29 February 2008

Netflix Notes: 29 February 2008

It should have, could have, been a home run.

As the X-Files was well into it's death spiral in 2001, series mastermind Chris Carter decided to spin off The Lone Gunmen, which was the name of three conspiracy nuts who helped Mulder and Scully in about three dozen episodes, or more to the point, the name of the conspiracy-minded 'zine they published.

Byers, Langly and Frohike (The Lone Gunmen) were extremely popular characters on the X-Files, providing some color (literally and figuratively) to a very dark show (literally and figuratively), and if nothing else, a bit of outright humor. But they were popular, if for no other reason, than because they were perfect for the times. Langly, in particular, was a hardcore techie with computer skills (hacking included) that didn't really pay the bills, but sure seemed cutting edge and exciting at the time.

The 1990's weren't that long ago, and it's oftentimes easy to forget that the internet as we know it today didn't really start coming into it's own until the end of that decade. Back in 1993 or 1995, when the X-Files was reaching it's creative peak, most people weren't on the internet yet, and those of us who were online were probably surfing within the confines of AOL, Prodigy and Compuserve. The web was world wide, yes, but there just wasn't much to be found out there yet, and what was available was trickling onto our CRT at rates of 14.4 or 28.8 kbps through dial-up modems. But there was Langly, hacking into DoD servers and whatnot, to help our heroes Mulder and Scully, and it was new, and a bit mysterious to most of us, and that made it exciting.

So yeah, it was a no-brainer for Chris Carter and the suits at FOX to spin-off The Lone Gunmen as X-Files was falling apart, because they were beloved characters from a beloved show, and the time was right.

But The Lone Gunmen as it's own show was/is pretty much a bonafide disaster for several reasons.

It wasn't very well written, first of all, which is kinda unbelievable considering that Carter, along with his right hand man Vince Gilligan, and two other X-Files alums, penned all 13 episodes of the series. I say "kinda" because as I alluded to already, the X-Files itself was running on fumes by that point, and Carter and his team were fatigued, I would say. In hindsight, they needed to take a creative break, or at least hand over the reigns to fresher writers. The 3 main characters were already well- established, all those new writers would have needed to do was come up with decent plots. Instead, Carter and company kept the pens, and what they offered us were storylines that were simultaneously ridiculous and boring, which perhaps reached it's nadir in episode 8, "Maximum Byers", in which two of the main characters break into a maximum security prison, so that one of them can get himself onto death row to try and help a death row inmate who is probably innocent. It's hard for me to explain why I wholeheartedly allowed myself to swallow just about every far-fetched storyline X-Files threw my way, and yet find the prospects of Byers and Jimmy successfully pulling off what I just described to be patently absurd. The show often went beyond the realm of believability, but it fell short of the fantastic, if that makes sense. Anyways...

James "Jimmy" Bond.

Ayup. Somebody apparently thought this was a clever name.

Jimmy is the second problem I have with The Lone Gunmen, and I would have to say, the single biggest reason why the show doesn't work. We meet him in the second episode, and without getting into too many details, by the end of that episode he has become the group's financial benefactor and "muscle". Not only that, but he also represents an idealism meant to counterbalance the cynical pragmatism of The Lone Gunmen, Langly and Frohike in particular. Not only that, but by the end of the series' 13 episode run, he's referred to several times as "the smartest of the bunch", nevermind that Jimmy is a complete rube when we first meet him, and the three lone gunmen are supposedly geek geniuses and investigative journalists extraordinaire.

The question I have is how and why Jimmy ostensibly became the heart of the show, and the focal point of many of the storylines? Like I said, here we have a show named and based on three well-developed and beloved characters, but The Lone Gunmen too often become mere props on their own show, taking a back seat to an inconsistent character named James "Jimmy" Bond.

And this is made worse by the fact that Stephen Sneddon, the actor playing Jimmy, is quite simply a very bad actor on this show. No subtlety or nuance whatsoever, in a role that requires exactly that. Idealism is more than wide eyes and poorly delivered platitudes, you know? On Sneddon's IMDb page, somebody asks why the actor hasn't had much significant work since The Lone Gunmen, and of course the easy answer is that he simply isn't that good.

Sneddon's questionable acting skills are compounded by another basic fact that the principal actors on this show - Byers, Langly and Frohike, as played by Bruce Harwood, Dean Haglund and Tom Braidwood - are not exactly great actors either. Good enough for a scene or two in three dozen X-Files, but certainly not good enough to carry their own show. Forced into the limelight for 45 minutes per week, these actors (and the weak writing) turn these fun and interesting characters into caricatures.
In the end, there have certainly been much, much worse television shows, some of them broadcasting right now, but for me, The Lone Gunman represents wasted opportunity more than anything else. I was extremely disappointed in the quality of this show for too many reasons, and sometimes disappointment is worse than outright suckage.
2 out of 5 stars
Hotcha! Hank

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