Mulder and Scully are back. Do you still want to believe?
Thirteen years after its original groundbreaking run, "The X-Files" storms back onto television this weekend in the form of the six-episode "event series." The timing couldn't be better, according to creator Chris Carter, whose Watergate-era skepticism and interest in otherworldly forces has long fueled the seminal sci-fi franchise.
"There are over 500 conspiracy sites on the Internet. Nothing is underground anymore. Everything is out in the open," he said during the Television Critics Association Press Tour, where he appeared with series stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, and guest star Joel McHale. "There's a tremendous amount of distrust of authority, government, even the media.
"This is a really interesting time to be telling 'X-Files' stories."
Hardcore fans undoubtedly agree. A couple of days before his press tour appearance, Carter and his team attended a glitzy red-carpet, big-screen Fox premiere party for the show, where he told the crowd how "surreal" and "weird" it felt to be back after all these years. Then the lights went dim, and boisterous cheers erupted as the ominously familiar theme song ignited instant memories of a game-changing show that left a huge imprint on the medium during its nine-season run.
But Carter wants fans old and new to know that this isn't merely a nostalgic "victory lap" for "The X-Files." His eyes are clearly set on the future.
"This is a chance to make good on a promise," he said. "We are coming back for a reason: to do really fresh, original material. We want to prove that the show has more life to it."
The highly-heralded reboot thrusts Duchovny and Anderson back into their iconic roles as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, FBI agents who specialized in investigating bizarre, mind-bending cases. When last seen, they were chasing down evil creeps in 2008's "I Want to Believe," the second of two "X-Files" feature films.
As Sunday's opener unfolds, the former partners -- and frustrated lovers -- are estranged. Scully is working in Washington, D.C., as a doctor. A reclusive Mulder has pretty much gone to seed, the victim of his alien-conspiracy obsession.
Soon, however, they're dusting off their sleuthing skills at the behest of a smooth-talking Internet conspiracy theorist (Joel McHale) who claims he has solid evidence of extraterrestrial mayhem. Along the way, Mulder and Scully discover that the truth they thought was out there has taken on a new twist.
Also back for the ride are Mitch Pileggi as FBI assistant director Walter Skinner and William B. Davis as the dastardly Cigarette Smoking Man. Even the computer-hacking trio known as the Lone Gunmen will make an appearance.
Carter told reporters that the original plan was to do eight episodes, but the actors' busy work schedules forced them to scale back. These six episodes, he said, will offer the show's customary sampling of mythology-based stories, monsters-of-the-week adventures and touches of humor.
"Think of it as a bento box of 'X-Files,' " quipped Duchovny.
Though "The X-Files" made global stars of Duchovny and Anderson, both actors admit that the roles felt like a burden at times. Absence, however, made their hearts grow fonder.
"I think it took a good decade for me to embrace it and suddenly start thinking of it as the gift that it was and to properly appreciate the opportunity that I had," Anderson said.
From the start, the Mulder-Scully relationship was a huge part of the show's appeal. In terms of their undeniable chemistry, the two actors picked up right where they left off.
Said Duchovny, "I think at this point, having known each other and worked together so much for more than 20 years, we've gone beyond chemistry into history, which is a really cool thing to play."
"There is something extra (between us), and I don't know what that is," Anderson added. "It seems like it's separate from us."
While they were away working on other projects, there was casual talk of doing a third "X-Files" movie, and Carter even wrote a script that he shared with only a chosen few.
"For me, it was mainly an exercise," he said. "A chance to see how I felt about the characters, how I felt about their professional and personal lives and just keeping those voices alive in my head."
Then, out of the blue, the call came from the executives at Fox, which lately has embraced limited-issue revivals of some of its major hits, including "24" and "Prison Break." They had Carter at "hello."
But will the fans come rushing back in massive numbers? That certainly isn't a given. The TV landscape is much more crowded than in 2002, when Carter's series left the air. And thanks largely to "The X-Files," which spurred the geek takeover of mainstream pop culture, that landscape is cluttered with other sci-fi and fantasy options.
Still, the key principals have made it known that if the series is well-received, they're up for more. "The X-Files" just might be the gift that keeps giving.
"For me, as you get older, you look for the continuity in your life," Carter said. "And this was a chance to really reflect on that."
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
(Time approximate after
NFC Championship Game)