After more than a decade-long break, X-Philes who still want to believe were rewarded in Cannes on Tuesday night (October 6), as “The X-Files” returned with a mostly strong 10th season premiere. At a packed Palais de Festivals in the south of France, the first of six new episodes of the long-running, iconic sci-fi series was shown for the first time during the MIPCOM TV industry conference. Dana Scully is still cynical, Fox Mulder is still sarcastic and aliens still have little grey bodies and oversized heads.
But the return of the show is full of rather “meta” storytelling choices peppered throughout the first episode of the miniseries, which picks up, continuity-wise, 13 years after the show left TV screens — while also feeling decidedly modern. In some respects, it’s a little jarring just how much the show is now set in the present day. We see brief glimpses of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, clips of President Obama laughing on Jimmy Kimmel, footage of 9/11, Bush Jr. and the Iraq war — and even a reference to Uber.
In a post-premiere Q&A, creator and exec producer Chris Carter defended the shift in tone.
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“I felt we had to be honest, coming back, to the time that we were telling these stories in,” Carter told the MIPCOM crowd. “In fact, one of the things that excited me is the time that we’re in, telling these stories now.
“So yes, we have those references, and if you didn’t feel them before, I think that’s because we weren’t living in a time when there were so many references to make. The digital information in the Internet age has changed all of our lives — we’ll never be the same — and I think Mulder and Scully have to be living in that age and have to reference it honestly.”
He added that the recent NSA scandals and other whistleblowing controversies had been influential on the new season’s storyline.
“We’re trying to be honest with the changes dealing with digital technology, and the capability of spying. Clearly we’re being spied on in the U.S. — or at least we’re spying on you — and there seems to be no shame in it.”
One thing that hasn’t changed with the passing of time, however, is the show’s iconic title sequence, which played through note-for-note unchanged, to cheers from the Cannes crowd.
“We thought about doing some changes to the original credits, but that seemed like sacrilege,” Carter said. “Those credits were on 202 episodes. They belong on these next six.”
It’s one of several nice touches that hark back to the original series. Composer Mark Snow also returned to do the episode’s original score, and while the headlines have focused on the return of actors Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, Carter paid praise to the return of several of the show’s key writing staff, including Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan and James Wong.
As the lights rose in the Palais de Festivals, it was difficult to feel that six episodes will be enough to sate the appetite of hardcore fans. But for the casual viewer, half a dozen might actually be just about right. As Fox learned with its half-the-size “24” reboot last year, sometimes less is more.
It’s also worth remembering that many of those casual viewers lost track of the show’s convoluted main storyline in its later seasons, and there still remains a risk with a return to what Carter calls the “mythology” storylines.
Reflecting on the conflicting desire for standalone and long-arc episodes, the showrunner explained that while the first and sixth episodes of the miniseries would be focused on the long-running mythology of aliens, government conspiracies and character arcs, the middle four episodes would (happily) deal with standalone, “monster-of-the-week” storylines; the type of which delighted audiences in the show’s first two seasons.
And despite the audience being comprised almost entirely of oft-cynical TV industry executives, it should be noted that the premiere was met with a warm reception. For many, this wasn’t just an industry screening, but an opportunity to revisit a beloved cultural landmark.
As for the future of the show beyond this limited run, Carter explained, “If we are to come back, I think you’ll see us come back with these sorts of miniseries, if you will; special events.
“We used to tell a story over a long saga, over 22 to 25 episodes. Now the arc is much sharper, from one to six. But I think we pack a lot more into these six episodes.”
Despite the Cannes screening going smoothly, one slightly surreal moment came as viewers entering the theater were confronted with an array of suited, earpiece-wearing heavies holding up their hands and ordering attendees not to take any photos with their cell phones.
Audience members initially chuckled, assuming them to be actors playing FBI agents, much like the ushers outside the auditorium (pictured), but the mirth dissipated as they realized that the heavies were actually serious, copyright-defending Fox employees, keen to ensure no unauthorized clips made their way online.
“The X-Files” officially premieres January 24, 2016 on Fox.