An X-Files Retrospective, Part 13

24 Aug

The Lone Gunmen

The Lone Gunmen are amongst my favorite characters from The X-Files, and I had fond memories of their spinoff series, which I caught a bit of during its run in the year 2001. My taste must have been much less refined at age fourteen, because the series does not hold up to the test of time, nor to my nostalgic image of it. The least offensive word I can come up with to sum up my impression of this series is “horrendous.”

The Lone Gunmen never made it past the first season, and there is much discussion as to why. The most likely explanation is that the ratings just weren’t that great, but many believe the events of September 11th, 2001 killed the series (though I believe it was cancelled prior to that fateful day). This is in part due to the pilot’s uncanny similarities to the real-life events of September 11th, but also because the show deals with heinous government conspiracies and in the wake of the attacks on New York and D.C., no one really wanted to see our government portrayed in a negative light. We wanted Jack Bauer to capture some terrorists and torture the shit out of them.

Look at those sexy nerds...

Whatever the reason, The Lone Gunmen’s cancellation was a mercy killing, akin to Old Yeller getting taken out back and shot for catching rabies. The pilot is surprisingly good, similar in tone and style to “Unusual Suspects” and “Three of a Kind,” Lone Gunmen-centric episodes from The X-Files. But after that there’s a strikingly sharp drop in quality, intrinsically connected to the introduction of an unnecessary main character, and all of the season’s other twelve episodes are either mediocre, or awful. It’s sad, but it’s true. It’s no wonder the Season 9 episode of The X-Files which acted as a series finale for The Lone Gunmenwas entitled “Jump the Shark”- no doubt many fans were wondering if their beloved series had finally lost it while watching this painfully unfunny spinoff and the disappointingly mediocre eighth season of its sister series.

You know what would make this show better? A hot babe. Oh wait, no it wouldn't.

At least the pilot is good. It finds our three favorite nerds: James Fitzgerald Byers, Melvin Frohike and Richard “Ringo” Langley performing a Mission: Impossible-esque heist at a summit for defense contractors. They’re after the mysterious Octium IV chip, which is pilfered by a mysterious hacker named Yves Adele Harlow, an anagram for Lee Harvey Oswald, played by Zuleikha Robinson (Ilana from LOST). She’s your standard British-accented femme fatale, and her inclusion feels like a forced attempt to make a show about three goofy nerds sexy, but she isn’t a terrible character and I would have been just fine with her being the only new addition to the cast.

The pilot episode centers heavily on Byers, much like the two Gunmen eps from The X-Files. This is probably because he is the more normal of the three Gunmen as well as the group’s spiritual center, but after the pilot he rarely comes to the forefront. Frohike actually gets a lot more attention than you’d think, and both he and Langley get centric episodes down the line. The pilot also features Byers’ father, who helps him uncover a plot by the US government to remotely fly a jet liner into the World Trade Center and then use that as an excuse to invade a Middle Eastern country. As much as I liked this episode, I can’t deny that I found it unsettling, particularly the sequence in which the plane Byers and his father are aboard narrowly averts careening into one of the Twin Towers. It’s also bizarre as this is similar to the kinds of wacky theories the 9/11 Truth movement concocted after the tragedy. In the context of a pre-9/11 world this episode was scary and the concept was cool, but after a plane actually did destroy the World Trade Center much of its impact has been lost. Not because the events depicted remind one of one of America’s darkest days, but because after 9/11 it became apparent that our government wasn’t the creepy, calculating entity spawned from the intrigue of the Cold War, but a sorry excuse for a democracy run by incompetent, greedy bastards in bed with corporations too dumb and irresponsible to prevent an attack on their own soil, let alone concoct a plan as complicated and devious as destroying two of its tallest buildings.

The pilot sets the stage for the series but the rest of the episodes do not live up to the promise. Based on the pilot, one would think The Lone Gunmen would be a tech-heavy procedural that deals with more realistic conspiracies than The X-Files, occasionally lightened with a dash of humor courtesy of Frohike or Langley. But somewhere along the line someone said, “Hey? You know what this show needs? More comedy. And you know how we should do that? Let’s add a new character who’s literally a complete dumbass. That’d be hilarious, right? Cause the Lone Gunmen are geniuses, so if we saddle them with a retard the jokes will practically write themselves!” “That’s a great idea, Steve,” said Chris Carter. “Here’s a raise. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to write an X-Files episode focusing on an ex-NYPD cop and a vaguely Hispanic psychic nobody gives a shit about.”

Durrr........ I haz a headshot.

The second episode, “Bond, Jimmy Bond” introduces us to the titular jackass, who shares 007′s name because, hey, being a big, goofy blonde dumbass just wasn’t funny enough. I’d say he single-handedly ruins the show, but the truth is as awful and annoying of a character as he is, the real crime here is the terrible concepts and poor writing. But Jimmy Bond doesn’t help. The conceit for his existence is that he’s a rich doofus who the Gunmen meet while they’re investigating some corporate scam. Jimmy was previously coaching a blind football team (don’t ask… just don’t fucking ask…) but the Gunmen convince him to fund their paper once they reveal that the investor for his blind football league is scamming him. How do the writers establish that the Lone Gunmen are in dire need of cash, when they seem to have been operating just fine on their own for the past eight years? Their shitty Volkswagon bus breaks down. Durr…. haha!! Jimmy Bond. Durr.

