×

TV Review: ‘The X-Files’ Season 11

The 26-year-old science fiction series returns to television Jan. 3 with a far more satisfying season than its last effort in 2016

With:
David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis

So much of what made “The X-Files” wonderful is impossible to attain in 2018. When the series debuted, it presented a twilit, rain-soaked landscape of mysterious occurrences, investigated by two terribly dressed FBI agents who barely knew each other. The show thrilled because of how smartly it turned bureaucratic rigor into the characters’ struggle to understand and accept the unknown — and, of course, because of the devastating sexual tension between Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (a then-unknown Gillian Anderson).

But 26 years and 11 seasons later, the initial charm has been stripped to its bare bones. The mystery, whatever it was, spiraled out of control, got Scully pregnant, made Mulder disappear, and now still taunts the viewer with promises of further answers. The show decamped from its original shooting site in gloomy Vancouver to first Los Angeles and now New York City. Anderson, increasingly a grande dame of Hollywood, becomes more glamorous by the day; Scully’s oversized blazers, severe bob and round glasses have been traded in for a hip, mod-ish wardrobe that accentuates her wasp waist, wavy TV locks and, apparently, contact lenses. Meanwhile, Duchovny — tanned, built and fashionable — looks like the California rocker he’s become, not an aging, nerdy conspiracy nut. (His glasses have also not-so-mysteriously disappeared. Maybe the FBI now covers LASIK.)

As a result, much of the 2016 event series felt hollow, a resurrection gone awry. Showrunner Chris Carter leaned into the mythology of the series with an expanded cast and a matryoshka of conspiracies, each more elaborate than the last. It was a run of episodes that squandered any remaining goodwill I had for “The X-Files.”

Or so I thought.

“The X-Files” returns tonight for a Season 11 that is still uneven, but far more satisfying than the warmed-over mysteries of last season. Carter’s mythology for the series as a whole has never seemed more superfluous, and the episodes still linger too long on the confabulations of the paranoid. But even when stripped down to its bare bones, “The X-Files” has plenty to offer its audience. For one thing, the show appears to be more committed to the relationship between its two leads than ever — the friendship, compromise, cooperation, and yes, romance between the two, a connection that defies most ordinary labels. But perhaps more importantly, the series’ paranoia about a shadowy cabal of men in suits running the national security infrastructure of the nation has never seemed more vital. “The X-Files” is riding the thermals of our current mindboggling political situation to new heights of righteous antiestablishmentarianism; when former FBI director Robert Mueller’s name gets dropped, it’s not a coincidence. And let’s not forget that just a few weeks ago, the Pentagon confirmed the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a classified defense effort to investigate UFOs.  Mulder’s feverish monologues have never seemed more sensible; even the rehash of his greatest hits (Roswell, a faked moon landing, the invasion of Grenada) carries with it a frisson of new fear. After the year we’ve had — after the idiocy, selfishness, and cruelty displayed by the highest echelons of power — it’s much easier to see things from Mulder’s point of view, to give credence to the relentless suspicion of government power that characterizes his paranoia. By contrast, Scully’s faith in common sense — in a reasonable explanation — has never felt more naive.

It’s not just the vivid backdrop that makes this season of “The X-Files” work, though. The episodes released for critics are just better episodes than the first time around — episodes that continue to stage adventures in an inexplicable world, some standalone, some not. Three of the first five episodes are written and directed by longtime “The X-Files” writers — Glen Morgan’s “This,” which revives the specter of the Lone Gunmen; James Wong’s “Ghouli,” which moves the mythology forward in the most meaningful way we’ve seen in approximately two decades; and Darin Morgan’s “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” which has for me made its way to the top tier of “The X-Files” episodes. In the midst of mythology, conjecture, and suspicion, it’s an episode about confronting the past and meaningfully engaging with the present — about the futility of nostalgia, in a vehicle defined by nostalgia. “The X-Files” is doing what few broadcast shows have the opportunity to: It’s mindfully allowing itself, and its characters, to age to the point of obsolescence.

