the Cigarette Smoking Man and the Lone Gunmen. There's even a new lighthearted episode written by Morgan, which features a creature of the week who, when he's in human mode, dresses in the same seersucker jacket as Carl Kolchak. Coincidence? In the world of The X-Files, there are no coincidences.

But what if you're not familiar with that world? The X-Files left TV nearly 14 years ago — an eternity, in TV time — and shouldn't expect viewers, especially younger ones, to know, remember or care about this show's long, extremely complicated past. The good news is, it doesn't. Instead, it serves up a helpful recap via Duchovny's opening narration as Mulder, which kicks off Sunday's new premiere episode.

The smartest thing this new X-Files does is to establish instantly that Mulder and Scully became a couple and broke up in the years we haven't been watching them. So now there's no "will they or won't they?" tension — they did, then they stopped and now they're in a whole new place.

The premiere features Joel McHale in a change-of-pace serious role as a conspiracy theorist with a popular TV show — but other than that, I'll let you discover the enjoyment of this new X-Files series for yourself. Watch for it this weekend. The truth — and the show — is out there.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. On Sunday, the Fox network launches a limited six-episode revival of "The X-Files," the science-fiction series that starred David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI agents investigating the paranormal. "The X-Files" began in 1993 and returns to TV with both of its original stars. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: When "The X-Files" appeared on TV back in the 1990s, there really hadn't been anything quite like it on TV for a long time. "The Twilight Zone," with its monsters and flying saucers and anything goes mentality was an obvious inspiration and precursor. But investigations of unusual or unearthly phenomena dramatizing in a weekly series in ways that could be scary or funny or both - as TV shows go, that's about as rare a sighting as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. The closest thing to "The X-Files" before "The X-Files" was a short-lived TV series from the post-Watergate '70s called "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." Darren McGavin played an old-school newspaper reporter - so old-school, he wore a light blue seersucker jacket. He chased down vampires and zombies and witches and things only to have his stories spiked or censored by the government or his own editors. It was a clever show, sometimes creepy, sometimes comical. And when Chris Carter created "The X-Files," he cited "Kolchak" as a key influence. "The X-Files," though, has enjoyed its own dynamic from the start thanks to the chemistry between David Duchovny as FBI agent and conspiracy theorist Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson as FBI medical expert Dana Scully. She was paired with Mulder by her superiors and asked to report back on him and his theories. The very first time Scully visits Mulder's cramped basement office where he sits surrounded by his unexplained case folders and his I Want To Believe UFO poster, you can tell the tension between them is going to be very dynamic indeed. Here's that first meeting from the 1993 premiere of the original "X-Files." As Mulder describes a new case involving a dead woman found out West with unusual wounds and marks on her body, Scully is all about the facts, while Mulder, even then, has made a career of thinking outside the box.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE X-FILES")

GILLIAN ANDERSON: (As Dana Scully) Do you have a theory?

DAVID DUCHOVNY: (As Fox Mulder) I have plenty of theories. Maybe what you could explain to me is why is Bureau policy to label these cases as unexplained phenomenon and ignore them. Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?

ANDERSON: (As Dana Scully) Logically, I would have to say no. Given the distances needed to travel from the far reaches of space, the energy requirements would exceed a spacecraft's capabilities...

DUCHOVNY: (As Fox Mulder) Conventional wisdom. Do you know that this Oregon female, she's the fourth person in her graduating class to die under mysterious circumstances? Now, when convention and science offer us no answers, might we not finally turn to the fantastic as a plausibility?

ANDERSON: (As Dana Scully) The girl obviously died of something. If it was natural causes, it's plausible that there was something missed in the postmortem. If she was murdered, it's plausible there was a sloppy investigation. What I find fantastic is any notion that there are answers beyond the realm of science. The answers are there. You just have to know where to look.

DUCHOVNY: (As Fox Mulder) That's why they put the I in FBI.

BIANCULLI: The first time around, "The X-Files" lasted for nine seasons, the last few of them without Scully and Mulder, which was a mistake. There also were spinoffs including a pair of big-screen movies released 10 years apart, the first in 1998, the second 10 years later, long after the TV series "The X-Files" was over. And now it's back again, for six episodes this time, with the possibility that all involved - Duchovny, Anderson and series creator Carter - may want to keep reuniting down the road for more limited-run short bursts of shows just like the cast and crew of "Sherlock." I've previewed three of the six episodes about to arrive. The first airs Sunday night, the second in the show's regular Monday time slot, and I think they're good enough and entertaining enough that I hope more episodes of "The X-Files" will be produced. To quote Mulder's poster, I want to believe.

The original "X-Files" as it developed was divided loosely into three types of shows. Some were devoted to the ongoing story of Mulder and Scully's investigation into UFOs and government conspiracies, the show's so-called mythology episodes. Others were monsters-of-the-week episodes similar to the structure of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," and still others were just flat-out weird and fun, usually the ones written by Darin Morgan, like "Humbug" and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space." All three of those subgenres of "The X-Files" are represented in these six new hours, which also bring back such familiar faces to fans of the old series as Skinner, the Cigarette-Smoking Man and the Lone Gunmen. There's even a new lighthearted episode written by Darin Morgan which features a creature of the week who, when he's in human mode, dresses in the same seersucker jacket as Carl Kolchak. Coincidence? In the world of "The X-Files," there are no coincidences. But what if you're not familiar with that world? "The X-Files" left TV 14 years ago, an eternity in TV time, and shouldn't expect viewers - especially younger ones - to know, remember or care about this show's long, extremely complicated past. The good news is, it doesn't. Instead, it serves up a helpful recap via David Duchovny's opening narration as Mulder which kicks off Sunday's new premiere episode.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE X-FILES")

DUCHOVNY: (As Fox Mulder) My name is Fox Mulder. Since my childhood, I have been obsessed by a controversial global phenomenon, since my sister disappeared when I was 12 years old in what I believe was an alien abduction. My obsession took me to the FBI, where I investigated paranormal science cases through the auspices of a unit known as the X-Files. Through this unit, I could continue my work on the alien phenomenon and the search for my missing sister.

BIANCULLI: The smartest thing this new "X-Files" does is to establish instantly that Mulder and Scully became a couple and broke up in the years we haven't been watching them. So now there's no will they or won't they tension - they did. Then they stopped. And now they're in a whole new place.

The premiere features Joel McHale in a change of pace serious role as a conspiracy theorist with a popular TV show. But other than that, I'll let you discover the enjoyment of this new "X-Files" series for yourself. Watch for it this weekend. The truth - and the show - is out there.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching and teaches television and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. On Monday's show, a look at New Jersey's sometimes volatile governor, Chris Christie.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CHRIS CHRISTIE: So listen - you want to have the conversation later, I'm happy to have it, buddy. But until that time, sit down and shut up.

(APPLAUSE)

DAVIES: That's Christie confronting a heckler at a press conference. We'll talk about Christie's sometime stormy tenure as governor and his bid for the presidency with journalist Matt Katz, who's covered Christie for five years. His new book is, "American Governor." Hope you can join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.