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Second ‘X-Files’ revival improves on the first, but not by much

January 3, 2018 GMT

Second ‘X-Files’ revival improves on the first, but not by much

CLEVELAND, Ohio - If you were disappointed with the six-episode 2016 revival of the iconic sci-fi series “The X-Files,” get ready for more of the same if you watch the latest resurrection of the once-revered sci-fi show.

While the newest incarnation of the venerable series is an improvement over the six chapters that aired in 2016, many of the inconsistencies and shortcomings remain.

The premiere shrouds itself in uncertainty right off the bat, invalidating much of what happened in the apocalyptic final episode of the previous revival, the events of which are now described as a vision.

The showrunners were likely trying to set the stakes, but only created doubt and reservation, with the audience now unsure of what is real and what is merely imagined. Much of what happens in the first several episode is presented as if it’s really happening. But then again, so were the events of the revival’s finale.

“The X-Files” has always been a flawed series, asking more questions than it answers, leaving gaping plot holes and more often than not failing to provide the payoff that it promises.

But during the show’s first six or so seasons - which aired in the ’90s - the good was enough to make up for the bad.

Creator Chris Carter and his writing team crafted suspenseful tales of aliens, mutants and supernatural creatures that wowed audiences and managed to generate plenty of scares, even though you knew the two main characters, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, would always survive.

Unfortunately the show dipped in quality as it aged, and it seemed the writers came up with stories that pushed the limits of credulity in vain attempts to offer something fans hadn’t seen before.

The showrunners behind the current version veer off that course but end up creating the opposite problem, setting up intriguing scenarios but losing their focus and spending too much time on the elements of the story that ultimately don’t matter, all the while glossing over the elements that do.

In the season’s second episode, for example, Mulder and Scully receive a message from a character they believe to be dead. How is he alive and why is he contacting them now? Those are the most relevant questions following a chilling cold open. Unfortunately they’re pushed to the side in favor of a few poorly executed action scenes that last long enough to amount to a colossal waste of time. After all, the duo only has an hour to solve the conundrum.

The fifth episode begins with two teenage girls stabbing each other after seeing visions of a monster that isn’t there. One would think the mysterious force behind those visions would be the focus of the episode. Unfortunately, the attention shifts and the apparitions are barely mentioned again, with the explanation relegated to a few throwaway lines.

A new dynamic between the two leads also robs the show of much of the charm that made it so memorable following it’s 1993 premiere.

The conspiracy-obsessed Mulder (David Duchovny) and his skeptical partner Scully (Gillian Anderson), are as charismatic as ever. Unfortunately their roles have shifted.

Scully now buys into Mulder’s wild explanations for the strange happenings they investigate, but only to a point. Sometimes she joins her partner in the role of intrepid believer, and other times she asks the necessary questions that once defined her character.

At times her skepticism seems like a token gesture, but in other instances it feels genuine, and the jarring shifts make it hard to know where she stands. Has Scully grown beyond ingrained notions of truth and established science?

It’s hard to know for sure, and with Scully increasingly playing the part of a true believer, the series loses much of the back-and-forth that made the show so watchable when it first hit the airwaves.

And in the era of Infowars, the Mulder’s hunt for proof of alien visitors doesn’t seem as fresh as it did before the internet age.

When “The X-Files” first slithered its way into the public consciousness in the early ’90s, Mulder’s quest to expose the truth made him seem like a noble freedom fighter, battling jack-booted thugs bent on concealing government schemes.

In the days of conspiracy-obsessed pundits praying on an ill-informed and paranoid public, his adventures strike the audience as far less virtuous. While the show tries to separate Mulder from the Alex Joneses of the world - in one scene he demands proof from mistrustful source covered in forehead sweat in a dingy DC-area parking lot - the show never quite succeeds in holding its hero to a higher standard.

On top of its new flaws, the 11th season of “The X-Files” suffers from many of the shortcomings that plagued the show since it first burst into living rooms across the country.

The government conspiracy at the center of the show’s mythology offered tantalizing clues in the first three or four seasons, but dragged on laboriously after it became clear that the writers were stalling over a lack of good ideas for a conclusion.

When Carter finally ordered the mystery unraveled in the sixth season, the ending was well short of gratifying.

The two mythology episodes in the 2016 revival were a microcosm of the original mythology, asking big questions but failing to leave enough time to answer them.

The season 11 premiere seems to continue that trend, offering so many mysteries (for example: how is the cigarette smoking man still alive after the show has killed him off at least twice?) it would take a lifetime to unravel all of them.

“The X-Files” premieres tonight at 8 p.m.