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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 – Underneath (Review)

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

Nothing like cancellation to get the vultures circling.

It is the nature of television that not every episode ends up exactly the way that the production team would like. Working on a tight deadline with a limited budget, compromises have to be made. Sometimes, there is not enough time to properly polish a script so that it makes sense. Other times, the special effects have to be rushed. Churning out twenty-odd episodes in a season demands a lot of the production team, and it seems impossible to maintain a perfect record across a full season.

Skull and bones..

Skull and bones…

The X-Files might have held itself to the highest production standards, but there are inevitable missteps along the way. Fearful Symmetry is about invisible zoo animals because there is no way that the show could be about visible zoo animals. Teso dos Bichos had difficulty wrangling its cats. The special effects work on Tunguska came so close to the wire that people in different parts of the country actually saw different cuts of the episode. Parts of Christmas Carol had to be reshot when the child actor proved unreliable in Emily.

These are the realities of television production. It is not always pretty, and the result is not always fantastic, but it gets done. Fans and commentators have a tendency to overlook these problems when they occur at the height of the show. They are less forgiving when they occur past the show’s prime.

Crosses to bear...

Crosses to bare…

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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 – Diagnosis: Jimmy (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.

Diagnosis: Jimmy is another formulaic piece of episodic television.

To be entirely fair, this is a logical part of any first season. While the production team is trying to figure out the identity of a young show, it makes sense to apply templates that have worked in the past. It was an approach that The X-Files adopted in its early seasons, with episodes drawing from popular and successful films. This worked out quite well in some cases, with Ice offering a skilled take on The Thing while Beyond the Sea played with The Silence of the Lambs to great effect.

A lotta lolly...

A lotta lolly…

With that in mind, it seems perfectly reasonable for The Lone Gunmen to attempt something similar. Writer John Shiban compared Eine Kleine Frohike to The Ladykillers. The characters within Maximum Byers all but acknowledged that it was the obligatory “prison episode.” If the writers don’t have to worry about the basic story ideas and beats, there is more room to develop character and flavour. With that in mind, Diagnosis: Jimmy positions itself as a twofer. It is both the standard “hospital” episode and a gigantic homage to Rear Window.

Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly inspired piece of television.

Fox has got the show in their sights...

Fox has got the show in their sights…

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The Lone Gunmen – Eine Kleine Frohike (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 Eine Kleine Frohike, the first season of The Lone Gunmen is still in its teething phase.

There is a sense that the writers are still finding the show’s voice and struggling to get the tone right, while also trying to figure out how to structure an episode and what to do with the two new characters. Eine Kleine Frohike is messy and disjointed, but that is to be expected three episodes into the first season of an hour-long comedy. The first season of any show will inevitably be a bit rough; it is very rare for a television series to emerge from its production team fully formed.

Eich bin ein Frohike...

Eich bin ein Frohike…

At the same time, there are a few things that Eine Kleine Frohike does quite well, with John Shiban honing in on a few of the show’s strengths. Most obviously, Eine Kleine Frohike positions Frohike as the heart of the leading trio. Byers has always been the idealist of the bunch, but Frohike has a fundamental (and perhaps unlikely) dignity that makes him a solid foundation for an episode like this. Indeed, the best scene in Eine Kleine Frohike uses Frohike’s humanity to forge a connection with a guest character who otherwise seems like a joke.

Eine Kleine Frohike is too disjointed to really work, but it does represent a clear step forward for the show.

The son also rises...

The son also rises…

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The Lone Gunmen – Pilot (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.

It is meant to be a joke.

It is an episode known as The Pilot, because it is a proof of concept for a new series that can be shown to executives in the hopes that they might green-light it and give the production team a series order. That is, after all, what a television pilot is. It is the first episode of a television show to be filmed, usually with considerable space between it and the rest of the first season. There is time for network notes and feedback, to determine what works and what doesn’t. There is space for recasting and reshooting, which becomes more problematic on a weekly schedule.

Rocket man.

Rocket man.

However, the fact that the first episode of The Lone Gunmen is called The Pilot is also a rather wry punchline. It is a self-aware reminder that the show takes itself considerably less seriously than Millennium or Harsh Realm. After all, even if this weren’t the very first episode of a new television show, it might be called The Pilot. Based purely on the plot, the episode might have been called The Pilot. It is an episode about a sinister plot to hijack planes using advanced technology. So calling the episode The Pilot is a cheesy and goofy bit of wordplay.

Of course, there is very little funny about it in hindsight.

Don't leave us hanging...

Don’t leave us hanging…

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The X-Files – Badlaa (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.

Badlaa is a disturbing and unsettling piece of television.

Perhaps the most unsettling thing about it might be the fact that this is the last truly memorable monster of the week.

"Well, this sure beats the way I got in."

“Well, this sure beats the way I got in.”

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Harsh Realm – Manus Domini (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Manus Domini continues the influx of assistance from the writing staff on The X-Files, with John Shiban contributing a script to the first season of Harsh Realm.

