The New X-Files

The X-Files is back for a brief run on prime time television.  I’m glad it’s here, because once I watched a new episode I realized that I had really missed my heady, weekly dose of sprawling, remotely plausible governmental conspiracy theories.

They’ve consciously set up the new X-Files episodes to connect as much as possible to the old series.  So we’ve got the same famously eerie whistling opening, with Mulder’s and Scully’s old ID badges, and the old characters like by-the-book-except-when-he-isn’t Skinner and, at the end of the premier episode . . . the Cigarette Smoking Man, who now needs to puff on those cancer sticks through a disgusting hole his esophagus.

xf_sc7_0067rjw_hires2And Mulder and Scully really haven’t changed much, either.  They still call each other “Mulder” and “Scully,” for one, even though they’ve had a romance and had a child they put up for adoption and wistfully dream about.  (There’s a plot line for you!)  Mulder still is willing to check out just about any speculation about any far-fetched plot, and for all of her doctor-trained skepticism and demands for proof, Scully will inevitably be drawn into Mulder’s weird, dark, but ultimately hopeful world.

The first episode allowed us to catch up on our two heroes, learn that they’ve lost touch and gone their separate ways, and see how the ever-present UFO conspiracy can bring them back together and return them to their highest and best use of investigating the X-files.  And as Mulder rattled off some rapid-fire conspiracy theory about how the Roswell crash is still being kept secret after all these years by shadowy government figures and greedy corporate types who want to hide the news that there is free energy for all, you couldn’t help but be struck about how our current world — with its drones and ever-present surveillance cameras, routine monitoring of everyday activities, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, government bailouts of huge corporations, secret collection of data about world leader cell phones, and allegations of conspiracies and cover ups about virtually everything — fits neatly and seamlessly into the paranoid X-Files world view.

By the time of the second episode, with Mulder and Scully investigating a creepy doctor who experimented on his own kids and used alien DNA to give them supernatural powers, the show was back in full stride, as if it never left.  (I haven’t watched the third episode yet, so don’t spoil it for me.)  These days, who doesn’t want watch to a suspenseful TV show that features soulless evildoers dying horrible deaths because sound vibrations caused by their own kids have caused them to bleed out from their ears and their eyes?

Welcome back, guys!  Now, get to work, will you?

 

From Ex to X

In a few weeks filming will begin on six new episodes of The X-Files.  The mini-series of new adventures of Mulder and Scully will be broadcast on Fox starting next January.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this, really.  Any good TV series that goes off the air is capable of being reintroduced years — in the case of The X-Files, more than a decade — after the network run ended, so long as the actors who played the main characters haven’t kicked the bucket.  TV shows spawn movies, and movies spawn TV shows.   They are working on a Galaxy Quest TV show based on the classic 1999 movie, and planning another version of Celebrity Deathmatch.  Old ideas, characters, and settings get recycled, and the writers and producers hope they can connect with new viewers while not offending the diehard fans who want the new to stay true to the old.

The X-Files is a classic example of the challenges presented by this exercise in threading the needle.  The original show ran from 1993 to 2002 and was fresh, interesting, and delightfully creepy; it was one of the first adult shows we let Richard watch, and I always hoped he wouldn’t be permanently scarred or haunted by his exposure to people with black oil in their eyes or serially inbred families.  The early years of the team of by-the-book Dana Scully and true believer Fox Mulder and their encounters with the paranormal and sprawling governmental conspiracies were brilliant, distinctive and memorable.

But the show seemed to lose steam, and then there were X-Files movies, too.  Where did the plot line leave off?  I can’t remember — are Mulder and Scully married now?  Is The Lone Gunman still around?  What about Skinner?  I’m betting that I’m not alone in not remembering everything that happened in a series that ended 13 years ago and a movie that also sees like it came out long ago.  I need a refresher course.

I want to believe — just remind me what it is I’m supposed to believe, will you?

The Value Of Vitamins

This week the Annals of Internal Medicine published an editorial about the growing use of vitamin supplements in America that may come as a surprise to many Americans.

Entitled Enough is Enough:  Stop Wasting Money on Vitamins and Mineral Supplements, the strongly worded editorial summarizes three articles and the results of a number of large scale studies that produced “sobering evidence of no benefit or possible harm.”  The editorial’s concluding paragraph states:  “In conclusion, B-carotene, vitamin E, and possibly high doses of vitamin A supplements are harmful.  Other antioxidants, folic acid and B vitamins, and multivitamin and mineral supplements are ineffective for preventing mortality or morbidity due to major chronic diseases.”

America has become a nation of pill-poppers.  About half of Americans take some kind of dietary supplement, and Americans spend $12 billion a year on vitamins alone and $30 billion for all dietary supplements.  The notion that the vitamin supplements Americans are swallowing in record numbers are ineffective — or even harmful — may shock people. Of course, whether Americans learn of the editorial and the results of the studies, and then whether they stop taking the vitamins and dietary supplements, is anybody’s guess; one vitamin user interviewed by CBS said she would keep slugging down the pills anyway.

Why are Americans so committed to vitamins and supplements?  Some people blame the aggressive marketing of the products, but I think the root cause lies in two other factors.  First, for years Americans have been bombarded with stories about studies that conclude that something is good or bad — be it cyclamates, red dye #2, or something else.  These studies, I think, have conditioned people to believe that taking one substance, or avoiding another, could have significant health benefits.  If a “medical study” shows that avoiding something has a material effect on health, why is it so outlandish to believe that taking another substance — or a combination of substances — might have a similar beneficial effect?  The context created by the onslaught of “medical studies” establishes fertile ground for hawking vitamins and supplements.

Second, people clearly hope that a magic little pill or two can make up for their lack of exercise, poor diet, or other questionable lifestyle choices.  Like Fox Mulder on The X-Files, they want to believe — but unlike Mulder, they lack any true skepticism.  If they skip a walk and eat a quart of ice cream but take a vitamin or “fat-burning” concoction, they can rationalize that they are doing something positive about their health.  They simply don’t want to get the advice offered by one of the authors of the Annals of Internal Medicine articles:  “fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, low fat dairy, things like that ..exercising would probably be a better use of the money.”

And that’s probably why the Annals of Internal Medicine editorial won’t have much impact.  Believers believe, and hard advice and facts usually don’t get in the way.