So we use shortcuts. For example, rather than try to comprehend every individual in the country of Germany, we just assume that they all speak German. Sure, some of them might not, but how else can I fit them all into my very limited brain?
Geeks. For some reason pop-culture has similarly classified them all as awkward, socially retarded idiots. The Big Bang Theory, Primeval, Doctor Who and all its BBC spin-offs… In real life even actual geeks will now sometimes parody themselves by referring in a derogatory way to their own geekiness, likening themselves to the popular impression that is held of them. "Sorry, I'm channelling my inner geek."
Not many TV shows have ever portrayed geeks well. Conversely, it seems to me that if aliens ever do land, then it's going to be the geeks who are the least surprised, and probably the best-equipped psychologically to cope with it. And yet almost every time they are portrayed on that flickering box in the corner, for some reason the opposite is displayed. Geeks are not heroes. Geeks are pathetic. Geeks don't live in the real world even when the government actually is being infiltrated by aliens.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a rare show to embrace and positively encourage the open-mindedness that comes with getting to grips with technology, and imagining that things in our world may well not be the same as the way in which they are popularly believed to be.
Another was The X Files.
(see - I got here eventually)
John Byers, Richard Langly and Melvin Frohike - collectively known as 'The Lone Gunmen' - were never forced down the viewers' throats. They made guest appearances throughout the series' nine-year run, usually helpfully, and always a pleasure to see. They were dedicated to finding out the truth, and exposing it. They took big risks to achieve this altruistic objective. Their determination to do this good work had furnished them with a wealth of life experiences, a healthy cynicism, and a pure integrity. Through their striving for a better world, they became heroes, but quietly. And not by conforming to what others wanted them to be, but by just being themselves.
And they were funny.
It got to the point where they were holding entire episodes of The X Files by themselves, without the need for the lead cast to be present. Perhaps it was only a matter of time until someone realised that they could probably hold their own series…
If they had been left the way they were, then for my money The Lone Gunmen could well have been a success. Instead these three ordinary unattractive guys - whose appeal lay in their hearts - were given two sexy co-stars, just to dilute their act's uniqueness.
The first was their incredibly dumb intern Jimmy Bond. Actor Stephen Snedden did what he could with the role, but ultimately seems to have been given no direction to go in. It must have seemed impossible to find the motivation for some of the brainless ideas that this guy had, and yet week after week, Snedden manages to take the character off of the page and just about get away with it. Just. Jimmy becomes less stupid over the course of the show's run, but never more intelligent.
The other was femme fatale Yves Adele Harlow. It's a credit to the writers that with 13 episodes to fit her into, they never made her officially one of the team. Week after week the motivation was found for Yves to somehow be connected with events, and only once I think did she walk in without any explanation, which was an acceptable number.
It could have worked. What ultimately let the whole shebang down for me though, were two things:
1. The plots, which often robbed the heroes of the motivation to do what I thought they should have done. Nowhere did this betray me more as a viewer than in their final outing, in which they died because none of them thought to duck under the doors.
2. The pacing. Gone was all the vaudevillian rapport between the three, and in its place were pauses between lines and, oh no, a bit more realism. For me, it just needed to all be a wee bit tighter…
As I've been watching these each week on DVD over the past quarter (the BBC never let us see them), the characters have all grown on me though. It's quite sad to think now that there are no further adventures to be had with Byers, Frohike and Langly.
#1: The Lone Gunmen: Bond, Jimmy Bond
The US government plots to hijack and crash a 727 passenger airliner into New York's World Trade Centre in order to blame it on an international dictator and get to up their arms sales in the ensuing war. Does that plot sound insensitive? Believe it or not, this was made six months before the real life event you're thinking of. Really - they went to the World Trade Centre in 2001 and filmed this, complete with climactic struggle to veer the plane into a near-miss. Utterly compelling, in an awful, gnawing way, and believable in a way that TV rarely is. Mulder would be beyond proud. John Loengard might sue.
#2: Bond, Jimmy Bond
A top computer hacker is murdered, and the penniless team have to uncover an international financial scam without enough cash of their own to buy petrol. So they steal it. Using their mouths.
#3: Eine Kleine Frohike
Jim Robinson, speaking German like a second language, contracts the team to expose a Nazi war criminal for pastry-poisoning. Despite his stint as a Jap last week, Frohike is bewildered at the idea of having to pose as a foreigner. Presently they employ the reliable ol' Mission: Impossible face mask and voice-changer.
#4: Like Water For Octane
The guys track down a water-powered car, and at the end make history with the lamest excuse for inaction that the writers could come up with. On the plus side, the way they lose their van is spectacular.
#5: Three Men And A Smoking Diaper
As if the comedy weren't diluted enough already, tonight they kidnap a baby… with extremely well-worn results. You'd think they didn't know that babies wore diapers or something.
#6: Planet Of The Frohikes
Guest-starring Edward Woodward as Peanuts.
The team are outsmarted by a chimp. I was laughing out loud all the way through this one!
Jimmy: "See, I think that's sad. You separate 'em, you give 'em slave names…"
Doc: "Slave names?"
Jimmy: "Yeah. 'Zuzu'? 'Peanuts'?"
Doc: "How could you possibly know his name?"
Jimmy: "Uh… whose name?"
