Rebooting The X-Files initially seemed like a terrible idea, but it turned out to be just an average idea.
Though it may seem more common now, bringing back an old television show or movie is a decades-old practice. Reboots are almost always fraught with uncertainty and are rarely accepted by die-hard fans without resistance if they’re accepted at all. Even Battlestar Galactica still has fans that legitimately believe the original was better, and it transformed from campy, so-bad-it’s-good absurdity to a triumph of dramatic science fiction.
The X-Files reboot doubled down on the campiness of the original, becoming entirely nonsensical at some points. Still, it was more entertaining than expected. I, like many fans, was ambivalent about the new episodes from the get-go: As soon as they were announced, I groaned with disdain for every other cheap, played-out reboot suffered by starry-eyed fans.
But this new season of The X-Files didn’t turn out like the 2008 Knight Rider update. It was closer to the revived Hawaii Five-0: not awful, but not terrific. And should much more be expected from primetime drama, especially those on the major broadcast networks like Fox and CBS? I don’t mean to bash Fox and CBS. All major broadcast networks produce quality shows, but they more consistently produce mediocre entertainment.
The production values for The X-Files were no different. The new season was littered with poor cinematography, most notably in “Home Again.” One specific scene in this episode was completely erratic, even dizzying. This shouldn’t be surprising, though. The episode was directed by Glen Morgan, a producer and writer of the show with only two other directing credits to his name. Considering his lack of real experience, he made adequate work.
Acting was another shortcoming of this series with many unconvincing performances. The most obvious offenders are new agents Miller and Einstein, Mulder and Scully’s younger replicas. Robbie Amell (Miller) and Lauren Ambrose (Einstein) gave these characters surface-level vitality and barely relatable personalities. Furthermore, these additions seemed like a shameless grab for the young-adult demographic.
However, the acting cannot be fantastic unless the story provides the opportunity. And the plot of The X-Files reboot left little room for genuine humanity. Though this is a show about aliens, representing humanity is the core of any drama. Many dramas fail to bring emotional depth, and The X-Files is no exception.
There were several opportunities for The X-Files to shine in this regard, but it didn’t. Most of the intense dramatic moments started out forced and finished stale. One of the worst instances of this was also in “Home Again,” arguably the worst episode of the season. But that isn’t saying much.
“Babylon” is another contender for worst episode. It introduced agents Miller and Einstein through an investigation into radical Islamic terror cells. Things got interesting when magic mushrooms became a plot tool, but that gimmick didn’t save this lackluster episode. “Babylon” is pointless outside of introducing Miller and Einstein. Even with their introduction, “Babylon” still seems like a lousy, honky-tonk trip featuring white people explaining to other white people that Muslims are humans, too.
But my personal choice for worst episode is a tie between the first and last episodes of the new season, “My Struggle” and “My Struggle II.” Both of them were borderline melodramatic and featured convoluted plots drunk on conspiracy theories. Worst of all, they didn’t feel satisfying once they were over. Even if the other episodes were mediocre, they still provided decent entertainment. “My Struggle” and “My Struggle II” were all-around complicated and unpleasant.
Still, episodes “Founders Mutation” and “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” were legitimately enjoyable. “Founders Mutation” brought the bizarre nature of The X-Files in full force with powerful imagery and a compelling plot. Absurdity abounded in “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” providing much-needed irreverence after the serious and emotionally loaded “Founders Mutation.” That irreverence was remarkable, thanks to the winning combo of Rhys Darby from Flight of the Concords and Kumail Nanjiani from Silicon Valley
While The X-Files reboot was a train wreck at times, it was watchable television. The new season left a lot of room for improvement, but it capitalized on relevant and provocative issues, framing them in outlandish campiness like only The X-Files can.
Ultimately, the reboot is a UFO covered in Banksy street art lit by strobe lights, blaring Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?“ It watches like a spectacular farce that’s far from timeless but entertaining in its own right.
For our review of the season premiere of The X-Files, click here.