I Want To Believe in the X-Files Reboot

Whether or not you’ve seen an episode of The X-Files, you’ve felt its impact. Investigation duos with palpable romantic chemistry, monster of the week episodes and hardcore shipping discourse is the X-Files legacy. The show premiered in 1993, each episode focussing on a titular X-File, a supernatural case with no rational explanation. The believer, David Duchovny’s Agent Mulder, and the skeptic, Gillian Anderson’s Agent Scully, work together to get to the bottom of these mysteries, each one leading toward a grand conspiracy at the heart of the US government. It’s been recently reported that Disney, the new handlers of the franchise, is moving forward with a reboot with Black Panther (2018) director Ryan Coogler attached. But what could a possible X-Files reboot look like? And what should it do differently than its predecessor? 

Firstly, it’s important to note that Chris Carter, the original series’ creator, is not involved in any way, but he’s generally positive about the idea and appreciative that they’ve asked for his blessing with this new reboot under Coogler. Additionally, this Dazed article remarks that Coogler is looking for a diverse cast to populate the new show, which Carter is excited about. 

As a fan of the show, (although I am only 6 seasons and 1 movie deep into this 11-season pilgrimage), I believe that an X-Files under a new direction by Coogler could bring an entirely new fanbase to the franchise. Go on Twitter and you’ll see that the X-Files community is alive and well. Fanfic writers, shippers, and fancam editors are keeping the flame and maintaining the fandom throughout the internet age. While the original show is perfectly accessible on Hulu, a new incarnation could shake the foundation of modern television. 

Scully (left) and Mulder (right) looking so very young.

TV watchers are inundated with countless 8 to 12 episode prestige dramas that, despite having earned their crown as quality programming, simply bore me to death. The X-Files, if brought back in all its 25-episode-per-season glory, could be a breath of fresh air. A longer season would allow more time with the characters and world and also give the show the room to be as experimental now as it was in the 90s. But if Marvel’s television efforts have taught me anything, it’s that audiences can hardly handle a bad episode anymore. Prestige dramas dominate most discussions of modern television, and fed on a steady diet of these shows, the modern TV viewer comes to expect an episode to not just be a single work, but to be a cog perfectly slotted in the machine that is a meticulously crafted narrative entirely inaccessible from the outside in. A handful of bad episodes in a short season is a huge problem compared to a couple of stinkers in a 25 episode season. And while I love the show, The X-Files has plenty of episodes that range from boring to downright bad. 

And that’s okay. 

Changing The X-Files to fit a modern format would be a huge mistake, as seen in the show’s 2016 revival. While season 10 is not the lowest rated season, and its 6 episode run time did include classic monster of the week episodes, these did not save it from a lukewarm reception. Coming back as an “event miniseries” may have been chic at the time, but it was the longer season 11 that ended the series as what many believed to be a return to form. 


Promo poster for the X-Files revival

None of this is to say that the show couldn’t do with some more narrative focus. I’m of the opinion that the show’s “mythology” episodes, those that deal with the overarching alien conspiracy plot, are largely boring and of little consequence. Of course, I could be proven wrong with a proper view of the whole series, but the monster of the week stories have the real juice. Making the mythology episodes have real stakes could be the key to fixing this wrinkle in the grand tapestry that is The X-Files

And any discussion of The X-Files cannot be complete without Scully and Mulder themselves: Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. The sheer potency of their on-screen and real life chemistry is the rock upon which the X-Files church is built. Outside of these two FBI (Flirting Blatantly Institution) agents, there aren’t too many characters in the show’s supporting cast besides their boss, Assistant Director Skinner, and the elusive antagonist only known as the Cigarette Smoking Man. It’s unclear whether or not Scully, Mulder, or any other pre-existing characters will return for the reboot, or if the reboot even takes place in the same continuity as the original. If Coogler is keen on a diverse cast, maybe it’s best if we left Scully and Mulder behind. 

Put simply, The X-Files is very white. The antagonists are literally a secret cabal of nearly identical old white guys in suits that talk in scary government jargon. These men can be so indistinguishable at times that I’ve literally gotten them confused while watching. This could be parlayed into some biting social commentary, but incorporating new voices into a discussion about the oppressive nature of the United States government should be a priority. 

The monsters, who are sometimes man. 

On many occasions, the show draws from the myths and folklore of various cultures to produce monsters for the agents to investigate. While I believe these efforts to be well-meaning, your mileage may vary on whether they’re respectful. For example, the season 1 episode “Shapes” and the season 2 finale “Anasazi”, handle Native American folklore in ways that can be seen as, at best, tropey, and at worst, leaning into stereotypes. Of course, I could be acting from my own cultural blind spots here, but I’ve always been uncomfortable with how cavalier this approach can be. I respect the attempt to represent these cultures, but representation behind the scenes, specifically in writers rooms and production, is just as important as representation on screen. 

My pitch for the reboot, if you’ll allow me, is for a team of agents to re-open the X-Files. A team dynamic affords the space to craft stories around specific characters with diverse backgrounds as well as particular character combinations. Just like DC’s animated Justice League show, assembling specific characters for specific plots could produce interesting outcomes and relationships that an episodic show can build upon throughout its longer runtime. 

It’s all too likely that we’ll get another duo of opposite gender investigators with sickeningly good romantic chemistry that build an intensely close relationship over however many seasons that fate affords this reboot. While I believe that an X-Files reboot could work, it needs a deft hand to guide it. Simply repurposing the old formula won’t work. Diagnosing what should be kept, like the episodic structure, while improving on elements that have always proved lacking, like the mythology episodes and cast diversity, could be what makes the new X-Files possibly even better than its predecessor.