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TV review: The new ‘X-Files’ starts as a mess, but then becomes great

“The X-Files” returns with original stars, from left, Mitch Pileggi, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and William B. Davis.
“The X-Files” returns with original stars, from left, Mitch Pileggi, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and William B. Davis. FOX

Nearly 14 years since its last TV episode and eight years after its last film, “The X-Files” is back, with most of the original cast and crew attached. But whether you’ll consider this good news or not depends on how much patience you have.

Because the first installment of this six-part miniseries – which will air Sunday night immediately after the Panthers-Cardinals NFC Championship game on Fox – is a mess.

Luckily, things improve greatly by the second installment, airing at 8 p.m. Monday. And the third episode, to be broadcast on Monday, Feb. 1, is a classic that harkens back to the series’ heyday. Patience will be rewarded – but first you’ve got to get through Sunday’s episode, aptly titled “My Struggle.”

It opens with David Duchovny as our hero, FBI Agent Fox Mulder, giving a quick rundown of where the show’s grand alien mythology stands these days. Everything from Area 51 to Gerald Ford to Jimmy Kimmel is thrown at viewers in such a rushed and slapdash fashion, you almost expect Duchovny to lapse into verses of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” (“Starkweather homicide, children of Thalidomide ...”)

Things don’t get any clearer from there, though Gillian Anderson is always a welcome presence as Agent Dana Scully. She and Mulder are drawn back into the world of possible government conspiracies by TV journalist Tad O’Malley (“Community” and “The Soup” star Joel McHale, doing his best Glenn Beck impression). There’s much sound and fury about alien DNA, children born without ears, Sept. 11 and WikiLeaks. And in the end, it signifies ... nothing much, beyond the idea that this reunion may have been a bad call from the start.

A confession here that might be heresy to some ‘X-Files’ fanatics: I always liked the standalone ‘Monster of the Week’ episodes better than the core alien conspiracy episodes.

Monday’s episode, “Founder’s Mutation,” offers much more coherence with its story and an intriguing villain played by Doug Savant (“Desperate Housewives,” “Melrose Place.”) And it briefly addresses the child that Scully and Mulder had together in the original run of the show.

And then there’s that third installment, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.” A confession here that might be heresy to some “X-Files” fanatics: I always liked the standalone “Monster of the Week” episodes better than the core alien conspiracy episodes. (If you haven’t seen Season 2’s circus freak-themed “Humbug” or Season 5’s Frankenstein and Cher mashup “The Post-Modern Prometheus,” get yourself to Netflix immediately.)

“Were-Monster” ranks right up there with those funny/scary installments, putting a twist on the typical werewolf tale. Instead of focusing on the man who doesn’t want to turn into a wolf, what about the poor wolf who doesn’t want to become a man and have to worry about a job and mortgage?

As Scully notes to Mulder at one point, “I forgot how much fun these cases could be.” Thanks for reminding us, Scully, even if it took you a few episodes to find your groove.

“The X-Files” premieres around 10 p.m. Sunday (after the football game) on Fox. It then moves to 8 p.m. Monday for the next five weeks. We’ve only seen the first three. The fourth and fifth episodes also are supposed to be freestanding “Monster of the Week” installments. The final one is another alien mythology episode, called – ahem – “My Struggle II.”

Yikes. Consider us afraid.

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