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The X-Files (IDW) Annual 2014 (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.

The X-Files: Season 10 was a massive success for IDW publishing.

Although the monthly series had been announced in January 2013, it hit the stands in June 2013. That meant that the opening arc, Believers, basically ran through the summer season and towards the big twentieth anniversary coverage in October 2013. The X-Files: Season 10 was one of the first indicators that there was a public appetite for The X-Files, with behind-the-scenes talks about a live action revival only really coming to a head after that first issue hit shelves.

... and so is the fact that they let Dave Sim write a Scully story.

… and so is the fact that they let Dave Sim write a Scully story.

It is perhaps too much to credit The X-Files: Season 10 for building or sustaining momentum towards the revival. However, the monthly comic series spoke very clearly to the series’ continued relevance and to the audience very eagerly invested in the idea of more stories built around these iconic characters. IDW moved to capitalise on the hunger quite quickly, and it is telling that the publisher moved to publish at least two X-Files books per month for most of the comic’s run. Fans wanted more X-Files, and IDW wanted to give it to them.

This explains The X-Files Annual 2014, a book published outside the monthly schedule of The X-Files: Season 10 and drawing two big-name creators to draft their own short stories focusing on Mulder and Scully. Neither of these stories is particularly brilliant or insightful, and neither feels like it really needed to be told, creating the impression that the comic exists mainly so that fans can have more Mulder and Scully in their lives.

"Have you seen The Exorcist?" "No, but I've seen The Calusari."

“Have you seen The Exorcist?”
“No, but I’ve seen The Calusari.”

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Non-Review Review: The X-Files – I Want to Believe

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

The plan was always to transition The X-Files from television to film, but fans change.

Following the success of The X-Files: Fight the Future, there had been some mumblings about the possibility of releasing a film in the summer of 2000. Given that The X-Files was a cultural property rooted in the nineties, it seemed like a big screen adventure would have been the perfect way to bring Mulder and Scully into the twenty-first century. After all, the original plan was that the show would retire in its seventh season. (The network even had a bespoke successor selected in Chris Carter’s Harsh Realm.)

Gotta have faith...

Gotta have faith…

However, this was not to be. It turned out that Fight the Future represented the cultural peak of The X-Files, the moment of maximum pop culture saturation. Almost immediately upon the production team’s move to California at the start of the sixth season, the show’s rating began their slow (and then not so slow) decline. The seventh season was itself hampered by behind-the-scenes drama, with David Duchovny suing Chris Carter and Fox over syndication. At the same time, Fox’s “worst season ever” meant that the broadcast could not afford to cancel The X-Files.

So, understandably, the sequel to Fight the Future was postponed and put on the long-finger. As the show came to an end in its ninth season, the subject of a second X-Files feature film arose again. Still, there was a debate to be had about whether the world really wanted a second X-Files film. While the sixth and seventh seasons had slowly eroded the show’s popularity and appeal, the ninth completely collapsed it; through the combination of bad storytelling decisions and the broader shift in the political mood, The X-Files felt like a spent cultural force.

"Platonic", eh?

“Platonic”, eh?

Ultimately, that was not to be either. The production history of The X-Files: I Want to Believe often recalls the mythology at the heart of The X-Files, with the project constantly shifting and changing as outside forces intervene. I Want to Believe arrived in cinemas in July 2008, a full decade after Fight the Future and more than six years after the broadcast of The Truth. The finished product is radically different from what anybody might have imagined in the immediate aftermath of Fight the Future, its design often surreal and awkward.

If I Want to Believe would have been a strange choice for an X-Files film release in July 2000, it seemed downright perverse in July 2008.

The truth is out there. Way out there.

The truth is out there. Way out there.

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Night Stalker (Review)

A new version of Night Stalker from the team behind The X-Files should have been a slam dunk.

Frank Spotnitz was a veteran of The X-Files, the longest serving member of the writing team beyond Chris Carter himself. He had assembled a murderer’s row of X-Files talent. Darin Morgan and Vince Gilligan were veterans of the show, producing some of the show’s best episodes. There is a strong argument to be made for either writer as the strongest staff writer on The X-Files. Spotnitz was also able to bring along Tom Schnauz, who had struggled with his scripts for Lord of the Flies and Scary Monsters, but had done great work on The Lone Gunmen.


