Do we need to talk about how bad that "X-Files" premiere was last night?

To cleanse the palate, a thread for those who are sticking around for episode two tonight. Which, I should add, I am. Word on the street is that the second and third hours are better than the first.

But that bar is low. The only debate today is whether the first hour was, as Sonny Bunch insists, so bad it’s good or, as I maintain, so bad it’s … really, really bad.

[L]iterally within minutes of episode run time—this guy shows Mulder more stuff than he learned during ten years on the show. He sees an alien replica ship powered by a free, unlimited source of energy (electromagnetic waves, man!) that can float and literally disappear in the blink of an eye and realizes that his whole life has been a sham. Everything we’ve seen in the previous episodes has been a lie. Aliens weren’t fighting to take over the Earth, man! They were coming to save us and their technology was stolen by the military-industrial complex so, like, the oil companies wouldn’t lose out on their profits…

It’s hard to explain how truly silly the episode is, but thinking about one little snippet might help: About three-quarters of the way through the episode, Mulder provides the voice over for a montage of familiar images explaining how all the dots connect and in this footage we see George W. Bush appear several times—”mission accomplished” and all that—while being told that we’ve been put in a state of constant warfare and fattened up by the corporations to keep from rebelling against the militarized police in our streets…

It’s after this montage that we finally understand series creator Chris Carter’s reason for returning to this well: he has the longest-running case of Bush Derangement Syndrome on record. Fox Mulder isn’t a FBI agent or an ET-hunter at this point in his life. He’s a Daily Kos commenter. He’s a Reddit thread made flesh.

The opening scenes felt as if Carter had one or two full episodes’ worth of material ready to go and Fox told him to cut it down to, say, eight minutes. There’s no backstory (yet?) on what Mulder and Scully have been up to these many years. There’s no apparent reason why Mulder and Scully, neither of whom work for the FBI now, are so willing to meet with an Alex-Jones-ish loon to talk UFOs. (There’s also no apparent reason why Carter would cast an affable comedian like Joel McHale in the serious, vaguely sinister role of the Jones figure.) As Bunch says, within what felt like five minutes of the opening credits, Mulder is face to face with the most astounding hidden treasures of the government’s grand alien cover-up, a bizarre paydirt moment for a show that succeeded by leading him on an endless goose chase. And then most of the rest of the hour is devoted to wheels-within-wheels claptrap: Turns out the conspiracy to suppress evidence of alien visitations is actually a conspiracy to promote the idea of alien visitations as a smokescreen for more mundane conspiracies, like invading Iraq and the NSA reading your e-mail. At least I think that’s what it was; having watched this trainwreck sober, I can’t be sure. It’s also painfully obvious, even with just one episode in the bank, that McHale’s character will turn out to be part of the conspiracy himself, some sort of double agent tasked by the government to lead Mulder down the wrong trail and away from the Actual Truth, which, I assume is that there really is a conspiracy to suppress evidence of aliens.

But that doesn’t capture how campy it was. Mulder, who used to look and sound perpetually half-asleep, seemed genuinely stoned this time, never more so than when he was dropping his Unified Truthbomb Theory on Scully about how the aliens and the military-industrial complex and war are all connected, man. The unlikely casting of McHale, whom I know mainly from his many years of introducing especially dopey Kardashians clips on “The Soup,” made the Alex Jones figure seem more ridiculous than he needed to be. The gratuitous Bush references felt so dated, and so seemingly obligatory for a pre-Obama pop-culture fixture, that they operated almost as self-parody. There was even a requisite “disillusioned cop angrily confronts his father-figure sarge” scene between Mulder and Skinner. Either Bunch is right and Carter meant all of this sincerely, which means he’s tone-deaf to how laughable it turned out, or the campiness is evidence that Carter is winking at the conventions of his own show, which means true blue “X-Files” fans who are excited for a new chapter will actually be getting a sort of satire of the original, like “The Brady Bunch Movie.” Bad news either way if all you were looking for was some vintage X-F good times. Maybe tonight?

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Jazz Shaw 8:31 AM on March 18, 2023