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Millennium (IDW) #1-5 (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the more interesting aspects of IDW holding the X-Files license has been watching the company try to franchise the brand.

During the production of the show, Chris Carter was notably wary of stretching the show’s brand. He turned down lucrative branding opportunities because he didn’t want to see his show attached to “doo-dads” and “gee-haws.” It was an understandable impulse. When Fox approached Carter to launch a new show during the third season of The X-Files, he did not build a spin-off in the conventional sense. He did not launch The X-Files: Miami or The X-Files: New Orleans, although Fox might have wanted something like that.

Time goes by so slowly... And time can do so much...

Time goes by so slowly…
And time can do so much…

When Carter launched Millennium, he was adamant that it should stand on its own two feet. Carter wanted the show “to succeed on its own terms, rather than on some kind of gimmick.” There were a few sly nods in episodes like Lamentation, but it mostly stood on its own two feet. Glen Morgan and James Wong got a little bit more adventurous in the second season, with Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” and The Time is Now offering clear crossover of supporting cast. However, Frank Black would not meet Mulder and Scully until Millennium, after his show was cancelled.

To be fair to Carter, there is a sense that the later mellowed when it came to the concept of a broader shared universe. During the third season of Millennium, Carter acknowledged that he had been throwing around ideas for a crossover between The X-Files and Millennium. Although his short-lived Harsh Realm never directly crossed over with any of his other work, it is possible that the series was cancelled before Carter had the opportunity; he has talked about having plans to bring Mulder and Scully into Harsh Realm.

Father of the year...

Father of the year…

Carter’s fourth television series, The Lone Gunmen, was by all accounts a fairly conventional spin-off of The X-Files. It focused on three characters who originated (and continued to guest star) on The X-Files. It featured a major guest appearance from Mitch Pileggi as Walter Skinner in The Lying Game. It featured a cameo from David Duchovny in All About Yves. It was perhaps the most conventional piece of franchise-building in the history of Ten Thirteen, with characters and concepts moving freely between shows.

However, it should also be noted that Carter was a lot less involved in the day-to-day running of The Lone Gunmen as compared to Millennium or Harsh Realm. Carter created the show, but the management of the series was left to the trio of Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban. Carter was only credited as writer on two of the show’s thirteen episodes, The Pilot and Three Men and a Smoking Diaper. It seems fair to say that Carter was an executive producer not particularly interested in building a shared universe as modern audiences understand it.

By Jordan!

By Jordan!

This is part of what is so intriguing about watching IDW trying to build a brand around their X-Files license. The company is very interested in turning the show into a much more tightly interwoven shared universe. Millennium is proof of that, a five-issue miniseries focusing on Frank Black that consciously builds off The X-Files to relaunch the cult nineties television series. In many ways, it represents a truer crossover between The X-Files and Millennium than that infamous seventh season episode.

Millennium is very much integrated into a shared Ten Thirteen universe.

We all have our demons.

We all have our demons.

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The X-Files 103: Ten Spin-Off/Tie-In Stories

Next week sees the release of The X-Files on blu ray for the first time, just over a month before the new six-episode series premieres on Fox in January. We’re running daily reviews of the show (and its spin-offs) between now and the end of the year, but we thought it might be worth compiling some guides for newer viewers who are looking to experience the length and breadth of what The X-Files has to offer. Every day this week, we’ll be publishing one quick list of recommended stories every day, that should offer a good place to start for those looking to dive into the show.

Although the bulk of discussion around and attention paid to The X-Files focuses on the two-hundred-and-two episodes (and two movies) tied to the series itself, it is worth commenting on the rich world of spin-offs and tie-ins that Chris Carter and his production team built up around the show. The X-Files was not just a nineties television show, it was a multimedia phenomenon. However, these aspects of the show are frequently overlooked in discussions of the show’s legacy and cultural impact.

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Millennium – Season 3 (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Three seasons is a good run.