More than that, Spotnitz had pulled a great deal of the behind-the-scenes talent had made The X-Files such a television classic. Daniel Sackheim had directed multiple episodes of The X-Files and had been a driving creative force on Harsh Realm. Rob Bowman had graduated from television to feature films, but returned to helm the show’s second episode. Spotnitz even drafted director Tony Wharmby, who had made a great impression with episodes like Via Negativa. There was considerable talent involved in the show’s production.

On paper, Night Stalker sounds like a slam dunk. Many of the great creative minds of The X-Files offering a modern reimagining of a beloved genre property that had been a huge inspiration; for the character of Carl Kolchak, it seemed like things had come a full circle. What could possibly go wrong?


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Night Stalker – The Sea (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

One of the interesting aspects of doing a long-running pop culture project is the subtle shifts that you can see taking place over time.

The realities of media consumption change over extended periods; in response, the methods of media production also change. It is not too hard to imagine a world where Night Stalker would have been cancelled by ABC six episodes into its run, ending on a cliffhanger with the remaining four episodes buried for all eternity. Television would have moved on to its next reboot, its next new launch, and the cycle would have continued. Night Stalker would have been dead and buried, even more of a genre curiosity than it is now.

Fenced off...

Fenced off…

There was a time when Night Stalker would have been consigned to history. At best, it might have been a footnote in Frank Spotnitz’s filmography, a point of reference in interviews and conversations about how mainstream American television treats science-fiction history. Had Night Stalker appeared (and been so promptly cancelled) even ten years earlier, it would probably be a curiosity on the IMDb pages of its cast and crew. The name would resonate with genre fans, and t would casually be dropped in career overviews. But it would largely be lost.

However, the reality of television had changed by the twenty-first century, the explosion in home media ensuring that even a six-episode failure like Night Stalker could receive a neatly-packaged DVD release and remain easily accessible to the generations that followed. In some respects, this feels like the worst thing that could have happened. The biggest obstacle between Night Stalker and the status of “cult classic” is ease of access to the show itself; the readiness with which the nostalgic refrain of “cancelled before its time” might be rebutted by simply buying the DVD.

A blast from the past...

A blast from the past…

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Night Stalker – The Source (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

The Source was the last episode of Night Stalker to air on ABC.

Night Stalker died an ignominious death, especially considering that ABC had actively sought out producer Frank Spotnitz specifically to reboot the classic series. After six episodes, aired over seven weeks, Night Stalker was quietly retired from the schedule. The series did not survive its first Sweeps period, dying a quiet death before it could even reach the Christmas hiatus. Although ten episodes had been produced, ABC opted not to broadcast the four remaining stories; instead, they filled the slot with an episode of Primetime Live focusing on Anna Nicole Smith.

Night falls on the Night Stalker...

Night falls on the Night Stalker…

To be fair, the odds were heavily stacked against Night Stalker from the beginning. The realities of twenty-first century television have made it increasingly difficult to launch a new show. Audiences seem more fickle than ever, and networks can no longer afford to grow audiences over time. With more sources of media competing for the attention of eager young audiences, there is seldom time to fix something that does not work out of the gate. It has become increasingly common to just ditch a dysfunctional show at the first sign of trouble.

At the same time, it is hard to mourn Night Stalker as a forgotten classic that was cut down in its prime. The series’ limited ten episode run suffered from a host of identity anxieties and uncertainties. The series had trouble finding an audience, but it also seemed to have trouble finding itself. While The Source and The Sea might represent a step in the right direction, they are perhaps too little too late.

Zombie bikers from hell!

Zombie bikers from hell!

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Night Stalker – Pilot (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

If you want to examine at the impact of The X-Files on mainstream American television, there are worse places to look than Night Stalker.

Sure, the show only ran for six episodes before it was cancelled, but its very existence speaks to the legacy and success of The X-Files. Night Stalker was a revival of a failed seventies cult television show commissioned by Touchstone Television and broadcast on ABC, one of the “big three” American television networks. More to the point, the network had tasked a veteran producer of The X-Files to oversee production of the show. The network scheduled their Night Stalker relaunch on Thursday nights, against the ratings juggernaut of CSI.

Night Stalking, deserves a quiet night...

Night Stalking, deserves a quiet night…

This was not a scrappy young network taking a creative gambit on an unknown property because they had nothing to lose; this was a substantial investment by a major player in a property that was largely forgotten outside of cult circles and which had failed the last time that it had come to television. It was very much a creative decision based on what had been learned from the success of The X-Files; handled properly, a seemingly marginal and fringe property could grab the national attention. The major networks had been paying attention.

