Turgid reboot blows chance to join bevy of top-rate modern dystopian thrillers, writes Duncan Greive.

We live in an era of paranoia, dislocation and governmental distrust. Snowden and Assange. PRISM and drone strikes. In New Zealand we've had

Dirty Politics

and the GCSB hearings and "The Moment of Truth", however botched. It all functions as a perfect haze through which the rebooted


mini-series can emerge, telling its conspiracy theorist tales to an audience accustomed to periodically finding out unbelievable stories of governmental abuse (Litvinenko's poisoning, say) or corporate abuse (Newscorp's phone hacking) are, in fact, true.

Unfortunately the first episode, which aired last night on TV2, was one of the most disappointing, turgid and plain dumb pieces of television I've seen in a long time. It functioned like a recap of much of the show's existing mythos and, rather than incorporating a fresh set of fears drawn from contemporary news and society, it retreated to its old, familiar warhorses of coverups and aliens and shadowy government agents blowing things up.


The series opens with a lengthy Mulder monologue recapping the past hundred or so years in X-Files-y "news": Roswell, Area 51 - you know the deal. It serves to orientate our mentality to the past, rather than the present or future.

Tellingly, the original (and excellent) title sequence plays out, with Mark Snow's still-chilling theme, before we hit the main narrative.

It's set in the present day. Gillian Anderson - who, shockingly, was originally offered just half her co-star's salary for the reboot, another throwback to the original series - returns as Scully, now an acclaimed surgeon at a flash hospital. David Duchovny's Mulder is living in some cabin in the woods, way off the grid, doing ... not a lot, it seems.

They're thrust back together when a charismatic, Glenn Beck-esque right-wing online TV host - played by a lively Joel McHale - demands a meeting, claiming world-shaking news. They convene in his limo.

And talk. Get used to it. The episode is a series of long conversations. This is unfortunate, because the script is howlingly awful. An example:

Mulder: "This is everything I believe!"

Scully: "This is everything you want to believe!"

And so on, forever. Both leads turn out appalled performances, supremely disengaged, as if they're attempting to convey with their disinterest how little they care for this project. Anderson in particular, who was prickly and charged in serial killer thriller The Fall, is unrecognisably slovenly here.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in a scene from The X-Files.
David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in a scene from The X-Files.

The plot, such as it is, meanders on. We meet a woman who claims to have been impregnated by dozens of aliens, with perforations in her stomach to prove it. Mulder interrogates her desultorily for about five minutes (it feels like an hour) before pronouncing her the evidence that will unlock the vast global conspiracy he's been trying to figure out his whole life.

It's something about powerful men and shadowy corporations and perpetual war and just the same old tired cliches that have kept obscure printers then poorly designed websites then marginal Facebook friends in business for 60-odd years.

The episode concludes with the talk-show host vowing to tell the world this awful secret, before he mysteriously disappears from cyberspace. The alien-birther recants her testimony before being blown up. An alien spacecraft of indeterminate importance: also blown up. A lot of explosions happen, basically, but you'd struggle to understand what they mean - the vast conspiracy at the episode's heart is never convincingly explained or made real, and when it sputters to a close the big question you're left pondering is not an existential dilemma, but instead: "is that it?"

So: an opportunity not just wasted, but, yes, blown up, and in a very public way. All the more disappointing, given that shows like Homeland, The Americans (whose Nina Krilova has an inconsequential cameo here) and, most pointedly, the hacker thriller Mr Robot have shown that techno-dystopia and governmental over-reach remain extremely fertile ground for television. But in refusing to update its style or theories for 2016, the X-Files becomes the show which time forgot. And, based on the risible first episode, one we'll soon forget again.