It’s not a great run, but it is worth noting that Millennium ran longer than any of Chris Carter’s creations other than The X-Files. Given you grim and esoteric Millennium turned out to be, that is quite impressive. Notably, even the third season of Millennium performed better in the ratings than the first season of Harsh Realm. In many respects, Millennium is a very odd television show; it seems surprising that it lasted for three seasons. While fans (and many who worked on it) might have wanted more, Millennium is not a failure.

millennium-thesoundofsnow28

That said, the third season of Millennium is a disaster. There are a lot of reasons for this. The show was renewed by Fox quite late in the process, meaning the production team had little time to prepare. Glen Morgan and James Wong had no interest in returning to run the show, even if the rest of the staff would have them. Either due to time constraints or frustration, nobody asked Morgan and Wong about resolving the ending of The Time is Now. Michael Duggan was hired as showrunner, only to depart eight episodes into the season.

With all of this going on, the problems with the third season are entirely understandable. The season feels like a disjointed mess because there was chaos behind the scenes. The season was confused about its own continuity because the production team had no idea what to make of the second season. With ratings plunging, the show sought comfort in the familiar; there is an extended stretch near the start of the third season where it feels like the production team were trying to turn the show into a copy of The X-Files.

millennium-teotwawki22

The third season of Millennium has fairly terrible reputation among fans. This is not entirely undeserved; the early stretch of the third season contains a string of the worst episodes that Millennium ever produced. As sympathetic as the surrounding circumstances might make an audience to the show, that goodwill evaporates when confronted with episodes like The Innocents, Exegesis, TEOTWAWKI, Skull and Bones, Through a Glass Darkly, Human Essence and Omertà. The series improves dramatically in its middle section; but it is never consistent.

The third season contains a number of underrated episodes that do count among the best that the show ever produced, and a whole host of more interesting failures around those episodes. Perhaps the best thing that might be said about the third season is that it is interesting at least as often as it is bad. That might not sound like a ringing endorsement. It isn’t. The third season of Millennium doesn’t work. The reasons for this are entirely understandable, but that does not make it any easier to watch.

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Millennium – Goodbye to All That (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Goodbye to All That is not a bad place to leave Millennium, truth be told.

Sure, the episode has its problems, but that is true of pretty much every third season episode. However, showrunners Chip Johannessen and Ken Horton do try to offer the show some sort of closure. While Emma betraying Frank before he rides off into the sunset might have been a nice set up for a new fourth season status quo, it also feels like a nice place to leave the show as well. Director Thomas J. Wright frames that closing shot beautifully, to the point where anything that follows does feel like a coda to the three-season show.

Don't be dark, Frank Black...

Don’t be dark, Frank Black…

More than that, there’s a curious magnanimity to Goodbye to All That. The episode seems to suggest that perhaps Millennium has finally resolved all its internal conflicts about its own history. As with Borrowed Time, The Sound of Snow or Collateral Damage, there is a sense that Goodbye to All That is trying to create a cohesive theory of Millennium – suturing together three very different seasons into something approaching a singular entity. The task is impossible, but Goodbye to All That makes a valiant effort.

Yes, the actual plotting is ridiculous and Goodbye to All That tries to do too much in a single forty-five minute episode, but these are far from the worst vices of the third season. It is too much to suggest that Goodbye to All That wraps up Millennium on a high, but it does allow the show to bow out with its head held high.

"You know, for a secret organisation, we sure do a lot of branding..."

“You know, for a secret organisation, we sure do a lot of branding…”

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Millennium – Via Dolorosa (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

And so, Millennium ends.

That is not entirely accurate. Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That are really the third ending to Millennium. Chris Carter’s oft-overlooked series famously reinvented itself in each of its three seasons. Every season finalé was a series finalé, bidding farewell to one version of the show before another arrives. In the first season, it was a serial killer procedural with ominous spiritual undertones. In its second season, it was the story of a family breakup that drew in all manner of religious conspiracy theories and eschatology. In its third season, it was…

"Did I tell you that I REALLY like The Silence of the Lambs?"

“Did I tell you that I REALLY like The Silence of the Lambs?”

Well, it is hard to tell what the third season was – or even what it wanted to be.

