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The revived X-Files, with David Duchovny as Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully, underlines how much has changed since the 1990s. (Ed Araquel/AP)
The revived X-Files, with David Duchovny as Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully, underlines how much has changed since the 1990s. (Ed Araquel/AP)

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John Doyle: The X-Files reboot: No reason to believe in this stunt Add to ...

I want to believe. Everybody wants to believe. One thing I do believe is that The X-Files arrived and departed at the right time. Things were different then.

When it arrived in 1993, The X-Files felt right. Dark, moody, drenched in melancholy, it was about things just out of reach – the ghostly, the hidden abnormality, the hint that governments kept dark secrets from the public.

FBI agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) believed that aliens had landed and that fact had been hidden. It led him to believe in all manner of strange and paranormal activity existing below the surface of seemingly ordinary events. And accept them. Side-kick Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) started out skeptical, but curious.

That was before Big Data and before WikiLeaks. When the series ended in 2002, its place as a must-watch drama about fear and paranoia was taken by 24, a far more germane exercise in fear and angst. Terrorism was real, the aliens and weirdos were, in comparison, tame and not worth the effort.

The six-part reboot of The X-Files (Sunday, Fox, CTV, 10 p.m.) only underlines how much the original series was defined by its time and how much has changed since then. It’s a wonky and slightly desperate attempt to revive the original and, in its first episode, deeply disappointing. If you want to wallow in nostalgia, you might like it, but it will leave you feeling like one of those characters who is abducted and poked and probed by aliens. It’s not a nice feeling.

This short-run reboot (continuing Monday, 8 p.m.) starts creakily and takes way too long to find any rhythm. It opens with a maddeningly long-winded voiceover from Duchovny as Mulder, an attempt to explain to newbies what “X-Files” means and where he is now. It feels rusty and over-explanatory and it signals what’s to come – a lot of time with the returning characters making speeches at each other. The subtle rhythm and tone of the original just isn’t there.

However, FBI assistant director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) is certainly there, and some other old familiars return. What spurs the new series forward is the case of a young woman named Sveta (Annet Mahendru, the disgraced Russian Nina on The Americans) who claims to have been repeatedly abducted by aliens. She’s convincing, sort of, but everything is further propelled by TV ranter Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), whose show Truth Squad claims to have the inside track on conspiracies.

Now, like a lot of people, I have no problem with Annet Mahendru taking up space on any TV drama. She’s formidable, always, as a vulnerable figure, misused and frightened. But, around her, there is the sort of lazy acting and speechifying that is simply dull.

Newbies coming to this will wonder, with justification, what anybody saw in the original. Mulder rambles on about “a venal conspiracy of men against humanity.” Scully tells him, in equally pretentious tones: “I’ve seen this before. You’re on fire with some truth. You want to believe. You want to believe so badly, you’re on dangerous ground.”

Yes, the first episode (written and directed by series creator Chris Carter) is that hoary and hokey. Fox (the network, not Mulder) has hastened to give us critics further episodes and, in fairness, the series settles down somewhat.

Yet, even three hours in, it still feels like hard work. The viewer is looking for the moral philosophy of questioning, allied with acceptance of the unusual and the weird, and not finding it.

There’s no doubt that some viewers will still enjoy this reboot and be transfixed again by the flinty relationship between Mulder and Scully. Add in the return of other characters and some people will relish the warm bath of nostalgia.

Others will feel rooked, and believe that this reboot is a mistake, a stunt that amounts to a ratings grab. And they will be right.

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Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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