”He’s more alive than he’s ever been,” says Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) of a glazed-eyed, strapped-to-his-hospital-bed Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) in the season premiere of The X-Files, and, seven seasons on, who are we to doubt her? Mulder is still suffering from the maddening voices he started hearing in his head during last season’s cliff-hanger, symptoms which have given way to ”remote viewing,” which is explained as ”a form of ESP” (as if Mulder didn’t have enough stuff scuttling around in his brain). In West Africa, Scully has discovered shards of a spaceship, which, while perhaps Martian in origin, is inscribed with Koran passages about the source of life. Cut back to Mulder’s bed, where the slinky, perhaps traitorous FBI agent Fowley (Mimi Rogers) leans over him murmuring, ”Fox, I love you.”
In other words, The X-Files is hitting the ground running—albeit knee-deep in murk and murder, conspiracy and cosmic confluences. Written by series creator Chris Carter, the kickoff episode suggests the author’s limitless imagination for sustaining his alien-nation tropes, the latest being, as an ex-agent played by John Finn remarks, Mulder ”is the X-File.” That is to say, Fox has unwittingly been chasing his own tail for the past six years: He himself is the source of all the conspiracies that so entrance Files’ fans.
Fans have not been so entranced by other Carter creations. His Millennium — a sort of X-Files with Twin Peaks-style non sequiturs — died a slow three-season ratings death. A Fox press release does list Millennium’s Frank Black (Lance Henriksen), however, as making a Files guest appearance Nov. 28—can’t wait to see who wins the dour-look competition between him, Mulder, and Scully. And Carter’s new show, Harsh Realm, featuring Scott Bairstow trapped in a virtual-reality world, was zapped by the Fox network after three episodes. I thought Harsh was nifty; I admired the way Carter and Bairstow made the hero a grungy dope who had to be clued in to every plot twist by a sardonic D.B. Sweeney, and Millennium’s Terry O’Quinn made a fine, sneering dictator of the Realm.
Realm was pulled way too soon, a victim of Fox’s disaster of a new season, with shows launched late and underpromoted. But even had their show been given a chance, Carter and Co. may have underestimated the adolescentization of prime time, something former X-Files producer David Nutter has capitalized on with Roswell, The WB’s smart, sleek new series that might have been called My So-Called Alien. It features three space invaders who’ve taken the form of baleful-eyed teens in present-day Roswell, N.M. Playing off that town’s supposed 1947 UFO crash landing, Roswell is invaded by cute extraterrestrials Jason Behr, his costar Brendan Fehr (who looks like a young Duchovny, a nice casting joke), and Katherine Heigl.
The trio insinuates itself in Roswell in order to…well, that hasn’t been made clear. What is clear is that pouty-cute Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby) has fallen for Behr’s Max Evans in yet another example of the way Earth girls are easy. In the pilot, Max made a bullet wound disappear from Liz’s tummy by touching it, thus making Liz the first human to know that he is otherworldly.
Nutter’s coconspirator is writer and coexec producer Jason Katims, from Relativity and My So-Called Life. Together, they’ve melded teen and alien angsts. They’ve taken Carter’s seminal contribution to TV — an obsession with trust issues that extends to alien paranoia — and applied it to the age group most likely to identify with alienation.
Roswell isn’t yet anywhere near Files in emotional depth, and its sympathetic but blank-staring actors only make you appreciate the nuances that Duchovny and Anderson bring to poker-faced emoting. But if this season proves The X-Files’ last, there’s a chance that Roswell can step into the void and supply TV’s highest-quality heebie-jeebies. The X-Files: A; Roswell: B