The truth, as Fox Mulder never tired of telling Dana Scully, is out there. It certainly is now, and what the truth tells us is that The X-Files revival, which kicked off on RTE2 last night with the first of six episodes (the second follows tonight), is really not very good. It’s not terrible, either, just terribly underwhelming.
It’s been 14 years since we last saw Mulder and Scully on our TV screens. Like Mulder, I wanted to believe. I wanted to believe that having the old gang — David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, creator/writer/director Chris Carter, even Mitch Pileggi as their old FBI boss Walter Skinner — back together again might reignite the magic of the early seasons and remind us why we fell in love with The X-Files in the first place, rather than remind us why we fell out of love with it long before it limped off air to disappear up a black hole in its own labyrinthine mythology.
I won’t deny feeling a little nostalgic tingle as the famous woo-wee-woo-woo-we-woo theme music started up and the opening titles, gloriously unchanged from the old days, though slightly shorter, filled the screen. But hope crumbled pretty fast.
It opens with a leaden expository voiceover by Mulder, accompanied by a gallery of photographs and UFO film clips, explaining what he and Scully used to do. It’s probably the longest “Previously on . . .” recap in television history and clearly designed as an explainer for an envisioned army of new fans (good luck with that one).
After a genuinely spectacular flashback to a flying saucer crash-landing at Roswell in 1947, we’re back in the present and learn that Mulder and Scully, who had a son who was given up for adoption, are no longer a couple.
They don’t see much of one another face-to-face these days, but they’re still on good terms. It’s nice to see the chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson is still as strong as ever.
But if chemistry was all I wanted, I’d invest in a set of test tubes. What this opening episode, called My Struggle (and it really did struggle sometimes), needed was a strong storyline to hook us right back in. What it got instead was a plot so lame it was in need of crutches.
The pair no longer work for the FBI. Scully, who’s gone back to being a doctor, works at a hospital. Her personal project is helping children born without ears. It’s less than subtly pointed out that the kids look a little alien.
The normally impeccably groomed Mulder is unkempt and unshaven — a sure sign he’s spent years living off the grid, where razor blades are clearly hard to come by.
All it takes to get them back together is a phone call from Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), a right-wing TV conspiracy theorist whose wild claims – including a frankly tasteless and off-key reference to the real-life tragedy of 9/11 being “a false-flag operation” – have made him rich and infamous enough to travel in a bulletproof limo.
O’Malley tells Mulder and Scully he wants them to help “blow open maybe the most evil conspiracy the world has ever known”, and then promptly whisks them off to meet a young woman called Sveta (Annet Mahendru).
Sveta claims she was repeatedly abducted by aliens, who made her pregnant and then harvested her babies from her womb. She has the scars on her belly to prove it.
After that, McHale reveals his next big trump card: an alien spacecraft he keeps stashed away in a secret installation. Ah, but it’s not really an alien spacecraft, it’s a working replica of an alien spacecraft, built by human hands using ancient alien technology.
In no time at all, Mulder has it all worked out. All those years he and Scully spent chasing little green men were wasted. it was the military-industrial complex all along. “Roswell was a smokescreen!” he thunders.
He races through an explanation of how aliens visited us decades ago, alerted by our nuclear tests, but only because they were benevolently concerned we might destroy ourselves. But their technology was hijacked by “by an evil conspiracy of men and used against us”.
Though nobody mentions their name, it’s our old friends the Illuminati. They’ve been faking alien abductions and experimenting on the victims by mixing human and alien DNA (which is why Svelta and Scully, who was also abducted once, have the latter in their systems), all as part of a dastardly plot to take over the world.
And that was it, really. That was the big deal. It was a feeble payoff and a shoddy plot device for getting Mulder and Scully back on the beat.
Before O’Malley can reveal the truth on his TV show, dark forces blow up his secret installation and a spacecraft vaporises Svelta.
Right at the end, who should turn up but the Smoking Man (William B Davis), who was supposed to be dead. “We have a small problem,” he rumbles, as a minion places a cigarette in the tracheotomy hole in his neck, “they’ve reopened the X-Files.”
Should they have bothered, though? Maybe we’ll know more after tonight’s supposedly better second episode.
It can’t be much worse than the first, which had the undesired twin effect of making me feel old and making The X-Files feel old-fashioned and out of touch.