Doc: "My missing chimpanzee. He contacted you, didn't he? He emailed you."
Jimmy: "Wow. That would be some trick, huh? Seeing as how I don't HAVE email!"
#7: Maximum Byers
Byers and Jimmy have to infiltrate Death Row by disguising themselves as inmates, just like on The A-Team.
Jimmy: "It's not like on TV."
Yes, yes it is. To the very last pixel. (it took me days to pick up on the subtlety of this gag!)
#8: Diagnosis: Jimmy
The team battle sub-zero temperatures with no condensation on their breath. (listen to Langly complain about the cold) Frohike falls to the floor despite being suspended from a wire. (listen to his body fall) While in hospital, Jimmy recognises a Doctor Death off of America's Most Wanted, and then dies. (listen to his heart monitor) Everyone fights an uphill battle to be funny against harp music. (listen to… no, best not) With such slipping production standards, the setting of a scene in Vancouver - where the show is filmed - indoors seems merely unfortunate.
#9: Tango De Los Pistoleros
Eve kills Langly to get into a tango competition. Now this is the standard I was expecting!
#10: The Lying Game
A difficult plot to follow, despite the giveaway title and Jimmy's… narration to camera?! Skinner meets his double, but there's no suggestion of his thinking it might be an alien from his own series.
#11: The Cap'n Toby Show
The team are reading the newspapers over breakfast.
Frohike: (to Jimmy) "These guys have to report the stories they've been handed. Plus, they all work for The Man. So, their coverage only goes so deep."
Byers: "Sometimes the truth lies beneath. That's why we try and read between the lines."
Jimmy: "Count me in! So - what do we do? Look for like, clues, and hidden meanings and whatnot?"
Byers: "Ahh, not quite. That's not really what we meant."
Langly: "Sure it is. Here - check out the comics. And pipe down already!"
Jimmy: "Guys! The Wizard Of Id! In the first box the king has three jewels in his crown. In the next box - four. Eh? What's up with that!"
Frohike: "Oh, baby! This is what I was talking about! Yesterday's Glenburnie Suburbanite. The obituary section - Adam Vaughan, age 35 of Glenburnie succumbed to a heart attack. He was a member of the International Brotherhood of Stage Technicians local 614. Now - yesterday's Severna Park Monitor - Eric Rice, age 33, dead of a heart attack. He was a member of the International Brotherhood of Stage Technicians local 614."
Byers: "You're thinkin' murder?"
Jimmy: "I don't get it. I mean yeah, I get that they're both pretty young for heart attacks, but what does that have to do with them being in a union together?"
Byers: "Organised crime possibly."
Langly (at computer): "Oh it gets better. I got a list of 911 calls from the Glenburnie fire department. Those two union guys? Vaughan and Rice? Both had their heart attacks the same day at the same mall. Now there's readin' between the lines."
Langly's childhood hero - Cap'n Toby - gets his TV show revived. But at what cost to America?
#12: All About Yves
Byers: "Gentlemen, this is it. I suspect that every answer to every question we've ever asked lies behind this door."
Frohike: "Heh. All we gotta do is open it."
This final episode of the series sure isn't the guys' finest hour. While the way they fool the facial recognition system to break into the vault is genius, any of them would have smelt a rat very early on in this setup. Well, any of them except Jimmy, who gets to meet Mulder and in so doing furnish David Duchovny with his greatest performance in the role. All this and Morris Fletcher refers to himself as part of Dark Skies' Majestic 12!
As I type this straight afterwards, I have strange feelings about next week rewatching the episode of The X Files that told their final chapter. It's the last time that I will see the gang. And yet, since I already watched it some years ago when it aired as part of that series, it's actually already all over. :(
#13: The X Files: Jump The Shark
As I say, a year later, the parent show was responsible enough to tie-up its failed spin-off series, and in production terms was a textbook example of how to do so. The whole cast was reunited. The cliffhanger ending was explained, albeit a little remotely. The icing on the cake is that even guest character from both series Kimmy appears throughout!
Due to the BBC's non-showing of The Lone Gunmen series, in 2005 I found myself watching this final episode without having seen any of the season that it was resolving. I remember one thing jarring with me on that viewing, which was an overly slow exchange between two of the characters about how they felt. Such feelly material had never featured in The X Files, but this morning it made a lot more sense.
Since the guys had already spent years in this parent series, there aren't many connections with the cast left to be made, which frees the script to just get on with being the next episode of The Lone Gunmen.
However, that ending still doesn't work at all for me.
The guys pull a lever to trap a man who is about to release a deadly virus into the atmosphere, but in so doing get trapped too, and die with him. They easily have enough time to duck under the doors that slowly come down just behind them, but none of them do. So they didn't die heroically. They commited suicide, senselessly. There are even three of them, when only one is needed to stay to pull the lever, although as I say he could still have got out after having done so. Even the baddie doesn't think to duck under the doors. What a terrible way for these guys to go out. Still, at least they did get to go out, not fade away.
Still, so long everyone. It was nice to have you back for another season. In the end, I think I actually preferred watching your adventures to even Mulder and Scully's.
1. The X Files (TV series)
2. The X Files (1998 film)
3. The Lone Gunmen (TV series)
4. The X Files: I Want To Believe (2008 film)