Anticipating "The X-Files"
I want to believe. Really, I do. Surely, the truth is out there. But I'm wondering if "The X-Files," when it returns to TV later this month, will be able to recapture the pre-millennial moods and mysteries that made it a cult hit in the 1990s.
Should we yearn for the days when an empty factory could be a secret base for otherwordly conspirators, when white unmarked vans were filled with shape-shifting apparitions of unspeakable menace, when that small town in the Midwest was the sinister nest for a psychic serial killer, thus making Area 51 the real dream destination for a millions of fans of the show?
Fourteen years since its last show,"The X-Files" returns to television on FOX-TV on Jan. 24 to re-introduce viewers to its supernatural darkness, with its own mythological arc, kept in the unlit basement of the American psyche. After more than a decade of only having the re-runs, "The X-Files" is ready to spring again like a Jack-in-the-box of ill-fated portents.
While Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) will return for a mere six episodes, they are most certainly doing a victory lap for the two beloved characters who embody the rational and irrational in all of us. One is left to wonder if the show might feel naive, out of place in an entertainment mecca overwhelmed by dangers reflecting a brutal world like in "Game of Thrones," except without the dragons. The sci-fi horror drama will return to a world challenged by fluctuating economic conditions, climate change and terrorism.
And so how can you top that?
Will the return of "The X-Files" really reflect the mysteries for our times?
The world has changed a lot since the show first aired on Sept. 10, 1993. The internet had not yet been popularized, the World Trade Center's Twin Towers were still standing, and the country had yet to face the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. The show petered out less than a year after Sept. 11, 2001, as the television universe moved into a more anti-terrorism narrative, with shows like "24," which made it look like the landscape was being taken over by cell phones, or films such as "Zero Dark Thirty," which peered into the behind-the-scenes machinations of torture and military special ops with a patriotic sheen.
But "The X-Files" creator Chris Carter says he sees potential episodes for the show by reading the news every day, and few could argue that the real world is far weirder than it once was. Just look at your cell phone with the app set for panic.
The common view on the show was that it emerged out of the cynicism of the 1990s. However, I believe it really dug further into the roots of national paranoia going back to the 1950s, when Sen. Joseph McCarthy ratcheted up the Cold War with charges of communist infiltration, when people still believed aliens crashed near Roswell, New Mexico, and then the 1960s, when the unsatisfactory results of the Warren Commission turned theories about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy into a cottage industry for conspiracy theories. Since World War II and the atomic bomb, politics and fear have become twin sides of the same coin, and if anything, "The X-Files" managed to capture all of it with a slick, post-modern show that turned the relatively calm and seeming stability of the Clinton years into a looming dystopian nightmare.
By tackling marginal FBI cases where the paranomal was involved, agents Mulder and Scully rode the fear wave into the approaching century, that, as some might remember, was likely to begin with all of the computers turning off across the world within the first minutes of 2000 (didn't happen). And yes, by 2012 you might have wondered if the super rich were pilfering the economy to buy tickets for space flights to get off the planet, but four years since then we have realized the billionaire elite were just plain greedy.
For myself, "The X-Files" ended as America's zeitgeist show, with one of the first episodes of the spinoff created about the geeks from X-Files, "The Lone Gunmen," in the summer of 2001. That episode dealt with a conspiracy to crash airliners into the World Trade Center. Shot shortly before 9/11, the episode was certainly prescient, but also more than a little sickening.
The main question is that, in the shadow of all that's happened since "The X-Files" last aired in 2002, is the appetite there for themes that aren't mostly character driven? Without a doubt, the mere appearance of Mulder-Scully on TV is a resuscitation of two of the great heroes in television history. But I have my doubts if all of those sewer monsters and hick vampires are going to scare anybody in an age of anthrax and super storms and Donald Trump. Global surveillance and cyber wars are certainly cause for concern. However, do they make for good "X-Files" episodes?
Sounds like a lot of looking at computer screens to me.
"The X-Files" was certainly a show for its time, but like bringing back the boys for that name brand band to go on tour again, the return of the show may make us feel sentimental for the good ol' days when all that you had to worry about was whether some intergallactic fiend is going to inject you with a black fluid to turn you into some kind of alien-Earth hybrid.
The truth is out there, sure. It's in plain view. It's hanging out with ebola and freaks like Bernie Madoff. Now I wonder if the masses are in the mood for an ever-expanding mystery. This time answers are in need, and somebody needs to tell that uncle who is into conspiracy theories to get real. That UFOs are swamp gas. That flying unidentified stuff tested at Area 51 years ago now flies over parades and football games to heighten the fun and celebration and excitement of modern aviation. That the white unmarked van parked outside the door was always, thankfully, just the caterer. Right?