It seems the rumours are true…
Inevitable as the rising sun, and about as discriminating, the reboot finger is pointed today at The X-Files. Twenty-one years, nine seasons and two films after Dana Sceptic wandered into Foxy Mildew’s basement office and smouldered with stoic incredulity at his fantastical delusions the show’s creator is apparently having ‘conversations’ about a reboot. We should not be surprised.
Two decades and a dozen X-Files-influenced shows down we live in a world where comic-book movies break box-office records, spawning extensive franchises hauling in billions of dollars, where sci-fi films command headlines all over the world, and so it comes full circle. The geek has inherited the Earth and seems intent on remaking it again and again in its own image There is, it seems, no point in fighting the future and its insatiable appetite for the past.
But can a show so influential and this ingrained in popular culture survive a rebooting? What have we learned about this process in recent years?
24’s Jack Bauer does not seem to age, nor has his ability to protect presidents and quash terrorists diminished. There may be fluctuations in CTU personnel and which various Bauer family member is in danger but nothing essential has changed. There will always be terrorists, and we will always need a Jack Bauer – the show’s recent outing was named Live Another Day for a reason. And as we near the twenty-fifth anniversary of Twin Peaks, and despite two decades of constant fan-based grumpiness (thank goodness Twitter wasn’t invented back then…), we are no closer to a revisiting of that sleepy northwestern town and this is a good thing. Its story is told.
Twin Peaks may have influenced The X-Files in many ways but it has a nostalgic wash that is implicit to its survival; it exists in its own time, to bring it up to date would suffocate it. Chris Carter’s show was about us dealing with technology, and slapping us out of our Cold War complacency. We were told to watch the skies but the danger was in the ground beneath our feet. Now the implicit trust we placed in our governments has eroded once more, spurred on by the Wikileaks revelations and the work of people such as Edward Snowden, to a point where the distant faceless figures now no longer hide in the shadows. The legacy of the X-Files is not limited to narrative storytelling on TV, it is in the fabric of how we understand ourselves and our society. It did not make us stand up and hold those in power to account but it did remind us that it is an essential part of what it is to be a democracy. Is it possible that the real world events, and unearthing of nefarious government organisations, could make the conspiracy theories of Next Mulder redundant? Almost quaint?
I’ve never understood the notion of rebooting something if you aren’t going to do something fundamentally different with the premise. After all The X-Files tried to bring in new characters in later seasons, with variable and ephemeral success. Having two new FBI agents pour over the many unsolved X-Files cases seems like a wasted opportunity; at best it is nostalgic, born of whimsy and at worst the result of fear and a lack of imagination. Also – didn’t anyone see Fringe? It’s not as if we’ve been without a supernatural copshow recently.
It could be that the inspiration cycle continues and today’s numerous teen-friendly supernatural shows, which owe their existence to Carter’s show, could influence the direction of a reboot. Setting it in the same world and having a new generation take over from Mulder and Scully, reducing them to an advisory capacity, would be a mistake. Like Ghostbusters 3 seems so desperate to do this would end up rebooting a film world keeping things the same. There is no point in bringing in fresh blood who will have the same questions and, ultimately, get the same answers.
An option no-one would consider is a ten-episode revisiting, let’s say on Netflix, where Chris Carter could return to the world of the X-Files years on, for one last hurrah. For the end. To kill it.
At the start of the second X-Files film we saw Mulder in full reclusive mode complete with paranoia beard. Scully comes to see him and for a moment it seemed as those they were going to do something amazing – actually show how poisonous and pointless their actions had been. The film fell apart when everything returned to normal and there was a mystery to solve. But how about doing things the other way round and having a Macguffinesque mystery lead to this final realisation. Underline all the themes, place full stop at the end.
I’d watch that.