Friday, July 29, 2011

Signs And Portents In The Comedic The X-Files Spin-Off The Lone Gunmen

The Good: Moments of humor, Decent acting and character development, some interesting plots
The Bad: Never seems to get to its potential, Addition of "beautiful people."
The Basics: In a fun, but average, series, the conspiracy theorists The Lone Gunmen attempt to save the world by exposing weird manipulations by those in power.

Perhaps what defined the trio of characters collectively known as The Lone Gunmen on The X-Files was that they were the atypical group of geeks who appeared, were paranoid and brilliant and did not quite fit the mold of what one would expect out of, well, pretty much anybody. They were, through and through, geeks. Part of their popularity with fans of The X-Files was that the Lone Gunmen were most analogous to the fans, somewhat crazy conspiracy theorists, many of whom lived in the basement. So, when Fox ordered a series based just on the Lone Gunmen, they were targeting a very specific demographic of a very specific demographic.

The Lone Gunmen follows the adventures of Byers, Frohike and Langly, the investigative reporters and editors of the conspiracy-theory publication The Lone Gunmen as they attempt to save the world from megalomaniacal computer hardware and foil a plot to blow up the World Trade Center using a plane (months before others succeeded in real life). Unfortunately, despite their drive, they are dirt poor and their business and publication are failing. They unwittingly enlist the aid and funds of a rather wealthy man improbably named James Bond and they find themselves constantly embroiled in schemes that pit them against the quasi-villainous Yves Adele Harlow.

On DVD, The Lone Gunmen is a complete series, of sorts. Basically, this is the end of The Lone Gunmen with footage of the trio's origins in The X-Files available only on some of the bonus features. There are thirteen episodes in the series and the DVD producers graciously added the sendoff to the series from The X-Files, entitled "Jump The Shark," which effectively ends the storylines left open in The Lone Gunmen.

So, what is this show really? It's a conspiracy-thriller comedy and the problem there is that throughout the series there is a sense that it does not know quite what it wants to be. There are moments that are so overtly going for laughs, most notably involving Frohike and slapstick humor, but the best episodes of the series tend to be the most serious. The superlative story, "Tango De Los Pistoleros" is in fact funny only in a dancing montage clip, but otherwise remains one of the most tense, humorless stories of the series. Beautifully shot, that episode follows the Gunmen following Yves to a tango competition to stop a smuggler from selling very classified information to enemies of the U.S.

And problematically, The Lone Gunmen abandon the classic, humble (dare I say "geeky") roots in its attempt to make a viable television show. In short, in order to make the show fly, the series adds Jimmy Bond and Yves Harlow, two very obviously, very Hollywood beautiful people. Yves, played well by knockout Zuleikha Robinson, is an adversary, but she's also quite obvious sex appeal to make the show, well, sexy. The problem is, the Lone Gunmen aren't supposed to be about sexy. They're geeks who live in a dungeon exposing the underbelly of government conspiracies!

The principle characters in The Lone Gunmen are:

John Fitzgerald Byers - The classy Gunman who has the integrity to probe into the government conspiracies based on a long-standing problematic relationship with his father. Byers is the cool head among the Gunmen and the most respectable of the bunch,

Melvin Frohike - Perhaps the most classic geek of the bunch, Frohike has ideas and old-school paranoia and ultimately acts as comic relief more than being useful,

Ringo Langly - The hacker, tech man for the Gunmen, he is the man who can get into virtually any computer service, until later in the series when the Gunmen inexplicably need help from someone even better at hacking than Langly. Go figure,

Jimmy Bond - Dimwitted and wealthy, Jimmy joins the Gunmen as its financial backer with brain of an ox and a heart of gold,

and Yves Adele Harlow - A woman of uncertain allegiance, she is essentially a bounty hunter who brings the Gunmen cases and/or foils their work.

The acting is fine. Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood and Dean Haglund each show up and give their usual wonderful performances as Byers, Frohike and Langly. The only real issue is that their acting talents are almost never challenged. They are playing the characters we're used to seeing on The X-Files for years, only here they are given more airtime.

Ultimately, the real problem with The Lone Gunmen is that it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, so it ends up being a little of everything and not much of anything. So, it's political in "Like Water For Octane," suspenseful in "Tango De Los Pistoleros," and ridiculous in "Diagnosis: Jimmy." It's a tough nut to crack and odds are it will be enjoyed most by the sliver of fans of The X-Files that most loved the occasional trio of guest stars.

For other shows that originally aired on FOX, please check out my reviews of:
Family Guy Presents: It’s A Trap!
Glee - Season Two, Volume One
Fringe - Season Two
Arrested Development
The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr.


For other television reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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