The X-Files turns twenty -- is it time to reboot?
The X-Files turned twenty this week. Despite its somewhat advanced age, the groundbreaking series has never felt more relevant. The show's paranoid vision of government conspiracies seems positively prescient in light of revelations about NSA spying in defiance of U.S. law and custom. Its embrace of science fiction and the supernatural were unusual for its time -- today they'd seem downright mainstream. And where The X-Files, with its complex alien-conspiracy mythos, was among the most serialized shows on television at the time, these days an even higher degree of serialization has become the norm, at least among the heavyweight dramas. Given all that, maybe it's time to reboot The X-Files
That might sound crazy -- or perhaps blasphemous, depending on your degree of devotion to the original series -- but there's no reason it couldn't work. When Star Trek: The Next Generation was first unveiled, a strong segment of fans of the original were staunchly opposed, certain that no new-school version of their beloved show could work, especially one with an all-new crew. We all know how that worked out -- TNG is widely considered the superior Trek, and its success only helped the original series cement its place in history. Why couldn't The X-Files pull off the same trick?
Is there an audience for science fiction and horror television? Unquestionably. Does the original show have a dedicated cult following to form the seed of its new fandom? It does. Is show creator Chris Carter doing anything else at the moment? He is not. Were there unanswered questions, unresolved plotlines and new directions left to explore when the original series ended? You're goddamn right there were.
See? The pieces are all in place.
By the time the original X-Files ended, the show's tangled mythology was, admittedly, something of a mess. That's not a problem, though -- it's an opportunity. The show was always filled with red herrings, false flags and weird detours. The reboot would be a perfect opportunity to sit down, plot out just exactly what the fuck was actually supposed to be going on the whole time, and retcon the original mythology with some smart stories that clear up the ambiguity and outright contradictions of the original. The mere fact that the date for full alien colonization put forth in the original has since passed is a major opportunity to make a clean break from the Old Testament X-Files and set a new path for version 2.0. What would this look like? How the hell would I know? I am, however, eager to find out.
Like Star Trek: The Next Generation, the way forward is to make a break from the past without forgetting it. That would mean new characters portrayed by new actors -- David Duchovny can stick with Californication as his day job, and Gillian Anderson can keep doing whatever she is up to these days. That said, one or both of them would make excellent guest stars reprising their roles, playing the kind of mysterious benefactor role that Deep Throat and X played to their characters in the original series.
Let's suppose this theoretical X-Files reboot starts with an up-and-coming FBI superstar stepping on the wrong toes and being shuffled into the ultimate dead-end assignment by his vindictive superiors -- re-opening the X-Files. Partnered with a True Believer who's every bit as credulous as he is skeptical, and eager to get his career back on track as quickly as possible, he resolves to debunk the bullshit X-Files and move on. Only things don't work out quite as planned when he starts to discover that, despite his skepticism, there may actually be some weird shit going on out there...
For a while, it felt like Fringe was trying to do this exact thing, at least unofficially, but that turned out not to be the case. For better or for worse (probably better), that show went its own direction and found its own audience. But I can't be the only person who watched the first season of Fringe hoping it would develop into something of a spiritual successor to The X-Files, can I? I can't be the only one thinking that The X-Files' smart, scary distillation of urban myths, from shadowy conspiracy theory to alien abduction, into a grand, unified vision of modern horror would work even better today than when it aired. I just can't be. So, c'mon, Chris Carter, how about a new X-Files? I want to believe (again).