Friday, February 26, 2016

What the Hell is FOX Trying to Pull On Us With the X-Files Revival?

x-files-revival-2016So FOX gives us a “limited run” revival of the classic 90’s series The X-Files which brings back the original cast and creative team and allegedly this is designed to give us the resolution that the ninth season finale (and 2008 movie) never did? And then after delivering six mostly sub-par episodes, this “mini-series” ends on a major cliffhanger? And don’t tell me they had an alternate ending ready to slot in there in case the revival tanked in the ratings. There’s no way they could have provided a satisfactory conclusion to that episode in a few minutes or less. So all along that “limited run” line was a lie (point of fact: it almost always is), and they were just stringing us along to leave us hanging and waiting for another year.

It’s not that I have a problem with the show coming back for another season, because even though this was a mixed-bag of episodes, I enjoyed watching it (as it became appointment TV once again just like in its original run) and I hope they will smooth out the rough edges next year. What annoys me most is the way FOX approached this. They billed it as a “mini-series” with the clear suggestions that it was close-ended and would answer many long-hanging questions (though with the possibility that more stories could follow). That was fine and it sure seemed it would be great to catch up with Mulder and Scully and perhaps get a better resolution than what we previously had. But from the onset, the series was designed to build up a storyline that would carry on well beyond the planned six episodes. And if the revival was a bust (as was NBC's Heroes Reborn), we would have been left with an even less satisfying ending.

Adding to all these network manipulations is the fact that the revival just wasn’t very good. In the first episode, they basically threw out the mythology that had been built up through the show’s original nine season run, and Mulder bought into this new conspiracy theory without batting an eye. Parts of the original mythology would eventually work their way back into the revival episodes (when Chris Carter and company apparently said “Oh shit, we probably shouldn’t have just thrown all of that away!”). But the damage was already done, and the plot holes, leaps of logic, and just downright bad episodes that followed didn’t help.

Unfortunately, probably one of the biggest legacies of the revival is that it will jade our opinion of the original series. That one hasn’t stood the test of time very well to begin with, and a lot of the problems we saw with the recent batch of episodes existed through the entire show’s run (especially in its later seasons). But in the 90’s we gave the show a lot more leeway because there was nothing else quite like it on television. It delivered creepy stories with an ongoing, conspiracy-laden story arc holding the show together at a time when there was very little sci fi on television (hard to imagine in the Too-Much-TV era). The X-Files delivered plenty of mediocre to quite awful episodes during its original run, but we were willing to tolerate that because we knew it would deliver plenty of great ones throughout the year as well (Star Trek: TNG and DS9 were the same way with plenty of stinkers throughout their runs).

The X-Files revival was unfortunately far too heavy on the sub-par to bad episodes with only one really good one (“Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster”). And you can’t blame a creative staff unfamiliar with the property because Chris Carter was back in charge and actually wrote three of the episodes (not the good ones). You can definitely see where he is still stuck in the 90’s and FOX definitely needs to get some young blood onboard this show if and when it returns. The cheesiness and sloppiness that we often forgave the show for previously is still on display and it does not add any retro charm.

The fact is that much of what The X-Files pioneered has now become well-worn genre tropes. Alien conspiracies and mistrust of the government and grim, sullen story-telling are more the stuff of parody these days and you have to tread lightly if you want to take all that seriously (and maybe that’s why the spoof episode worked so well). A meta-approach to this revival would have been a much better direction with plenty of winks to the audience and self-references (to be fair, there was some of that, but it was not well orchestrated). But the dead-on serious approach with no recognition of how the X-Files mythology has since evolved into instantly recognizable memes makes it seem almost like an unintentional parody.

Add on to that the bait-and-switch the show pulled on its audience by leaving us hanging, and what you have is a very unsatisfying revival. All that said, though, it’s not a complete train wreck. The show had a few great moments (the were-monster ep, Scully’s deathbed encounter with her mother, Mulder’s acid-trip) and could redeem itself with another season. But they need to go into it with a more honest approach (it is a continuation and it’s not going to try and answer all the mysteries the show has covered) and they need to move Chris Carter to the executive producer chair and get a showrunner who can balance out the 90’s sensibilities with a more modern approach. The ratings for the revival have demonstrated that plenty of people will tune in for the ongoing adventures of Mulder and Scully, but if the quality of episodes does not improve they will quickly move on to the next thing that the Too-Much-TV era has to offer. And if FOX keeps insisting on these cliffhanger season endings, we could be left once again with an unsatisfying ending to this series when the audience looses interest and it gets cancelled.

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