I've been an X-Files fan since I was 8. Some of the happiest times of my life were Friday nights with my Dad, eating a walk-in special from Pizza Pizza and watching some guy vomit up a bloody fluke worm in the shower, or sprout a giant asparagus from his neck, or digest his victim's body fat through a kiss.
So when I learned that the series was being rebooted for a six-episode run, to begin shooting in June, I felt sad and disappointed. I don't begrudge new generations the fun, and I'm not invulnerable to the possibility of actually seeing Mulder and Scully do it. (Though it would be cool if the series began with a shot of the two of them bored in bed, not having sex, in the dregs of whatever their thing was.) I just think The X-Files belongs to the past, and can give us more enjoyment from there.
The X-Files was unlike anything I ever thought I'd get to see. In its time, it was the most striking show on television – but it belongs to that time. Since then, of course, TV has gotten much more ambitious, dark and explicit, with American Horror Story on one hand; Oz, The Sopranos and The Wire on the other. All respect to Chris Carter, a reboot doesn't seem likely to compete with what's happened since The X-Files debuted; judging by 2008's The X-Files: I Want to Believe, it doesn't stand a chance.
One of the best things about The X-Files is how innocent, and how comforting, the show can seem in hindsight. "I think of it as a 13-year commercial break," Carter said in the press release for the new series, which will air on Fox. "The good news is the world has only gotten that much stranger," which is in fact bad news, and a good reason why The X-Files should remain mostly a nineties phenomenon, living on in the hearts and minds and fan fiction of its audience.
The world is more terrifying than it was back in 1993; at least, we're more aware of the ways in which it's terrifying. Cataclysm and conspiracy seem much less speculative now, while, at the same time, conspiracy theorists seem way less sexy than Mulder ever was. The idea of a world in which aliens are the problem is a nice fantasy; so is a world in which renegade skeptics are relatively sensible in other areas of life, and capable of saving us all (as well as witty and hot).
Watching as a kid, the show's world seemed near enough not to complicate my sense of reality, but far enough to seem implausible. It's comforting to be frightened under those circumstances. (Way more frightening was reading about serial killer Ed Gein in The X-Files Book of the Unexplained, Vol. 2.) The older you get, the more you cherish those early scares from before you know what to be afraid of.
I don't mean to play down how terrifying the show could be. It would be a massive bummer if those aliens really existed. The Flukeman of season two's episode The Host will stay with us forever; so will the feeding habits of Eugene Victor Tooms, and the breeding habits of the Peacock family in season four's Home. At the time, in my view, there was only one thing scarier on TV – the short-lived Millennium, also Carter's, starring Lance Henriksen as a forensic profiler who "sees what the killer sees." Its pilot showed, among other things, a man buried alive with his eyes and mouth sewn shut.
Millennium was deeply freaky, and still is, but it balanced the most horrifying ideas (for instance, a cult that punishes wayward members by dosing them with LSD and throwing them into a giant microwave) with a premise that was bound to become kitschy: The violence and gore was part of an overall apocalypse mythology, and there were a lot of flaky religious overtones that take out the sting in hindsight, while they screwed me up good at the time.
Likewise, The X-Files's mythology seems more quaint than menacing upon reflection: It's more fun to worry about alien colonists than the global water crisis. (Hopefully no big news breaks on the alien front before this goes to press.) It pains me to point out how corny the show can be – from its opening theme, with the Windows visuals and weird, sprouting bean-pod thingies, to the Cigarette Smoking Man's grandiose one-liners. But the cheese is endearing, and it takes the edge off the rest, like a plush-toy version of a bed bug.
Updating the show for our time strikes me as incredibly iffy. It might infect a beloved artifact with our present-day worries. And it carries the risk, that any such project does, of replacing our first impressions with newer, less inspired ones. Those original impressions are alive and well in our imaginations, and the inevitable Mulder/Scully love scene has nothing on what's in our heads.