The new X-Files

I have to admit I was excited when I heard the news. The X-files are back, they said. The X-files! Remember them? Remember how you used to sit, glued to the screen, devouring the subtle conspiracy theories, urban myths and cryptozoological marvels that true believer “Spooky” Mulder and reserved sceptic “no nickname” Scully encountered each week? Could it… dare we hope… be still my beating heart… it’s… oh. It’s dreadful.

The old X-Files
The format was tantalising. Mulder always got a good look at the paranormal subject of each show (well, not as good a look as we got, but all the same) but whenever Scully turned up to see it, the mysterious thing had disappeared. The format was a push, pull, twist and turn format. Simple but effective.

The alien abductee convinced Mulder with his tale, filled with coincidences and similarities with dozens of other cases he’d investigated… suggesting proof. Then Scully would check his medical records and discover the abductee also spent time in a secure hospital for paranoid delusions, suggesting a rational explanation. It was a game of cosmic ping pong, of near misses and “if onlys”. It tugged you this way and that, anguished over how unfair it was Scully missed the zombie… or explained away the UFO as a secret spy plane and a cover-up. Great storytelling.

The central story arc of the show, a conspiracy to take over the planet with alien-human hybrids by some secret cabal of plutocrats, battled by a turncoat fifth columnist (Deep Throat) and a bunch of other characters who would slip in handy plot devices and such to keep the show moving. But eventually the arc had to come to an end, there was a movie, the show was over, Scully was converted (more or less) to being a true believer and shacked-up with Mulder, killing the sexual chemistry that kept us watching the show for a decade. It was done.

Or was it? (Sadly, that’s a rhetorical question, the answer is “Yes”.)

The new X-Files
But these days, things have changed. The premise of the show is both Mulder and Scully have presumably now seen so much whacky stuff they pretty much believe everything. Mulder doesn’t seem that excited by anything anymore, he’s got this rather off-hand lack of expression on his face… although possibly that could be the skin fillers or botox or whatever. Scully, now, seems a bit burned out and jaded, going through the motions of a sceptical scientist but always managing to slip in something about aliens or secret government programmes and the like. She might sound like Scully’s voice, but the words drop into a tin-foil hat conspiracy nut’s vocabulary too easily.

The problem is, they faced a thorny plot issue from the outset. After the old X-Files, and the movie, the conspiracy cat was out of the bag. It was done. No putting it back. So the only place the show could go was an X-Files with two Mulders. He-Mulder and She-Mulder. And She-Mulder is, unarguably, the more dour and less excitable one, but nevertheless, she’s not a card carrying sceptic any more.

Without that inherent tension between the two characters and their opposing world views, there can be no audience payoff of a meeting of minds, of a resolution, where Mulder is left a little more sceptical, and Scully is left a little less so.

Ironically, one of the things I found most annoying about the old X-Files was the fact it always left a shadow of doubt over the story that had just concluded. In this new version, there’s no doubt at all. It’s all real, and so predictable Mulder isn’t that surprised and Scully is grudgingly accepting without much debate. He’s taken on the slick, shallow demeanour of a really successful second hand car salesman, and she’s got the resigned acceptance of a teacher who can’t be bothered to stop her students from playing angry birds in history class.

They come over a bit bored. All the original characters do. And in all fairness, who can blame them… the show’s a bit boring now too. And that’s not just a gripe. So far in the reboot we’ve had a secretive ultra-facist conspiracy behind the old conspiracy, which is almost a blatant “Pam Waking Up In The Shower” plot reset for a whole 9 seasons of the old X-files. And children being mutated into superhumans. Scully’s got alien DNA too apparently… wait, didn’t we know that already… she had a baby, right? Yes she did… alien hybrid baby, I think… they thought it was cancer or something…pass the wine love… what? sorry I missed that I was sending a tweet. Yawn.

The truth is out there, still. Unfortunately the truth is the commercial reality of classic TV reboots means we’ll probably get a whole lot more of this kind of tribute show, and on that score, I don’t want to believe anymore.