My name is Matt Benson. Since my childhood, I have been captivated by an hour long science fiction crime drama on the Fox network. Since the show went off the air when I was 11, in what I believe was a disappointing final season. My obsession has taken me to the Agents of GUARD where I review episodes of this TV show known as, The X-Files.
The new X-Files begins with a bit of exposition heavy narration voiced by David Duchovny reminiscent of what you read above. It spins nicely into a screed about the government’s long history of covering up evidence of UFO activity. It’s gives you a nice hit of that premium Mulder leading into the old school opening credits. The only difference between these and the show’s original introduction sequence is the addition of Mitch Pileggi, who hasn’t aged a day in the last 23 years. He has a grey beard now, which must have been added so that the mortals watching him don’t feel bad.
The episode proper begins and with it, the retconning. In this first episode, “My Struggle” we learn that everything we’ve seen previously has been lies spoon fed to us by the government (again), that these lies are covering up some larger, darker secret (again), and the man behind all of it has been known to enjoy a pack of Morley’s (again). A lot has changed about television since The X-Files was on the air. It’s both refreshing and frustrating that Chris Carter and company so steadfastly stick to the old style.
The mythology of the original series tended to go back and forth on itself a lot because it really only had one purpose: to give Mulder and Scully reasons to have another adventure every episode. It makes the story as a whole a bit of a confusing mess, but such are the demands of episode driven television.
Today, TV can be more serialized. You can tell a story with a definitive beginning, middle, and end, but My Struggle still chooses to burn down everything that came before it to cleanly reset everything by the end of the episode. The X-Files are reopened. Mulder and Scully are working to find the truth while parties in their own government are actively trying to hide it. And Walter Skinner’s trying to keep everyone alive.
This reset even goes so far as to push Scully’s skepticism to absurd levels. Here, she meets a woman who claims that government agents abducted her and performed experiments to impregnate her with an alien human hybrid, something Scully knows that the government does because it happened to her, and she doesn’t believe! Call it ill conceived fan service, call it lazy adherence to old tropes, but Scully is the most interesting character on the show and it’s kind of sickening that this was all they could come up with for her.
This is not to say that it’s all bad. Joel McHale is a lot of fun as a right wing conspiracy nut who actually has evidence to back up (some) of his claims. David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and Mitch Pileggi all slip back into their old roles as if they never stopped doing them. And even if it took a lot of stupid to get there, it’s hard not to get excited to see Mulder and Scully back at the FBI at the end of it.
The second episode, “Founder’s Mutation” is the first Monster of the Week story of the new run. If you close your eyes (and edit out a few clumsy references to google, a not quite successful attempt to drag our heroes into the world of 2016), this could fit real easily into seasons 4-6.
The episode has everything you’d want, and everything you’ve already seen, in a MotW story. There were some cool supernatural powers, a small conspiracy to uncover, and great chemistry between the agents. It is nice to see that hasn’t faded with time. It is a rare achievement for a show to create a perfect 1:1 facsimile of what it was twenty years before, but also, a seemingly pointless achievement.
Another shot at updating the show comes when Mulder mistakenly walks into a back room at a bar with a man who wants to give him a blowjob. It’s interesting to see how the show deals with a gay character. The original run had a very ‘90s relationship with the LGBT community. It was never directly or outwardly homophobic, but there were times when it certainly felt implied. This is not the best way to put some queer representation in the show and Mulder’s obliviousness to the situation strains credulity. To Duchovny’s credit, though, this moment as written easily could have come off as a “not that there’s anything wrong with that” type joke, but he does a great job of playing it as just earnest embarrassment because he thought he was talking about evil government conspiracies and the other party thought he was cruising.
Rocky as they may have been, these two episodes show strong potential for the new series. As much as the starting over rubbed me the wrong way in “My Struggle” it’s impossible to judge it too hard until we can see how it pays off in “My Struggle II” a few weeks now. It’s clearly leading to something and that’s pretty exciting. Next week’s episode, “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is written by X-Files all star, Darin Morgan, whose last episode came out in 1996 and was, as you may recall from my guide, probably the best X-Files episode ever written. I can’t wait to see what he does next week.