Screen Test

The X-Files' cringey dialogue

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (both left) return to The X-Files while Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church (both below) reappear in Divorce.
David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (both above) return to The X-Files.PHOTOS: FOX, HBO ASIA
David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (both left) return to The X-Files while Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church (both below) reappear in Divorce.
Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church (both above) reappear in Divorce.PHOTOS: FOX, HBO ASIA

The series about paranormal investigations is back with its opening episode verging on soap opera

You can see why the powers-that-be decided to bring back The X-Files - the television and film franchise (1993 to 2008) that helped propel science-fiction into the mainstream and birth modern genre entertainment and fan culture.

The series, about two government agents, Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson), tasked with investigating the paranormal, comes with a built-in viewer base and cult appeal - a no-brainer for risk-averse networks in a saturated entertainment landscape. Plus enough time had passed for nostalgia and forgetfulness to blur the show's flaws.

And while the six episodes released two years ago were a mixed bag - concluding with a spaceship hovering over Washington DC and another grand conspiracy in the offing - they did whet fans' appetite for more and seemed to do well enough to warrant another season.

But the online outcry over the plot twist unveiled in the pilot of the new season that debuted last week, concerning Scully's child, suggests the vast reservoir of goodwill towards the show has sprung a new leak.

And if you are not already a fan, there is no good reason to watch Season 11. The opening episode verged on soap opera, bloated with cringey dialogue and breathy conspiracies - again masterminded by the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), whose appearance used to be deliciously camp but now feels like rote.

The show also appears to be overreaching in a bid for new cultural relevance, with a few too many hamfisted references to the Trump era and science denial.

As with the last season, the best instalments are the standalone episodes - and the ones not written and directed by creator Chris Carter.

  • VIEW IT / THE X-FILES 11

    Thursdays at 9pm on Fox (Singtel TV Channel 330 and StarHub TV Channel 505)

    2.5 stars

    DIVORCE 2

    From Jan 15 at 11am and 11pm on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601), also streaming on HBO on StarHub Go and HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Channel 602)

    2.5 stars

These brim with the quirkiness, humour and character sketches that drew people to the show in the first place, unburdened by the weight of squaring more than two decades' worth of X-Files mythology.

The first season of Divorce, on the other hand, was ripe for a follow-up - there seemed plenty of runway left for this story of the marital implosion between Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church), a middle-aged, middle-class couple in upstate New York.

This season starts with the divorce being finalised and the two embarking on an uncertain next chapter, with new relationships and careers.

But while the first season had novelty going for it as it plunged face-first into the messiness of it all - admirably attempting to blur the lines between villain and victim - this one feels rather mundane, even though this reinvention stage of divorce can be even more traumatic than the original rupture.

The problem is, viewers have already seen TV shows deal with formerly coupled-up people learning how to be single again, teenagers who suddenly hate their parents, couples realising they still care deeply about each other.

The writers would probably argue this is one of the season's virtues and no doubt many divorced couples can relate.

But it doesn't help the show that the most interesting relationship is not the one between Robert and Frances. Instead, it is the dynamic between their volatile couple friends played by Tracy Letts and Molly Shannon, who in Season 1 were about to break up, but instead rekindled their romance and have now hilariously overshot the mark in the other direction somehow.

In the five episodes previewed, none of the show's insights feel particularly revelatory or its observational humour more than slightly entertaining.

But maybe that is just a reflection of reality in the end - that once the dust settles on a divorce, most people just go back to their peaceful, humdrum existence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2018, with the headline 'The X-Files' cringey dialogue'. Print Edition | Subscribe