In a way, the success of CSI at the turn of the twenty-first century was proof of this; a forensic thriller populated by idiosyncratic characters with an emphasis on stylised direction. ABC had committed to this idea with Lost, which launched in September 2004. Debuting a year later, Night Stalker found the network doubling down on the premise. Although the twenty-first century televisual landscape owed a debt to The X-Files, Night Stalker would be perhaps the most obvious successor. At least until Fringe came along three years later.

Playing all the angles on the City of Angels...

Playing all the angles on the City of Angels…

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The X-Files – Trust No 1 (Review)

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

Trust No 1 is an episode that is more relevant now than it was in January 2002. And not just because “trustno1” is still among the most popular (and least secure) internet passwords.

The core ideas of Trust No 1 are fascinating. In hindsight, it is impressive that the production team were able to produce something like Trust No 1 so quickly after the events of 9/11. The type of surveillance state depicted in Tust No 1 would turn out to be quite close to reality in the era of Edward Snowden and the scandal National Security Ageny. “They’re watching,” the words at the end of the title sequence tease, words which seem even more ominous over a decade after initial broadcast.

Circle the odd one out...

Circle the odd one out…

Unfortunately, while Trust No 1 seems to get more and more relevent with each passing year, the episode itself is a mess. As powerful and resonant as its central themes might be, Trust No 1 is very clearly the work of a production team with no idea of where the show is going or where they want to take it. All the worst excesses of the ninth season mythology are on display here, from the heartbreaking obsession with Mulder through to the marginalisation of Scully. The dialogue is overwrought and the climax is absurd. Trust No 1 simply doesn’t work.

And yet, despite all that, it exerts an odd power. It is a power muted by some of the creative decisions around it, and by some of the choices made in structuring the teleplay, but it is power nonetheless.

Night vision, deserves a quiet night...

Night vision, deserves a quiet night…

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The X-Files – Dæmonicus (Review)

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

Dæmonicus is the first “monster of the week” episode of the ninth season.

This is important, particularly following on from two particularly limp introductory mythology episodes. After all, The X-Files amounts to more than just its mythology; problems with the mythology are less of a problem when they are surrounded by strong standalone episodes. Tunguska and Terma arrived as messy mythology episodes at the peak of the show’s popularity, but nobody was too bothered because they were surrounded by standalone episodes like Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man or Paper Hearts.

The devil inside...

The devil inside…

So the show can probably withstand the hit of Nothing Important Happened Today I and Nothing Important Happened Today II. After all, the third season opened with The Blessing Way and the fifth season opened with Redux I, with both of those seasons standing among the best seasons that the show ever produced. (That said, it helps that the second episodes of those seasons – Paper Clip and Redux II – were much stronger.) There is still a chance to salvage things here. The ninth season is down, but don’t count it out yet.

Dæmonicus could really turn things around, right?

Well, that's just cheating.

Well, that’s just cheating.

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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 – Maximum Byers (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.

With Maximum Byers, it seems like The Lone Gunmen has wandered back into the wilderness.

Madam, I’m Adam and Planet of the Frohikes suggested a show that had found its own voice and figured out how best to tell stories featuring theses characters. Those two episodes worked by eschewing the caper-driven hijinks of episodes like Like Water for Octane and Three Men and a Smoking Diaper in favour of character-driven melancholy. Planet of the Frohikes might be the single funniest episode of the show’s short run, but it mostly works because it is underpinned by a sense of genuine tragi-comedy. Its characters felt real; even the talking monkey.

"Thank you very much..."

“Thank you very much…”

Maximum Byers seems to set the clock back to the early first season, sending the Lone Gunmen on a wacky self-aware adventure designed to evoke classic episodic television. It is a model very similar to that employed by scripts like Eine Kleine Frohike or Diagnosis: Jimmy, where the objective is to drop a major character into an unlikely situation and hope that the plot (and the laughs) take care of themselves. After all, “Byers undercover in prison!” seems as compelling as “Frohike undercover as a woman’s long lost son!” or “Jimmy in hospital!”

For most of its runtime, Maximum Byers is fairly bland and inoffensive. It is not particularly memorable or hilarious, but it is not close to the worst episode of the show. Unfortunately, then the ending happens. One of the more frequent criticisms of The Lone Gunmen is that the show had difficulty balancing its tone. While there is an element of truth to this observation, it is never quite as clear as in the final act of Maximum Byers. Then again, it is probably quite tough to do a comedy set on death row.

Critics couldn't wait to (bed)pan the episode...

Critics couldn’t wait to (bed)pan the episode…

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