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‘The X-Files’ review: Mulder, Scully, excellent special effects, eye-rolling premise (but...)

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson return for a

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson return for a six-episode season of "The X-Files," on Fox. Credit: FOX / Ed Araquel

WHEN | WHERE Sunday after the NFC Championship Game (approximately 10 p.m. on Fox/5), then in its regular time slot, Mondays at 8 p.m.


WHAT IT’S ABOUT Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) is out of the conspiracy business and the FBI, too, when a Web-show conspiracy nut, Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), demands a meeting with him and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), who’s back at Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital. He’s got a theory — a doozy. Meanwhile, FBI assistant director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) also wants to talk. After a long run on Fox (1993-2002) and longer absence, the team is back for this six-episode limited series.

MY SAY “All lies lead to the truth,” our old friend Dana Scully once observed many years ago, and all hit series lead to reboots — hers being just the latest. The calculus is inescapable. A new generation of fans discovers the treasured artifact on Netflix or Hulu (in “X-Files” case, both services) then demands what the earlier generation wanted all along, which is more of the same and hopefully some closure. At least fans both old and new will get more of the same Sunday night. That’s either good — or bad — depending on just how demanding those fans are.

Consider that “The X-Files” spent nine seasons (and two movies) constructing an intricate “mythology” arc that more or less insisted humanity would cease to exist on Dec. 22, 2012 when that alien race completed its conquest of Earth. In the fictional world of Scully and Mulder, we now know that “apocalypse” (now) came and went without so much as a burp. Uh oh . . . No wonder our other old friend — poor, unshaven, besotted Mulder — has turned into a Web-addicted shut-in who has to hitchhike to get to where he’s going . . . which is pretty much nowhere these days. At the outset of this six-parter, he’s embittered and world weary, or maybe just wishing the world really had come to an end when it was supposed to.

Besides that end date, there are plenty of other loose ends to attend to here. What about William, the child of Scully and Mulder (who possibly was not the father)? What about Samantha, Mulder’s long-lost sister who set his quest in motion all those years ago? (She may be dead, or maybe not.) The truth is out there, along with a lot of missing characters.

Why should any of this matter except to devoted fans? Because “The X-Files,” one of the glories of the small screen, told them it should matter. Not (of course) that they should believe in aliens, or abductions, or in that specific 2012 end-date business, but that they should think hard about the big stuff, like God, the meaning of life, or whether there truly are mysteries beyond our ken.

By attaching all the fictive nonsense to quasi-religious tangents — faith, belief, skepticism, doubt, salvation — “X-Files” really did create the grand illusion that Mulder’s quest was almost an allegory for the thinking fan’s quest. Add to this the show’s monster-of- the-week and comedy episodes, plus all that sexual tension between the leads, and “Files” was the ne plus ultra of nerdist TV fantasies — at least until “Lost” came along.

The hardest of cases, or those fans who truly have held on to the "I Want to Believe Too"   illusion all these years, may be bitterly disappointed by what creator Chris Carter has cooked up. The so-called “mytharc” — the alien mythology — takes a jagged hard-right Sunday night, skittering off the road like a flying saucer skipping across the New Mexico landscape. “Files” inverts the nine season arc so quickly that a few million viewers may suffer whiplash.

But there is another way to approach these episodes — the first three were made available to critics — and it’s the one I’m taking. “Files” always was a broad wink to viewers, refusing (at least until the last couple of seasons) to take itself too seriously, and suggesting viewers shouldn’t either. The Feb. 1 episode, “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-monster,” written by “Files” in-house comic writer, Darin Morgan, is another “Files” reminder that there are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamed of — but we should at least laugh at some of them.

And yet another way to look at this: Old friends are always welcome. Scully and Mulder always will be.  

BOTTOM LINE Above-average special effects and the presence of two old and beloved friends — you know who! — more than make up for an eye-rolling new premise.

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