In our current environment of reboots, reunions, and revivals, “The X-Files” might get lost in the shuffle of another beloved property suffering from the imperfection of never quite ending its story. But Season 11 indicates a movement towards resolution and completion, one that nods to the show’s early unexpected greatness and obliquely admits its mistakes. Not everything makes sense — among other things, it’s not totally clear how Mulder and Scully drop back into investigating mysterious phenomena on a regular basis. But it is such a relief: In a world of chaos and confusion, at least we know they are on the case.

TV Review: 'The X-Files' Season 11

Drama, 10 episodes (5 reviewed): Fox, Wed. Jan. 3, 8 p.m. 60 min.

Crew: Executive producers, Chris Carter, Glen Morgan

Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis

More TV

  • Michael Che Defends Kevin Hart on

    Michael Che Ribs Academy Over Kevin Hart Controversy on 'SNL'

    Kevin Hart may have alienated some in Hollywood over his recently resurfaced homophobic tweets, but that didn’t stop “Weekend Update” co-host Michael Che from cracking some jokes in support of Hart on Dec. 8’s “Saturday Night Live.” After briefly recapping that Hart stepped down from hosting the Oscars after the 2011 tweets came to light, [...]

  • THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY

    'The Umbrella Academy' Superheroes Series Premiere Date Set on Netflix

    The dysfunctional-family superheroes of “The Umbrella Academy” are landing on Netflix worldwide on Feb. 15, 2019. The live-action series is based on the “Umbrella Academy” comic books created and written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, published by Dark Horse Comics. The Netflix original series comprises 10 one-hour episodes. More Reviews Film Review: [...]

  • SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Jason Momoa"

    Robert De Niro Appears as Robert Mueller in 'Saturday Night Live' Cold Open

    Robert De Niro made a surprise appearance as special counsel Robert Mueller in “Saturday Night Live’s” cold open. De Niro popped out of a closet in a sketch that skewered President Donald Trump and the mounting legal pressure Mueller’s investigation has put on many of Trump’s associates. Alex Moffatt played Eric Trump in a bedtime-story [...]

  • ‘The Breadwinner,’ ‘Ivandoe’ Top 2019 European

    ‘The Breadwinner,’ ‘The Heroic Quest of the Valiant Prince Ivandoe’ Top 2018 Emile Awards

    LILLE, France – “The Breadwinner” director Nora Twomey and “The Heroic Quest of the Valiant Prince Ivandoe” directors Christian Bøving-Andersen and Eva Lee Wallberg took top honors at Saturday night’s second edition of the European Animation Awards (EAA) in Lille, France, scooping best feature and best TV/broadcast production respectively. It was an evening of beautiful [...]

  • The King Eric Clapton A Life

    Rashida Jones, Lili Zanuck Talk Grammy Nominations and the Music-Documentary Gold Rush

    Nothing takes you back to time and a place like the music of a particular era. That’s one big reason why music documentaries are flourishing at a time of enormous demand for high-end docu productions. This year’s five Grammy Award nominees for best music film reflect the appetite for stories about renowned and beloved musical figures, [...]

  • Sacred Games Indian Television

    'Sacred Games,' 'Miss Sherlock' Win Asian Academy Creative Awards

    Hulu Japan and HBO Asia’s “Miss Sherlock” won best drama series at the inaugural Asian Academy Creative Awards. The awards were spread over two evenings at Singapore’s Capitol Theatre on Friday and Saturday. India’s Anurag Kashyap won best direction (fiction) for season one of Netflix original series “Sacred Games.” The series also won best editing [...]

  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend -- "I'm Not The

    'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' Boss Breaks Down Introducing Skylar Astin as the New Greg

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “I’m Not the Person I Used to Be,” the Season 4 midseason finale of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” As the CW’s musical comedy “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” prepares to sign off with a series finale in 2019, showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna and her team of writers have been pushing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content