I started to get the warm and fuzzies when the theme song began to play. Those echoey, creepy tones I had heard so many times before filled me with an immense amount of joy.
The X-Files is back. A six-episode mini-series will premiere at 10 p.m. Sunday on Fox. (The following five air at 8 p.m. Mondays.)
I was really excited about it. Then I saw the first episode.
That's a damning statement, because I enjoyed the following two episodes sent to critics (the third, in particular, is fantastic).
For newbies: The X-Files, one of Fox's first big hits, was about two FBI agents - Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (the divine Gillian Anderson) - who worked paranormal cases. The first half of the series, which started in 1993, was inventive and influential, but it sagged before the end in 2002.
The first episode of the mini-series is perhaps the best reason the feedback loop of pop culture nostalgia we're experiencing is not always for the best.
Will I watch the hell out of the Gilmore Girls reunion coming to Netflix? Don't even get me started on how excited I am to see Lorelei and Rory once more. Am I waiting with rabid anticipation for Showtime's continuation of the landmark Twin Peaks? Don't think I haven't already thought about what type of pie I'll be eating while watching the first episode (cherry, obviously).
But that's exactly why these reboots keep happening. Characters we already know and love are comfortable and easy. The movie industry has figured this out already. That's why seven of the top 10 highest-grossing movies last year were sequels, and it's why Netflix decided that what the cultural landscape really needed was an update on the Full House gang (Fuller House hits the streaming service Feb. 26).
Television is in such a wonderful period of growth and creativity now that reboots such as this are like the french fries of culture: I love seeing Mulder and Scully banter back and forth, but I know they're not really good for me.
Yet, just like french fries, I know I'm still going to devour The X-Files.
It's not just bad for me, but bad for TV's evolution. The great recent shows have been disruptors of the landscape, and that includes the original run of The X-Files. But The X-Files reboot feels exactly like it used to, and that makes it not revolutionary at all.
It's hard to be critical about a show so lodged in my subconscious. You think Star Wars: The Force Awaken's Rey was good for little girls to see? Try being a budding feminist watching Dana Scully - played so pitch-perfectly by Anderson - at work.
But after the initial excitement subsided, reality set in. The first episode gets the gang back together to deal with the show's "mythology" - Mulder's personal crusade to find out the truth behind alien abductions.
The FBI X-Files, it seems, were closed in 2002 (as in, the show got canceled). Mulder, who had been largely absent from the final season, and Scully parted ways (save for the 2008 theatrical release The X-Files: I Want to Believe), but they return to their old gigs at the behest of a conservative talk-show host (Community's Joel McHale) who has access to many a shady extraterrestrial dealing.
The episode is stilted and odd, the plot not engaging, and no one looks particularly excited to be there. So much time is spent on exposition and reminders of the past that it's groan-worthy.
The following two entries are episodic, monster-of-the-week affairs and they reminded me how good The X-Files could be.
But that's the problem, because they are exactly like the old X-Files, and that belies how truly different The X-Files felt during its original run.
The X-Files' impact can be felt not just in its content but its structure. The show could veer between different tones and types of episodes, which is exactly how the first half of the mini-series starts. The first episode is a mythology episode; the second changes course.
"Founder's Mutation" uses the episodic case to explore issues of parenthood and unbroken familial bonds through a sci-fi lens (shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer made this metaphoric type of storytelling de rigueur). The third episode - "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" - is hilarious (it's a Darin Morgan-written episode, and his credit always means we're about to watch something special).
But the quality isn't really the problem here. It's the television that keeps getting resurrected when maybe it's best it stayed buried. There are so many ways to tell new stories on TV, but that opportunity is being squandered as creators continue to rely on the old.
I'm excited to see what the final three episodes of The X-Files have to offer, but, for the good of TV, it might have been better for The X-Files to stay closed.