'Lone Gunmen' Is a Microchip Off the Old 'Files'


There's fun in computer geekdom.

Those loopy hackers Byers, Frohike and Langly have fled "The X-Files" for the browner pastures of "The Lone Gunmen," a Fox spinoff comedy whose premiere offers promise despite soaring so far over the top in spots that the top is no longer visible. A bit of it is pretty funny.

Better news: Episode 2 is very funny, Episode 3 just a stitch.

Ever strapped for bucks to operate their crusading little newspaper, the Lone Gunman, Frohike (Tom Braidwood), Langly (Dean Haglund) and Byers (Bruce Harwood) blur the line between genius and ineptitude Sunday when facing conspiracy within the government and vying with their recurring nemesis for a valuable computer chip.

She's the brilliant, resourceful, patronizing Yves Adele Harlow (Zuleikha Robinson), and if Hugh Hefner published a magazine titled Playgeek, this delectable Brit would be the centerfold. "The Lone Gunmen" is from the creator (Chris Carter) and producers of "The X-Files," and largely it's a tongue-in-cheek hybrid of that series and "Mission: Impossible."

Overmatched by Yves, the square-looking Byers, paunchy and balding Frohike and Langly (a Beavis/Butt-head look-alike) do much of their bumbling undercover with the straightest of faces, when not in their computer digs cracking codes and swiping files on behalf of underdogs. And the opening plot--pertaining to the mysterious death of Byers' father and something cosmic called Scenario 12D--unfolds with the same shadowy underlighting and dramatic tight shots galore that gave Scully and Mulder years of murkiness.

What makes "The Lone Gunmen" go, however, are its writing and distinctive characters. Joining them permanently in Episode 2 is guileless, oafish Jimmy Bond (Stephen Snedden), his obsession with coaching a blind football team making him an ideal person to bankroll their crusade for lost causes.

Then when their quest to find World War II's murderous "poisoner of Alcase" has the blobby Frohike putting on lederhosen in hilarious Episode 3, you know you're watching potentially the funniest series in prime time.

* "The Lone Gunmen" premieres Sunday night at 9 p.m. The network has rated it TV-PG (may not be suitable for young children).

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