'X-Files' reboot off to a shaky start

Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny return as Dana Scully and Fox Mulder in "The X-Files."

The return of "The X-Files" reveals its game plan as soon as the opening credits — which haven't changed one iota.

The haunting and iconic theme, the retro imagery, the close-ups of Mulder's and Scully's FBI badges, the blinking eye, "The Truth is Out There" capper. It's all here.

The unchanged credits are a statement of intent: Yeah, a lot's happened to TV since we went off the air more than 13 years ago, but wasn't TV great when it was just TV? And weren't the '90s fun? Let's pretend nothing has changed.

And so "The X-Files" returns as pretty much the same show it was: a hokey, funny, occasionally brilliant and usually uneven sci-fi procedural with an overarching alien conspiracy and an underlying sexual tension that each popped up every so often.

The formula was successful enough to warrant nine seasons and two movies, and it mostly works in this new miniseries, despite (or perhaps because of) it feeling like such an anachronism.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson's refusal to age like normal human beings certainly lends credence to the idea that we're watching the exact same show and that little time has passed. And yet much time has passed.

The last time we saw Mulder and Scully was in 2008's disappointing "The X-Files: I Want to Believe." Now Scully is working as a surgeon in Washington, D.C., and Mulder is off the grid and, well, doing Mulder stuff.

They rarely talk anymore but are pulled back together by Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) and a smarmy neoconservative Web show host named Tad O'Malley (an oddly cast but enthusiastic Joel McHale). O'Malley reconvinces Mulder of an alien conspiracy with global implications.

Airing tonight, this first episode — "My Struggle" — really hits the ground running before tripping all over itself. We get a few minutes of recap from Mulder. But then we're off to a flashback to Roswell, New Mexico. Then O'Malley is taking Mulder to see "free energy"-powered spaceships in a top-secret bunker. Then O'Malley gives a motor-mouthed monologue on the evil elite and their plans for world domination via fast food consumption and alien invasions. Oh, and we meet Sveta — who might have alien DNA!

Mulder and O'Malley think they're onto "a conspiracy bigger and more secret than the Manhattan Project, more odious and far-reaching."

Scully rolls her eyes at their bold proclamations and stunning lack of evidence.

So did I.

Though I admire the episode's manic energy, it's just too much loony hooey. And loony hooey that's too solemn and clunkily executed to be much fun. "My Struggle" — written and directed by series creator Chris Carter — was a really unfortunate way to kick off the miniseries, but at least it does the work of reopening the X-Files by the end of the hour.

"X-Files" fans usually lean in one direction or the other. Either you love the serialized alien conspiracy subplot or you wish Mulder and Scully would get back to the weird standalone episodes. I fall squarely in the latter camp and was pleased to see that Episodes 2 and 3 operate mostly in isolation from the larger story.

"Founder's Mutation," which airs Monday night, is a marked improvement over "My Struggle." The second episode deals tangentially with the conspiracy — Mulder and Scully's child is addressed — but it's more concerned with a mad scientist, a telekinetic teen and a bloody baby crawling out of a self-imposed C-section.

"Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster," which will air Feb. 1, is even better. This episode, written by Darin Morgan, feels like a lost classic, a funny and low-stakes adventure that thrives on Duchovny and Anderson's chemistry, some witty dialogue and a gleefully absurd plot.

A lizardlike creature is reportedly killing people, which draws the interest of the X-Files. A newly skeptical Mulder wants to believe more than ever in the supernatural but is prepared for a mundane explanation. But to his delight, the case just keeps getting stranger.

"I forgot how much fun these cases could be," Scully tells Mulder. Word, Scully.

"Were-Monster" even manages to pivot into a surprisingly philosophical episode, delving into some caustic satire about what it means to be human in 2016. It's the kind of left-field hour of television that "The X-Files" so often excelled at.

The miniseries will run a total of six episodes. I doubt the final three episodes will ditch the alien subplot so readily as "Were-Monster," but nonetheless, I want to believe.

Contact the writer: micah.mertes@owh.com, 402-444-3182 twitter.com/MicahMertes


Three episodes watched for review

"My Struggle" Airs 9 o'clock tonight on Fox Grade: C

"Founder's Mutation" Airs 7 p.m. Monday

Grade: B-

"Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster"

Airs 7 p.m. Feb. 1

Grade: A-

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