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The X-Files returns -- and this should be the last time


Back by popular demand -- or whatever. The X-Files returns in 6-episode “event series” starring David Duchovny & Gillian Anderson. Fox photo

Premiering: Sunday, Jan. 24th after NFC Championship Game on Fox before moving to Mondays at 7 p.m. (central)
Starring: Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, Mitch Pillegi
Produced by: Chris Carter, Glen Morgan

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This is looking like a bad idea at best, particularly after a thoroughly ridiculous, serio-comic third episode squanders any carryover suspense let alone a reason to exist anew.

Even hopelessly addicted fans of The X-Files might be drenching “social media” with their vitriol after the Feb. 1st hour, subtitled “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-monster.” It’s a “stand-alone” episode, and X-Files certainly has indulged in them before during the series’ original 1993-2002 run on Fox.

But creator and principal executive producer Chris Carter has just six “event” episodes to reboot his masterwork and maybe even provide some definitive answers this time around. So in reality -- what a concept -- there’s no time to waste after Sunday’s specially scheduled opening hour introduces a new, far-flung, super-sinister government/military plot dating to the 1947 crash-landing of an alien spacecraft 75 miles from Roswell in barren “Northwestern New Mexico.”

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, respectively 55 and 47, have perhaps grown a bit too old for this stuff . But after years of false starts, they’re back in the roles that made them famous -- conspiracy-driven Fox Mulder and skeptical Dana Scully. Both look a little worn out, with Anderson often sounding as though she has a nagging cold.

A long, narrative UFO sighting recap by Mulder, who leaves out Season 2 of Fargo, ends with him lamenting, “But now people only laugh. And only Roswell is remembered. But we must ask ourselves. Are they really a hoax? Are we truly alone? Or are we being lied to?”

Ask and you gradually shall receive evidence of a cockamamie, 69-year cover-up after the very familiar X-Files theme song tries to set a proper mood. Mulder, who’s been living alone in relative seclusion, and Scully, a surgeon at Washington, D.C.’s Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital, are reunited by none other than Community’s Joel McHale. Except that this time he’s unbelievably cast as right-wing conspiracy theorist Tad O’Malley, who has a rabble-rousing TV show called Truth Squad.

“I think you’re The O’Reilly Factor with a shopworn little gimmick,” Mulder sniffs upon first meeting him.

“What Bill O’Reilly knows about the truth could fill an eye-dropper,” O’Malley retorts. Savvy move. Insult a member of the Fox family while also goading him to rail against The X-Files and stoke the publicity fires. But I guess that sounds a little too conspiratorial.

O’Malley spins a tale about a woman and her husband who were driving through Australia when an overhead spacecraft caused them to lose all sense of time. The woman later experienced severe abdominal pains and discovered a triangular shape near her navel. Hmm, now O’Malley has been contacted by a young woman named Sveta (guest star Annet Mahendru from The Americans) who at first claims that aliens have abducted and impregnated her on numerous occasions. They then supposedly steal her babies. Severely traumatized and always expecting the worst, she now lives alone in Low Moor, Virginia, where Mulder, Scully and O’Malley all congregate.

It soon becomes obvious that the leaps of faith required by viewers would forever shatter the world high jump record. What if all those UFO sightings are nothing more than a long-term subterfuge with an end game in which a power-mongering cabal of high-level humans takes over the world via the use of unbeatably superior technology? Why, even President George W. Bush might be in on the conspiracy. His “I encourage you all to go shopping more” rallying cry is presented as evidence that a resultant spike in consumer consumption helped trigger a planned obesity epidemic that has further weakened an unsuspecting populace.

Scully wonders about this: “It’s fear-mongering claptrap, isolationist techno-paranoia so bogus, dangerous and stupid it borders on treason,” she tells Mulder. But of course she can always be persuaded otherwise. And Episode One ends with Scully seeing the light on a very personal level.

Monday’s Part 2, subtitled “Founder’s Mutation,” is built around badly deformed children being ”cared for” at an institution run by the supposedly benevolent and very rich Augustus Goldman (guest star Doug Savant). It’s effective in spots, particularly when Scully and Mulder imagine how the son they gave up for adoption in 2001 might have fared had they kept and tried to protect him.

The continued considerable stretches in believability at least are played out seriously in this hour. And that old Mulder-Scully mojo is starting to kick in just a bit. “This is dangerous,” she says. “When has that ever stopped us?” he rejoins.

Then comes the Feb. 1st Episode 3, in which Mulder and Scully blithely detour from their world-saving imperatives to investigate reports of a possible killer lizard man. Structure-wise, It’s the equivalent of saying, “Let’s really piss everybody off with a wacky wah-wah-wah hour featuring a middle-aged Britisher who . . . oh never mind.

Mind you there will be just three episodes left after this one, none of which were made available for review. And this time around, it indeed could be the very last of The X-Files after it took so long to get Duchovny and Anderson interested in even this limited engagement.

Duchovny was far better showcased as hard-bitten detective Sam Hodiak in last summer’s 13-hour Aquarius miniseries, which NBC has renewed for a second season despite overall low ratings and an exile to Saturday nights midway through its run. And Anderson still has all the British dramas she can handle, including the lead role in the upcoming Viceroy’s House.

Based on these first three X-Files episodes, both would be very wise to at last put Mulder and Scully behind them save for occasional old-age appearances at geek festivals. Chris Carter seems to be creatively bankrupt at this point, with Episode 3 screaming out a vote of no confidence. For a while at least -- early in Episode 1 -- it was kind of nice to see Scully tell Mulder, “I’m always happy to see you.” And for him to reply in turn, “And I’m always happy to have a reason.”

But then the story went on, straining, lurching and tripping before falling flat on its face. The truth is out there, all right. And at this point it should be obvious to all.

GRADE: C-minus

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