There are always elements of crass commercialism baked into the DNA of revivals — nobody dusts off “Full House” for the high art of it — but perhaps an even more nagging sense of reassembling everyone just for the money in Fox’s joyless “The X-Files.” Brilliantly promoted for months, this six-episode reunion, premiering with a kick-start from the NFC Championship game, is virtually assured of attracting a sizable audience, at least initially. But based on the premiere, the harsh truth in here is that it’s as if creator Chris Carter and his collaborators have forgotten what people liked about the show.
In hindsight, after a long series run and two uneven movies (the last, which made its debut in 2008, having literally ended with the seemingly definitive image of the stars rowing away together), the logical move, in terms of investing the franchise with greater longevity, would have been to start from scratch, with new FBI agents delving into the strange and paranormal. Instead, Carter has reunited much of the cast, including leads David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, the original believer and the scientifically minded skeptic, whose roles have flipped multiple times.
New information, and a woman (“The Americans’ ” Annet Mahendru) who might be the victim of alien abduction, put Mulder and Scully back on the hunt, and prompt him to question what he believes, egged on by their one-time boss, Skinner (Mitch Pileggi). The press notes say some episodes will be self-contained, but it’s hard to imagine the intrepid duo will have much time for such larks, given the high stakes laid out in this opening installment, and frankly, a fully serialized arc would make more sense. (Disclosure: Lowry wrote two authorized “X-Files” companion guides in the 1990s.)
Yet while the performers have aged in only the most flattering of ways, and Fox has milked the build-up for all it’s worth, there’s a feeling that everyone is just going through the motions, despite the durability of the show’s central conceit about distrusting authority and the prospect of shadowy conspiracies reaching into the highest levels of government and business. In fact, Duchovny is saddled with a speech detailing the extrapolated depths of those tentacles — one that might be the longest single piece of conspiratorial exposition put on film since the closing summation in “JFK.”
Throughout the premiere, it’s simply hard to escape the prevailing malaise of this being a deal-driven exercise, a chance to cash in on the name recognition of the title in a format that mitigated the time commitment for all concerned, particularly Duchovny and Anderson. Heck, they’re even back shooting in Vancouver, the town Duchovny rather famously pushed to leave during the show’s heyday.
Whether or not that takes a toll on viewership after the opening flurry and initial kick of hearing Mark Snow’s score again, creatively speaking, “The X-Files” can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity — except, perhaps, among those X-Philes who remain not just eager to believe, but in terms of falling short of expectations, to forgive as well.