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The X-Files – Jump the Shark (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

As The X-Files trundles towards its finalé, there is a sense that the production team do not understand “closure.”

There is, of course, a cheap gag to be made here. Long-time fans of the show might joke that the show never understood the concept of “closure”, as demonstrated by the fact that the show’s mythology frequently resembled a precariously-balanced tower of Jenga bricks gently swaying in a light breeze. This is perhaps a bit unfair; episodes like Requiem and Existence had done a good job of bringing the television show to a point where it might end, only for the show to be picked up for another season.

Shot down in their prime... time slot.

Shot down in their prime… time slot.

The end of the ninth season differs from the ends of the seventh or eighth because the production team know that the show is going to end. There will be no last-minute reprieve, no green-light give mere days before the last episode is actually broadcast. This is, in many ways, the end of The X-Files. With that in mind, the final episodes of the ninth season begin tidying away dangling plot threads and narrative loose ends in the hopes of satisfying the audience. The show seems to be running through a checklist. Lone Gunmen now. William next. Luke Doggett after that.

The problem, of course, is that none of these concepts are really calling for definitive “closure.” There is no reason for the show to draw a line under these supporting characters or plot arcs. It is possible for fans to imagine life beyond a television show for many characters without engaging in ruthless pruning. The Lone Gunmen do not need an epic send-off. In fact, the idea of an epic send-off seems to represent a misunderstanding of the characters themselves.

"Chris Carter said we're invited to the wrap party..."

“Chris Carter said we’re invited to the wrap party…”

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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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The Lone Gunmen (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

The Lone Gunmen seemed destined to be an oddity.

When it arrived in March 2001, it must have felt like a throwback. The production team had consciously modelled the series on the classic episodic spy and adventure shows of the sixties, seventies and eighties. Mission: Impossible and The A-Team served as cultural touchstones, with both The Pilot and Eine Kleine Frohike making visual references to Brian dePalma’s cinematic adaptation of Mission: Impossible while Maximum Byers featured an extended discussion of the pros and cons of Pros and Cons, an early first season episode of The A-Team.

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In terms of structure and tone, The Lone Gunmen seemed to hark back to the golden age of two-knuckled action adventure television shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or MacGyver. Threads rarely carried over from episode to episode. Only one actor who didn’t appear in the opening credits would appear in more than a single episode of the show. There was no hint of a “mythology” and no clear structure from week-to-week beyond “the Lone Gunmen get into wacky adventures and hijinks ensue.”

In many ways, The Lone Gunmen was the kind of show that had quietly shuffled off the air in the early nineties. It felt like it belonged to a generation of television predating The X-Files rather than succeeding it. Even the opening credits to the show were much less abstract and much more traditional than those of The X-Files, playing as something of a highlight reel of the early first season. There is something very aggressively old-school about the aesthetic of The Lone Gunmen.

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The Lone Gunmen would have seemed somewhat outdated had it aired before Homicide: Life on the Streets during the late nineties; it was doubly out of place in the emerging era of reality television. However, there are elements of The Lone Gunmen that feel like they might have played better had the show arrived a few years later. Byers, Langly and Frohike were too eccentric to anchor an hour-long show on a major network, as Fox had already become. They might have fared better on another network after the cable television explosion.

It is easy enough to imagine The Lone Gunmen as an oddity airing on a smaller cable network like HBO or Showtime or AMC. Indeed, the perfect pitch for The Lone Gunmen would seem to land somewhere between Bored to Death and The X-Files. The audience for The Lone Gunmen might have been small in terms of major television networks, but it was devoted. Smaller providers – even on-line providers like Amazon or Netflix – would love to court that sort of fanbase. Had The Lone Gunmen arrived a few years later, it may have had a chance.

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As such, The Lone Gunmen feels like a television show out of time. It is a series that landed at the wrong moment on the wrong channel, and which likely never had a chance. The animators on King of the Hill were incorporating jokes about the inevitable cancellation of The Lone Gunmen before the episode even aired. The viewing figures were far from spectacular, but they were better than the shows that had aired in the same slot in the season prior and the season following. March 2001 was just not the right moment for The Lone Gunmen.

Then again, it feels appropriate that The Lone Gunmen should so perfectly mirror its central character. Heroic, endearing, charming, but also undeniably odd.

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The Lone Gunmen – The “Cap’n Toby” Show (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

In its own way, The “Cap’n Toby” Show feels like an appropriate farewell to The Lone Gunmen.

