I want to believe that “The X-Files” creator Chris Carter will be — apologies to Bob Dylan — forever young. I want to believe that at 57, he’s still the California golden boy, the precocious beach bum with ferocious blue eyes and a full head of California-sun-bleached blond hair, and the same guy who changed the world or at least changed TV. I also want to believe he wrote the latest revival of “The X-Files” in his head while cutting through the Malibu surf on a “thruster” board, with imaginative monsters and aliens carving the pipeline next to him.
I want to believe . . .
Carter, ahem, says don’t bother.
“I’m still a surfer,” he confirmed by phone recently. “But I have to admit I went to check the surf the other day and didn’t go out because it’s been raining and the water was dirty. That said, I didn’t surf for months when I was making the show so calling yourself a surfer when your board is gathering dust in the corner sounds like you’re representing someone you’re not.”
“The show,” of course, is the show of the moment — the six-part return of “The X-Files,” along with its two leads (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) and some members of the original creative team besides Carter (James Wong and Glen Morgan). The show premieres Sunday at approximately 10 p.m., following the NFC Championship Game on Fox/5 and will then air in its regular time slot, Mondays at 8 p.m., starting Jan. 25.
Like that California surf, speculation is high: Will Carter recapture the glory days? Can a classic series go home again, or should it even try?
Of course, you recall “The X-Files” mythos — the “truth is out there,” along with the conspiracies, and aliens-among-us, also the pet obsessions of Mulder (Duchovny) and his pet phrase, “I want to believe . . . ” A glorious stem-winding tale of monsters-vs.-aliens, or at least Mulder and Scully (Anderson) vs. all of them, and the feckless, mendacious, perfidious U.S. government, it’s become commonplace in the years since the finale aired in 2002 to observe that “The X-Files” changed TV.
A commonplace which also happens to be true: The particular wave “Files” caught was the Internet one, which helped drive fan interest and speculation — endless speculation about Carter’s intentions or the deeper meaning of the “mytharc” that formed the edifice of nine seasons. Not only did “Lost” embrace this Web-synergy paradigm, but just about every other TV drama that forged close ties with a fan base via the Internet and social media did as well.
Which is to say, virtually every successful TV drama since.
And to think it was all hatched in the head of a Cal State Long Beach grad and expert surfer who spent the bulk of his early career as a writer at (where else?) Surfing Magazine.
Congenial and soft-spoken, Carter certainly sounded pleased to be back in the spotlight. But one is also left to wonder what he’s been up to all these years. There were a handful of short-lived series (like “Files” spinoff “The Lone Gunmen”) that arrived and quickly disappeared while his magnum opus was still on the air. A pair of “Files” movies — one successful, the other less so — also came in the intervening years. A recent project for Amazon Prime went nowhere.
“They’ve been good years for me,” Carter said. “I was 45 when this ended and said to myself at the time that I’ll never be 45 again. If I don’t stop and do the things that I never got to do for the 10 years the show was on the air I never will. [So] I took some needed time off.”
“Time off” turned into the better part of a decade.
“I went mountain climbing, took surf trips, I became a pilot of all things. You have no time to do this as a TV producer.”
Naturally, he pondered a return to producing, “but if you look at what I’ve done, I didn’t want to come back to murder mysteries. I didn’t want to do crime dramas, or what I would call the ‘tried and true.’ I wanted to do new stuff.”
Carter was also busy reading, one book in particular: Karl Ove Knausgård’s “My Struggle,” a vast roman à clef by a Norwegian author who burrowed deep into his psyche discovering “the banalities and humiliations of his life, the private moments of pleasure, and those dark thoughts that most people can’t bear to articulate even to themselves,” according to a feature in the New Republic on Knausgård by Evan Hughes.
Naturally, Knausgård’s endless self-ministrations made Carter think of agent Fox Mulder. What would Mulder be doing now?
“I thought Mulder has a very similar life, sitting at home, now that he can sit at home in his underwear, and if he wants to go onto the Internet, he can easily search out all the mysteries as they come to him. I think his life had become much smaller, much lonelier.”
Then the phone rang — Carter’s, not poor, sad, lonely, Web-addicted Mulder’s.
Fox TV co-chief Dana Walden was on the other end.
Carter had worked with Walden at Fox years before. She wondered if he might be interested in bringing “The X-Files” back to TV.
The universe indeed operates in interesting ways. As it so happened, Carter said he had just been thinking about his old show.
There were immediate concerns when the call came a little over a year ago “out of the blue.” Would Anderson and Duchovny return? Walden said they would. Carter and Duchovny had long since settled a residuals dispute over the show, which nearly ruptured a friendship (and per reports at the time, did in fact).
“We [Carter and Duchovny] are next-door neighbors so we’ve let bygones be bygones,” he says. “It’s funny because looking back at when the show was beginning to be a hit, I was told [by Fox execs] to get ready for the lawsuit. It goes with the territory because everyone reads the contract.”
Carter says his reborn “Files” won’t plow old ground, but develop a brand-new mythology; in fact, the first and last episodes will deal with that while the ones in between will be what the network used to call “monster-of-the-week” stand-alone episodes dealing with unusual phenomena, like Soul Eater, the Great Mutato, Human Bat, and (everyone’s fave) Flukeman, the human flatworm.
Carter won’t abandon a core theme of the original, perhaps the core theme — the balance of faith and skepticism, hope and hopelessness.
“The idea of hope and faith . . . ” he says, his thought trailing off. “In the second movie, I wanted to do a movie about faith, but people want to be scared and have a thrill ride. But the TV show allowed us to explore areas that aren’t necessarily staple forms of entertainment. For me, ‘The X-Files’ was and is kind of a miracle — like I wrote a book I wanted to read, about belief, faith, hope and perseverance. Those are really interesting subjects for me and ones television loves to explore.”
And, if the gods of Nielsen oblige, he just might continue exploring.
Are these six episodes the end? “I think there are endless numbers of ‘X-Files’ stories to be told,” he says. “I can’t imagine this is it, but it’s partially out of my control, Fox owns it and they can do what they want — but they have been so kind, thoughtful and considerate to me and us.”
In other words, you gotta believe . . .