The truth is out there,” as The X-Files used to promise. Chris Carter’s alien-chasing Sunday-night thriller was one of those Nineties TV phenomena that helped create the future of pop culture as we know it, with two trench-coated FBI spooks, David Duchovny’s Mulder and Gillian Anderson’s Scully, probing into the outer limits of government conspiracy and paranormal freakosity. After nine seasons — a couple too many — and two movies, the X-Files closed for good in 2002. Gillian Anderson’s on a roll after her brilliant run on Hannibal, just as Duchovny returned to prime time with Aquarius. So the time seems ripe to get the old band back together, even if it’s just for a six-episode miniseries sprint.
The X-Files basically invented the twenty-first-century geek. It created new ways of watching television, new ways of demanding that you pay attention to the most obsessive details, as the show built its elaborate tale of alien abductions covered up by the federal government. Just to pick one obvious example, it was the first show where fans made a point of learning the titles of the episodes, whether you were a “Jose Chung’s from Outer Space” fan or a “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” diehard. It was the show that turned the writers into stars — the names in the credits became a crucial part of each episode, launching future showrunners like Breaking Bad‘s Vince Gilligan or Homeland‘s Alex Gansa. It’s also where the word “shipper” came into parlance (as in, those who want two characters to get it on), as devotees divided into Mulder/Scully shippers vs. non-shippers. To this day, all different kinds of fandom culture are rooted in our ferocious fixation with The X-Files.
So it makes sense that the world has been fiending for the cult series to make a return, especially with so many of the original writers on board: Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan, James Wong. The new season definitely gets off to a wobbly start, overloading it with back-story exposition — but that’s a familiar weakness for The X-Files, which always did have a tendency to bog down in mythology-building. The prime pleasure is seeing these two back in action: They still disagree about almost everything, yet they still know deep down they can only trust each other. Duchovny’s as committed as ever to advancing the art of non-acting, with his laid-back squint-and-frown game on point, while Anderson’s Scully reliably scoffs at her partner’s theories about space invaders. The agents have a new case to investigate, with The Amercians‘ Annet Mahendru as an alien-abduction victim. (Or is she?) The cast has other new additions like Community‘s Joel McHale and Silicon Valley‘s Kumail Nanjiani, along with old faithfuls like Mitch Pileggi as their skeptical Vietnam-vet supervisor.
The world is a hugely different place from the one Mulder and Scully left behind — indeed, one of the poignant ironies of revisiting the original reruns is the way it takes the peace and prosperity of the Clinton years for granted. Once the 1990s crashed into the 2000s, and the country’s problems got a lot more terrifying, it was hard to imagine a time when aliens were anybody’s biggest nightmare. Like everything else, paranoia ain’t what it used to be. So this is a chance for The X-Files to do something bold and innovative with this story, updating it for a more dangerous modern world — the only question is whether it can be done in a mere six-episode revival. But like so many other fans, I want to believe.