Nevertheless, Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That feel like an attempt to grant the series some sense of closure. In a way, these episodes typify the third season. They are messy and confused, awkwardly paced and drawn in broad strokes. At the same time, there are enough interesting ideas and clever concepts that one can see how they might have come together with a bit more craft. There is an outline of a great episode here, with Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That making a valiant effort to pull together messy strands of continuity from across the show’s run.

"Yep, it feels a little bit like that."

“Yep, it feels a little bit like that.”

The third season of Millennium was hampered by terrible decisions made out of the gate, but the final stretch of the season has no shortage of ambition and drive. It is no secret that the third season suffered from a number of serious problems at the start of the year. Maybe if those had been avoided, Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That would have an easier time drawing down the blinds. Still, it is impossible to know what might have been, and the truth is that Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That are a flawed conclusion to a flawed year.

Perhaps appropriately, Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That offer a rather disjointed conclusion to a rather disjointed year. Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That are written by two different teams of writers and directed by two different directors. Although the plot carries across both episodes, there are points where the transition seems rather inelegant or incongruous. Then again, this is about wrapping up the show’s troubled third season, so it is certainly representative.

"Take a picture. It'll last longer."

“Take a picture. It’ll last longer.”

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Millennium – Nostalgia (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Nostalgia is the last “serial killer of the week” story produced by Millennium.

Sure, there is a serial killer in Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That, but the last two episodes of Millennium are much more interested in the show’s mythology than in a nuts-and-bolts “Frank catches a serial killer” story. Appropriately enough, given its title, Nostalgia feels like a throwback to a simpler version of Millennium. In a way, it does more to capture the mood and feel of the first season of the show than anything like Matryoshka or Seven and One. It helps that Nostalgia is a great episode, judged by it own merits.

Frank sees all. All.

Frank sees all. All.

It makes sense that Nostalgia should come from Michael R. Perry. With his debut script for The Mikado in the second season, Perry had demonstrated quite a knack for traditional Millennium storytelling. The Mikado was arguably something of a throwback itself, the most old-school “serial killer of the week” story in the show’s delightfully off-kilter second season. If the show wanted to do one last “serial killer of the week” story, there was no writer better suited to crafting it than Michael R. Perry.

In a way, Nostalgia feels like belated vindication for the “back to basics” aesthetic running through the third season – proof that perhaps it might be possible for the show to recapture some of the stronger aspects of the first season even this late in the game. Nostalgia is a much better version of the stories that Closure and Through a Glass Darkly had tried to resurrect earlier in the year. It might be enough to entirely redeem the season’s stubborn fixation on a past fading into history, but it does demonstrate that there were interesting stories to be told using that technique.

Parks and recreation...

Parks and recreation…

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Millennium – Seven and One (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Seven and One is the last episode of Millennium to be written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz.

That is a pretty big deal. Frank Spotnitz had been a vital part of Ten Thirteen since the second season of The X-Files. He had also been the only X-Files writer apart from Chris Carter, Glen Morgan and James Wong to cross over to work on Millennium. He would become one of Carter’s most trusted associates, also contributing scripts to Harsh Realm and The Lone Gunmen. When The X-Files: Fight the Future took Carter’s attention away from Millennium in its second season, he proposed Spotnitz to run the show in his stead.

Here's Frankie!

Here’s Frankie!

Chris Carter had created Millennium, and it was clearly a show that meant a lot to him. While The X-Files was populist and accessible, Millennium always felt like more of an auteur project. It was solemn, abstract, contemplative. There is a sense that he was quite disappointed when his attention was diverted away from the show in its second year. Carter has talked time and time again about how he created Millennium as an examination of evil in the world. Appropriately enough, Seven and One finds him circling back around to that idea right before the show concludes.

Seven and One might be the most overtly religious script that Carter and Spotnitz have ever written. It seems to foreshadow the closing themes of Carter’s script for The Truth, the final episode of The X-Files. It emphasises just how essential religious themes are to Carter’s work.

Eye spy...

Eye spy…

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