The “Cap’n Toby” Show was not the last episode of The Lone Gunmen to be produced, but it was the last episode to air. It was broadcast three weeks after All About Yves closed out the first season of the show and more than a fortnight after news of the cancellation first broke. It aired with very little fan fare, avoiding even the modicum of publicity that FX earned as it burnt off the last six episodes of Harsh Realm only a year earlier. Just in case there had been any doubt, or any hope held out, The Lone Gunmen was definitely dead.

No need to get crabby...

No need to get crabby…

There is a melancholy to The “Cap’n Toby” Show that fits quite comfortably with The Lone Gunmen. The episode had clearly been held back in the hops of airing it during a hypothetical second season. Ideally, it would have given the production team a little lee-way at the start of the next season, perhaps even allowing the three title characters to pop over to The X-Files. The ninth season of The X-Files would be launching without Mulder, so some friendly faces would not be amiss. Airing The “Cap’n Toby” Show in mid-June puts paid to that optimism.

However, even allowing for all these issues, there is an endearing pluckiness and romance to The “Cap’n Toby” Show that feels at once entirely in keeping with the show and the characters. What better way to make a cancellation than with a forty-five minute ode to the nostalgic joys of television?

"Bye bye."

“Bye bye.”

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The Lone Gunmen – All About Yves (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

The broad consensus would seem to suggest that All About Yves is the best episode of The Lone Gunmen.

While this is perhaps unfair to Madam, I’m Adam and Tango de los Pistoleros, it is certainly a defensible position. All About Yves is one of the tightest shows of the season, and marks the first time since The Pilot that a plot has managed to actually build momentum and tension across its run-time. As effective as the climaxes of Madam, I’m Adam and Tango de los Pistoleros might have been, the first season of The Lone Gunmen doesn’t really offer much in the way of dramatic stakes.

"This looks familiar..."

“This looks familiar…”

In a way, that is to be expected. The Lone Gunmen is, first and foremost, a comedy. There are points in the first season where it feels like The Lone Gunmen exists primarily as a silo to store all the displaced comedy that the production team stripped out of the sombre eighth season of The X-Files. (Cynics might suggest that there wasn’t quite thirteen episodes’ worth of comedy to be re-homed.) It is hard to feel too stressed when Langly is threatened in Bond, Jimmy Bond or when a poacher points a gun at Byers in Diagnosis: Jimmy.

That is the beauty of All About Yves, managing to create a growing sense of tension and unease without sacrificing any of the show’s humour. Indeed, with the addition of guest star Michael McKean to the cast, All About Yves winds up funnier than about half of the preceding season.

The truth is out there...

The truth is out there…

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The Lone Gunmen – The Lying Game (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

The Lying Game is perhaps most well known for its central guest star.

The Lying Game is the episode in which the Lone Gunmen find themselves crossing paths with Assistant Director Walter Skinner. It was a pretty big deal, to the point that Skinner’s appearance towards the end of the season was being hyped in the media immediately following the broadcast of The Pilot, almost two months before the episode actually aired. It wasn’t the first crossover between two Ten Thirteen shows, but it was still a pretty big deal. It makes sense that discussion of The Lying Game would focus on its visiting supporting player.

Some hot Skinner-on-Skinner action...

Some hot Skinner-on-Skinner action…

However, The Lying Game is also notable for featuring a significant transgender guest character. Carol Strode is most significant transgender character to appear in a Ten Thirteen production. As one might expect given the production company’s awkward history with the portrayal of homosexual characters, the results are mixed. There is no question that the episode is well-intentioned, but it is also clumsy and occasionally ill-judged. Even the title would suggest as much, albeit more through absent-minded insensitivity than outright malice.

The Lying Game has its heart in the right place, but doesn’t necessarily have its head in gear.

Surviving by the Skin of his teeth...

Surviving by the Skin of his teeth…

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The Lone Gunmen – Tango de los Pistoleros (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

In the late nineteenth century, tango reigned not only in brothels and dance halls, where it served as both simulation and stimulation to entertain the men waiting their turn for commercial sex, but also in dance academies, vacant lots, and barrio streets where improvised dances were performed to the tune of the hurdy-gurdy. It was also played in men-only cafés. In these original settings, tango lyrics were very simple and mainly focused on the joys and pains of the arrabales, where the cult of courage and the skilful use of knives were combined with the workings of local political bosses and the police. The main characters were guapos, or tough guys; prostitutes; pimps; and compadritos, men who imitated the tough style of pimps and guapos yet most of the time worked for a living.

Tango was danced by men and women in pairs but also by men alone as they waited their turn in the brothels. It was, above all, a dance of the margins.

– Diego Armus, The Ailing City

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