Because Fox chairman and CEO Gary Newman has only been on the job for six months, he might not have really understood what he was doing yesterday when he revealed Fox was in talks to revive “The X-Files” with original stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. But in the relatively few hours since that casual remark — made while speaking to critics during the opening session of the TCA winter press tour — the concept has caught fire, for good and bad reasons alike.
First off, to be clear: They’re “in talks.” Anything can happen “in talks,” including nothing at all. The only thing resembling a confirmed fact is that Fox isn’t looking to make “X-Files: The Next Generation”; Newman told Give Me Back My Remote that “What I can say is that if this happens, it’ll be with David [Duchovny (Mulder)] and Gillian [Anderson (Scully)] reprising their roles.” That means, at least to some extent, Mulder and Scully, together again, doing… well, something “X-Files”-y.
And if it is going to happen…is that something we really want? The truth is not out there; the truth is, we’re extremely conflicted. It’s really important to remember the last on-screen “X-Files” adventure, the poorly-received 2008 film “The X-Files: I Want to Believe.” (Rotten Tomatoes has it listed at 32 percent, which is honestly higher than expected and deserved.) For long-time “X-Files” fans, “I Want to Believe” was a scarring experience, proof that getting what you wish for could be relatively unwatchable.
So, if we’re going to get excited about an “X-Files” reboot… Well. We have some demands.
Eventize this sucker
Limited series, miniseries, event series or anthology series…whatever you want to call them these days, the fact is putting a cap on the number of episodes — and thus requiring the creative team to focus on telling a complete story — seems like it’ll generate the best result. (Especially when you consider the original show’s visible exhaustion towards the end of its 24-episodes-a-season run.) Fortunately, given the current trend towards that style of programming, this seems more than likely.
If ordered for six or less episodes: One large conspiracy plot
Part of what made “The X-Files” so compelling in its early seasons was how it blended elements of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” with one of the great conspiracy thrillers of all time, “All the President’s Men.” (The homage was pretty deliberate: Mulder’s first mysterious source was even known as Deep Throat.) Mulder and Scully versus the government was a damned compelling concept then, but 20 years later, in these post-Snowden times, it has even more relevance.
If ordered for more than six episodes: A series of stand-alone monster hunts, with connective conspiracy tissue
“The X-Files” is an important anthropological link between the days of stand-alone one-off episodes and ultra-serialized storytelling. The bulk of its episodes were devoted not to the conspiracy, but to something weird happening and Mulder and Scully trying to figure out what exactly had happened. And, quite often, those “monster of the week” episodes were more entertaining than the mythology episodes that made up the show’s “real” plot. Returning to some variation of this form, would also lend itself well to the below scenario…
Chris Carter does not write
At least on his own. The man himself, in an interview with Indiewire last summer, said, “Those people, who came to work on the show — who have gone off to do all these good things — helped make the show what it became,” and truly the show features some incredibly talented alumni, including Glen Morgan, James Wong, Tim Minear, Jeffrey Bell and, of course, Vince Gilligan. Carter might be the creator, but it was the full writing team that made the show great. One other idea we’ve seen floated since Newman’s announcement is the idea of an anthology series with a revolving gang of creators; it’d also be exciting to bring in some new blood. Let’s see what folks like Noah Hawley, Nic Pizzolatto or some of the other amazing talents working today would do with the opportunity to play in this sandbox.
If it’s not an anthology, Chris Carter or Rob Bowman directs
Chris Carter is no slouch as a director, having helmed some of the series’ more visually exciting episodes. But while it is his baby, it was Rob Bowman who was a key part of the show’s greatest moments, not to mention “The X-Files: Fight the Future,” AKA the feature film that actually works pretty well. If the man can take a break from “Castle,” where he’s been since its first season, he’d be a welcome force.
Mulder and Scully are in most of the scenes together
This is important to mention because one of “I Want to Believe’s” major problems was in how it largely separated its two stars for most of the action, and also clouded the mix with new cast members like Billy Connolly, Amanda Peet and Xzibit. No insult meant to any of those performers — they’re great — but the Mulder/Scully dynamic was, is and always will be the emotional heartbeat of “The X-Files.”
It’s actually clear what the Mulder/Scully dynamic is
[Minor spoilers for “I Want to Believe” follow.] This is super-nitpicky, but seriously — if you understand the arc of the Mulder/Scully relationship in “I Want to Believe,” please let us know. Are they living together at the beginning of the movie? At the end of the movie, what’s changed about their relationship, aside from them deciding to go on vacation? Are they married, legally and/or emotionally? Are they platonic partners who sometimes make out? Are they two lonely and isolated people with no one else to turn to and thus have fallen into a weird vaguely asexual symbiotic relationship? All of those interpretations have some level of validity. But maybe we could pick one.
(By the way, this writer has read at least one volume of “The X-Files” Season 10 comics, and unfortunately they don’t really clear this up. Alas.)
Let’s leave William with his adopted parents
[Spoilers for Seasons 8/9 follow.] While we’re being nitpicky, as nice as it might be to revisit the fact that in the last two seasons of “The X-Files,” Mulder and Scully (somewhat mysteriously?) conceived a son, who might have had magic alien powers, and then gave him up for adoption… Digging into that storyline might prove alienating to new viewers and unnecessary to long-time fans who have learned to let this plot thread go.
It doesn’t interfere with other projects (including “Twin Peaks”?)
Both Anderson and Duchovny are, at this moment, enjoying particularly sunny moments in their careers. Anderson deserves all the awards for her work in “The Fall,” and we can’t wait to see what happens when she returns as a series regular to “Hannibal.” Meanwhile, if the NBC summer series “Aquarius” is half as good as the trailer screened for critics at the TCAs, the Duchovny-starring crime-and-Charles-Manson drama will be yet another excellent reason to prefer TV over the outdoors. And yet, it’s unlikely that any interview they do for the next six months won’t include at least one question about where things stand on an “X-Files” reboot — which, no matter how hungry we might be for information, is kind of a shame.
Fingers crossed that the press barrage doesn’t distract from the legitimately interesting work they’re doing right now… Oh, and that it doesn’t affect Duchovny’s ability to revive another decades-old character for yet another revival in the works: “Twin Peaks.”
(Hey, Duchovny, not for nothing, but Jeffrey Tambor just won a Golden Globe for “Transparent.” It’s at least worth a thought, for both you and the “Twin Peaks” team.)
Here, ultimately, is what we’re looking for: Mulder and Scully and conspiracies and monsters and aliens. That’s more than enough for a season’s worth of television — we have the box sets to prove it. Now, we’re just hoping that whatever happens next is worth adding to our collection.