This post contains what could be considered spoilers for the first episode of the new X-Files miniseries
There is a moment in the first episode of the upcoming X-Files miniseries that brings the sense of fun and even wonder of the original series at its best. It concerns ex-FBI Agent Fox Mulder — who used to run the X-Files program, investigating the cases the Bureau doesn't want to deal with — laying his hands on a piece of alien technology. His smile, and his childlike enthusiasm seen in this brief scene, are rare moments of light in the episode.
The rest of the episode is a confusing, disjointed and mostly dour mess of plot elements that just don't work.
You have Dana Scully, who is helping children born without ears. You have Fox Mulder, who has taped over the camera on his laptop and seems to have become something of a hermit suffering from depression. The two used to be involved both professionally and romantically. They hint at both with a mix of longing and anger, like any symbolically divorced couple who were once in love. The episode does a good job at bringing people up to speed if they haven't seen the original show.
But the episode is so busy winking at you while the actors repeat story beats from better, past episodes and quote catch phrases that it just doesn't have time to present a compelling re-entry into this world. If you were bothered by The Force Awakens needing to remind you every five minutes you were watching a Star Wars film, the X-Files return is going to drive you bonkers.
There is also the problem of the show's main themes. The idea of government conspiracies and the idea of somehow being safe from surveillance while using any form of technology seems quaint in 2016. We know they're watching us, that's an answered question. We also know they're pretty incompetent at most things. Paranoia has turned into tired resignation, and the X-Files as a series doesn't seem to know how to deal with this fact.
The casting of Joel McHale as a Fox News-style conspiracy theorist, complete with his somewhat fawning appreciation for Mulder's work, should have been perfect. But the character and his plot arc ultimately peter out to nothing. McHale gamely throws himself at the material, including a brief scene of what appears to be a date with Scully, but he can't save the script and its lack of forward momentum.
There is a scene where David Duchovny and Joel McHale go off on a multi-minute, tag-team word salad conspiracy theory that seems so disconnected from the rest of the episode that I expected someone to try to undercut it with a joke. At any moment it seemed like a member of the Insane Clown Posse would crash through the window, look at the camera and ask how magnets worked.
Mulder and McHale's talk show host have both possibly stumbled onto something truly scary, but their reaction to it, and each other, is so far off the deep end that it's hard to believe either character really takes what they're saying seriously.
There is no attempt to connect the plot points with anything close to coherence. What we're left with is a sort of closed loop: These people do these things because that's how people in the X-Files act, but it's just not supported in the episode's storyline or writing. The final scene, where the expected bad guy shows up and the expected thing happens to make sure we get more episodes, is more fan service than anything.
It's fun to see Mulder and Scully back in action, and the show sticks with its original opening credits and visual language for this updated version of the original, but the spark just isn't there in the opening episode.
I'm looking forward to the show airing on Jan. 24 to discuss the more concrete plot points I had issues with but, for now, let's hope future episodes get better.