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Thursday, February 25, 2016

X Misses The Spot: The New X-Files In A New Entertainment World

I loved the original X-Files. My largest high school research paper was on UFO's; X-Files was right in my wheelhouse. It was bold, creative, fun, creepy, and at times moving. It gave life to every conspiracy I wanted to believe was true - and a few that I didn't.

Mulder the believer, Scully the skeptic. More often than not, they hit a sweet spot between wanting to believe and refusing to do so. Chris Carter reminded us that wonder without science leads to mystical fanaticism, but science without wonder is impoverished when it refuses to see parts of reality that don't fit into a lab. The X-Files managed to challenge both ends of that spectrum while not entirely dismissing people who live on the fringe.

When it ended, I was really disappointed. Unfortunately, the new series has not recaptured the magic of the original series. I'm not sure it could.

I think of the X-Files as the foundation on which a lot of sci-fi/horror/conspiracy shows have been built. Like the original Star Trek, its place in the TV canon is solid. Like the original Star Trek, it was also eclipsed by its progeny. Other shows took the X-Files landscape and built on it, remade it, populated it with more and better of everything (except the original quirky charm): Fringe, Lost, Resurrection, Surface,  Supernatural, American Gothic, Wayward Pines, Millennium, Warehouse 13, Grimm, Miracles, Primeval, The Lone Gunmen.

Now the X-Files is back, but.. it's not.

Maybe it's the writers. The episodes felt uneven and forced, and Episode 5's painfully polemic take on terrorism felt like a PSA. That's a problem, but I think there is a deeper dilemma: the X-Files is now too ordinary.

We've had 14 years since the original run to watch skeptics and believers wrestle with reality. We now have (thanks to the internet) more conspiracies than we can track, and a few of them are probably true. Before there were a bazillion cable shows and the internet had to be dialed, the X-Files was where conspiracy nerds got their fix. Not any more. Now there are 50 X-Files clones on 500 channels. Mulder doesn't need to convince people they should believe. Most of them already do.

I hate to say it, but the new X-Files feels like Kobe's All-Star appearance: it's cool to remember the glory days, and there are moments when we see flashes of the legend continuing, but at the end of the day somebody else is taking home the MVP.

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