Manus Domini is a very strange episode. In a way, it feels more keenly aligned with the sensibilities of Chris Carter than those of John Shiban. It is the most overtly religious episode from the short run of Harsh Realm, with characters contemplating faith and spirituality in an otherwise cruel world. It is the logical continuation of themes seeded and developed across the rest of the season, bringing the religious subtext of the show to the fore so that it might be acknowledged and explored.

Florence in the machine...

Florence in the machine…

To be fair, there are elements that fit comfortably within Shiban’s oeuvre. Shiban is very much a fan of classic horror tropes, so it makes sense that his script should feature a monstrous supporting character whose complete moral decay is symbolised through grotesque facial deformities. (The element recurs in Camera Obscura, but is not as pronounced as it in this episode.) There are elements of Manus Domini that feel like they might have been lifted from classic seventies horror.

Nevertheless, Manus Domini is defined by its religious components, making it clear that the show retains the same core moral perspective that runs through Carter’s work; there is a recurring sense that faith and spirituality are essential to survive and endure in an increasingly faithless world.

A literal mine field...

A literal mine field…

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The X-Files – Field Trip (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.

Field Trip works well as the penultimate episode of the sixth season.

It returns to a lot of big ideas threaded through the sixth season, particularly as they relate to endings and mortality. It also pushes the bond between Mulder and Scully to the fore; it feels like something of a spiritual successor to both Bad Blood and Folie á Deux in its portrayal of the dynamic between Mulder and Scully, charting a rough arc in how Mulder and Scully come to see themselves and each other. Even beyond all that, it contains another surrogate romantic relationship for Mulder and Scully, this time in Wallace and Angela Schiff.

A lot to digest...

A lot to digest…

More to the point, Field Trip seems to hit on the core anxieties at the heart of the sixth season. It is a meditation on the show’s success and the status quo that has to be so careful maintained to keep the show from tipping over. As with TriangleDreamland IDreamland II, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas and Monday, our heroes find themselves trapped in something of a weird alternate reality. The climax of Field Trip hinges on both Mulder and Scully deducing that their world operates according to the logic of a television show.

However, Field Trip is perhaps most intriguing in the way that it proposes two separate endings to The X-Files. The humongous fungus at the heart of Field Trip offers both Mulder and Scully a conclusion to their six-year journey, an opportunity for closure and satisfaction. In doing so, Field Trip suggests that it is the central tension at the heart of The X-Files that keeps the show young. There is no way to end the show without absolutely and definitively declaring that one of the characters is right and the other is wrong.

Down the rabbit hole...

Down the rabbit hole…

As such, the endings seem mutually exclusive. Field Trip suggests that endings designed to satisfy Mulder and Scully and mutually exclusive and irreconcilable – recalling the implication in Bad Blood that both Mulder and Scully filter the same events through different lenses. However, Field Trip is rather more optimistic in its assessment of the dynamic between Mulder and Scully. While it might not be able to provide an ending to the show that satisfies both, Field Trip suggests that the duo have reconciled themselves to each other.

Whereas Bad Blood seemed to state that Mulder and Scully would never share the same perspective, Field Trip suggests that both characters have evolved and matured to the point where they can see the world through the eyes of the other. Bad Blood featured the two characters positing wildly different accounts of the same event, but Field Trip only resolves when Mulder and Scully come to share each other’s perspective. It feels entirely appropriate to close out the sixth season suggesting a new harmony between the two leads.

It's a dirty job...

It’s a dirty job…

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The X-Files – Three of a Kind (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.

Unusual Suspects is perhaps an underrated episode.

The third episode broadcast of the fifth season is a light adventure that offers viewers an origin story of the Lone Gunman. Byers, Langley and Frohike have been around since E.B.E. towards the end of the first season, and have become an integral part of the show’s ensemble cast. Unusual Suspects is frequently written off as a piece of fluff designed to work around the limited availability of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson due to on-going production work on The X-Files: Fight the Future.

Viva Las Vegas...

Viva Las Vegas…

This seems dismissive of Vince Gilligan’s paranoid origin story, which is one of the few times that Gilligan engages directly with the themes that underpin the sprawling mythology at the heart of the show. Unusual Suspects is not a “mythology episode” in the way that gets episodes repackaged on DVD collections, but it does explore the idea of conspiracy and paranoia as a personal narrative. Unusual Suspects is a very sweet story about a lost and heartbroken man who builds a conspiracy mythology around himself because he has nothing else to do.

Three of a Kind is very much a sequel episode to Unusual Suspects, focusing again on the Lone Gunmen and bringing back Susanne Modeski. However, it is a much lighter and more disposable story. Barring the beautifully crafted prologue, Three of a Kind is an entirely disposable episode of television. It feels like filler. It is neither a beginning nor an end to the story of Byers or the Lone Gunmen. It is just a long middle, with the characters ending up back where they began. In a way, this makes it feel very much like a standard sixth season episode.

A man alone...

A man alone…

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