FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully explored the strange world of “The X-Files” for more than a decade, unraveling government conspiracies, performing alien autopsies and denying the clear romantic tension that seemed to drive the two oddly paired partners from one impossible situation to the next.
But last we saw them, the co-workers had donned swimsuits and were finally relaxing in a row boat in the middle of a vast ocean, bound for somewhere that was surely more pleasant.
Though series creator Chris Carter left us believing that Mulder and Scully were headed for a sunnier and presumably more romantic future, he and the show’s massive legions of fans — often referred to “X-Philes” — never lost hope that the duo would one day be thrown back into the fray of monsters, mind readers and the Cigarette Smoking Man.
Their faith will be rewarded Sunday when “The X-Files,” along with original stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (and that haunting whispery theme song), premieres on Fox with six new original episodes.
There’s some part of me that felt people were still into the show. There’s always been an appetite.
The revival comes nearly 14 after the show — which originally ran nine seasons — went off the air, and eight years after its first big-screen spinoff.
“At its heart, ‘The X-Files’ is a cult show, and it became a mainstream cult show, and it’s got that cult show following, so that’s what you’re seeing right now,” said Carter of all the renewed interest. “The cult is less underground now because of the Internet.”
The resurrection has propelled Carter, along with the show’s two stars, into a nonstop run of promotional appearances and interviews to discuss, as Carter puts it, “getting the band back together.”
“Both Gillian and I have gone on to do work that is good and successful, but nothing has been as big or energetic as ‘The X-Files,’” said Duchovny, 55, as he and Anderson, 47, talked shop in Pasadena after a news conference promoting the show’s return.
“I’m really not surprised it’s at this level,” said Duchovny. “There’s some part of me that felt people were still into the show. There’s always been an appetite.”
Though he and Anderson established distinctive and successful careers after the series (Duchovny starred in seven seasons of Showtime’s “Californication” and is now filming the second season of NBC’s period crime drama “Aquarius,” she’s embarking on her third season as the lead of the BBC’s acclaimed detective series “The Fall”), they were never able to evade the continual fascination with their roles in “The X-Files.”
Added Anderson, “We’re getting a lot more instant love than we got before, it’s a lot more vocal and public.” Unlike her leading man, the somewhat more reserved Anderson feels caught off guard by the adoration: “I’m pleasantly surprised.”
In addition to making Duchovny and Anderson one of the most popular couples of the 1990s, the “X-Files” also proved a launch pad for some of the most successful writer-producers working in TV now.
We’re getting a lot more instant love than we got before, it’s a lot more vocal and public.
Vince Gilligan (“Breaking Bad”), Frank Spotnitz (“The Man in the High Castle”), James Wong (“American Horror Story”), Howard Gordon (“24,” “Homeland”) and Alex Gansa (“Homeland”) were among the staff writers on “The X-Files.”
The series was so popular that it sparked two big-screen spinoffs: 1998’s “The X-Files” and the less-successful 2008 film “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” which would prove to be the last appearance of Mulder and Scully before this revival.
When the show debuted in 1993, it helped establish the then-fledgling Fox network as a major contender, while also re-popularizing dark, edgy dramas — and sci-fi — on prime time.
Millions turned in weekly as believer Mulder and skeptic Scully investigated alien abductions, the supernatural and the government’s underhanded role in it all.
Despite the “X-Files” otherworldly nature, the series was flavored with humor and the sexual/romantic tension between Mulder and Scully.
In person, the yin and yang that helped make Scully and Mulder such a dynamic on-screen pairing is still there between the two actors. Recalling the deep looks Mulder and Scully used to exchange without dialogue, Duchovny said, “Yeah, it was like a soap opera move.” Anderson couldn’t help but laugh.
And unlike many stars who have a conflicted relationship with their most famous roles, Anderson (who lives in London) and Duchovny ( who lives in New York) cherish their association with “The X-Files.”
“I’m very grateful for the gift of the show,” Anderson said, noting that it gave her the ability to pick and choose her projects. Duchovny echoed her sentiment, though he added that “it was the spur that kept me working because I didn’t want to be typecast.”
Carter said he never really let go of the series after it ended: “It’s in my DNA,” he said. He even wrote a third movie on spec: “It was a study. I had what I thought was a good idea and I wanted to explore it.”
What he didn’t expect was a call from Dana Walden, the chairmen and CEO of Fox Television group, in October 2014. She informed Carter that Duchovny and Anderson were interested in doing a new “X-Files,” which was a surprise given that the actors’ busy schedules had always been a key obstacle.
Reviving the series was a major priority for Walden and Gary Newman, another chairman and CEO of Fox who’d also worked on the series during its initial nine-season run when it was a prime-time and ratings phenomenon. Newman said in interviews he was thrilled that the project moved forward: “We waited a real long time for this.”
The new “X-Files” installments will be a mixture of stand-alone stories and other narratives that are rooted in the series’ complex mythology. Familiar faces returning include Mitch Pileggi as FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner, Annabeth Gish as FBI Agent Monica Reyes and William B. Davis as Cigarette Smoking Man.
But despite the nostalgia factor, Carter and Duchovny stress that the new episodes are not a “reboot.”
“We didn’t want to do a victory lap or an exercise in nostalgia,” Duchovny said. “We recognize that there’s certain stuff we need to, and want to, do for an audience who wants to hear Mulder say, ‘The truth is still out there’ or to hear Scully say, ‘Mulder, it’s me.’ We can fill a whole episode with those moments, but we also wanted to make it new.”
Carter added: “You get an opportunity like this and you have to make good on the promise. ‘The X-Files’ still has life in it, and it’s got more stories to tell. There are endless stories to tell.”
And if the show draws higher ratings, viewers may see more of those stories.
Said Duchovny, “I get a kick when I think of doing ‘The X-Files’ into a perpetual future.”
FOR THE RECORD
Jan. 23, 7:58 a.m.: An earlier version of this article misidentified David Duchovny’s character as Muller in the headline. His name is Mulder.