On the show’s special features it’s explained that Jimmy was created as a cipher for the audience, so the Gunmen would have someone as utterly idiotic as the average American TV viewer who they could explain all their complicated techno babble to. Except that said techno babble seems mostly made up, and much of the series’ “drama” involved Langley or new supporting character Kimmy the Geek typing away furiously at a computer, occasionally saying something like “FIREWALL!!!” to make it seem authentic. Other than having things explained to him as if he were an infant, all Jimmy really does is fuck up the Gunmen’s plans only to redeem himself by randomly being competent.

But even if Jimmy weren’t around to muck things up, the concepts of the show’s episodes are just too stupid to be cool. “Eine Kleine Frohike,” one of the better episodes actually, has Frohike pretending to be the long lost son of an old German lady for some reason, who’s so German that she dresses him up like it’s Oktoberfest. “Three Men and a Smoking Diaper” is exactly what it sounds like: the Gunmen are saddled with a baby. HILARITY!! “Maximum Byers” has Byers and Jimmy go to prison. NERDS IN JAIL!! “The Cap’n Toby Show” involves Langley’s favorite childhood TV show. NOSTALGIA!!

Talking chimp? Jesus Christ... Jesus fucking Christ........

But there is no episode more heinous than “Planet of the Frohikes” which involves a super-smart chimpanzee contacting the Gunmen via email and then getting them to help him escape from an evil lab. He talks in the voice of Edward Woodward via computer and when he types it’s very obviously an ape sitting on the shoulders of a guy with ape makeup on his hands. It’s awful, truly, truly awful. Not funny. Not original. Not believable. Not cool. It’s just truly and utterly stupid. I don’t want to be overly harsh, but everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves. Take the Lone Gunmen, add Jimmy Bond and a talking chimpanzee and you have a travesty.

Other episodes add unnecessarily goofy backstories to our heroes. “Like Water For Octane,” which centers on a water-powered car, reveals that Langley grew up on a farm, because not only does that make a lot of sense, but hey, it’s funny, right? Worse is “Tango De Los Pistoleros” which delves into Frohike’s sordid past as a champion tango dancer nicknamed El Toro. Yeah, I believe that about as much as Bambi the hot entomologist from The X-Files.

Why, Chris Carter? WHY?!!!!

At least the season, and ultimately series finale, isn’t all that bad. It brings back Michael McKean’s skeevy man in black, Morris Fletcher, and a pretty hilarious opening sequence in which the Lone Gunmen briefly trick him into thinking he’s been abducted by aliens by constructing a flimsy version of the ball-clamping torture chair Mulder was strapped to for most of the eighth season. Fletcher is a pretty good villain, mostly because he’s just so damn lecherous, and as he’s a bit more comical than say, the Cigarette Smoking Man, he’s almost better suited for The Lone Gunmen. The episode also briefly features Mulder, and expands on the bubbling romance between Jimmy and Yves, though that relationship is about as believable as that time Mulder and Scully got really old on a submarine and then were totally fine the next day.

Though “All About Yves” is better than every other episode in the series other than the pilot, its concept is a little silly. At the time, mere months away from September 11th, it may have seemed cool, emphasis on the may. The government’s behind every terrorist attack and manmade disaster since JFK? That’s suitably creepy. But after September 11th such an idea just seems dumb. What really took me out of it was the reveal that the government had committed the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Sorry, X-Files, but that’s obnoxious even by 9/11 truther and/or “we never landed on the moon” conspiracy theorist standards. What possible gain could the US get out of spilling thousands of gallons of precious, precious oil onto a shoreline rich in wildlife? You know what’s a much more plausible explanation? That some dickhead captain fell asleep at the tiller cause he was shitfaced.

“All About Yves” ends on a cliffhanger, with the titular hottie and the three Gunmen captured by Morris Fletcher and his goons, who orchestrated the entire episode’s events just to entrap them. This dangling plotline would later be partially resolved by the X-Files episode “Jump The Shark” in its ninth season. If the writers had eliminated Jimmy somehow and crafted their second season to better reflect the tone of the pilot and finale, I may have watched another season of The Lone Gunmen. But let’s be honest: they never would have done that. It would have been the same goofy bullshit, over and over and over until the ratings went down and the show was cancelled. Fortunately for us all and for the good of mankind, The Lone Gunmen was put out of its misery before that could happen.

The Lone Gunmen is a huge disappointment. It’s a disservice to the three characters and not an acceptable companion piece to The X-Files. It suffers from what I think The X-Files also suffered from in its final two seasons: laziness. After so many years of writing the same show, one gets the impression that the writers were just sick of Mulder and Scully and little green men and everything that came with them. Writing had become a chore, not a joy, and it shows. The life, the vibrancy that made The X-Files‘ earlier seasons so amazing had been lost. It was all routine, and it shows in The Lone Gunmen. Plus, it didn’t help that what was arguably a comedy show wasn’t written by experienced comedy writers, so 99.9% of the jokes fail to hit their mark.

Avoid this like the plague, even if you’re an X-Files fan. This isn’t like Millennium; it’s not an acquired taste you may enjoy if you’re a devoted fan. It’s poop smeared over a moldy hot dog.

Score: 5.0

Best Episode: “Pilot”

Reminiscent of Lone Gunmen-centric episodes of The X-Files, this episode is the only one in the show’s thirteen episode run that nails the tone and themes of the titular characters. There’s political intrigue, conspiracy, and personal drama thanks to the inclusion of Byers’ father. The similarities to September 11th may seem disconcerting today, but at the time this was a very cool and frightening concept. Watch this episode and then burn the rest of The Lone Gunmen DVDs. Trust me, you’d be doing yourself a favor.

Worst Episode: “Planet of the Frohikes”

Talking chimpanzee with a British accent. Need I say more?

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