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Review: 'The X-Files' returns with weak story line, but better episodes follow

| Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, 11:18 a.m.
Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) return to Fox on Jan. 3 with 10 new episodes of 'The X-Files.'
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Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) return to Fox on Jan. 3 with 10 new episodes of 'The X-Files.'

Trying to explain what happens in the latest batch of 10 new episodes of "The X-Files" would be complicated enough just because of the strange, bizarre and flexible style of storytelling used in the Fox sci-fi/fantasy drama since it launched in 1993. Add to that a passionate plea from the team behind the show not to give away any details about what transpires after the end of the six-episode run return of "The X-Files" from two years ago and you are just going to have to trust that "The X-Files" is as fascination and frustrating as ever.

In case you forgot, the six-episode run ended with the world on the verge of total annihilation because everyone had lost their immune systems. A host of diseases was set to wipe out all humans. Even Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) looked to have one foot in the grave just at the moment a giant alien-looking craft appeared in the sky.

Details of how that scenario is handled in the new shows are heavily classified, but what can be said is the way the previous short-run series is bridged into the new is very unsatisfying.

One of the hallmarks of "The X-Files" has always been that the thick mythology that ran through the series could be altered or manipulated when needed. It's not a documentary about an FBI team that explores the strange and unusual; it's a fictionalized tale.

The adjustments made for the opening episode show less of the kind of creative skills that made episodes like "Triangle," "Home" and "Ice" so memorable and come across as a uninspired solution to what looked like an unfixable situation.

The good news is the show gets better. Once the bridge has been completed to the new offerings, "The X-Files" shifts into the same kind of alternating storytelling style used from the beginning.

In a 2016 interview to talk about the return of "The X-Files" after 14 years, series creator Chris Carter said, "The signature of the show was we would do a mythology episode, and then you could do a monster-of-the-week episode, and then you can do a comedy episode and go right back to a mythology episode, and it worked, and the audience went with you week to week.

"The thing we became known for was our range, how the show could come right back to its original concept. We did that always in the run of the original series."

Stand-alone episodes have always been the best format for the series, as it would give Mulder and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) the opportunity to investigate and defeat the creature of the week. Solo episodes gave viewers a break from trying to keep track of the complicated threads that had to do with conspiracies, kidnappings, close encounters of the weird kind and how all the histories of the characters align.

That mixing of styles worked as, during its nine-season run, the series went from a sci-fi favorite with a small but loyal fan base to being a massive global hit.

"The X-Files" earned 16 Emmy Awards, five Golden Globes and a Peabody Award. All that goes to making the first episode of this latest batch of new shows all the more frustrating, as it has taken a far too lazy path. More would be said, but out of respect for the series, the only way to find out what makes the return so unsatisfying is to watch.

Don't give up on the show because of the first episode, as the format quickly shifts to more self-contained episodes. "This," airing 8 p.m. Eastern Jan. 10, features the return of a popular character who reaches out to Mulder and Scully for help. The identity of the character is also considered to be top secret, but it is a superbly written story that brings the character back.

A week later, "Plus One," gets back to the roots of "The X-Files" when a series of deaths are caused by the doppelgangers of the victims. And the Jan. 24 episode, "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat," looks at the idea of how a group of people can have a different memory of history.

The embargo on details makes it nearly impossible to talk about the new batch of "The X-Files." But, the show has always stressed that sometimes the impossible is possible.

How much you like the latest leap into the supernatural will depend on your past relationship with Scully and Mulder. Loyal fans will forgive the weakness of the opener and then be rewarded by some very strong individual episodes. If you are only a passive fan, the opener will be a serious test of whether or not you want to believe it is worth sticking around for other episodes.

Rick Bentley is a Tribune News Service writer.

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