If nothing else, the addition of The Lone Gunmen to the Fox schedule means--for a few weeks, at least--the subtraction of The X-Files, which has become overbearing and, too often, simply unbearable. (Who among even the most die-hard True Believers doesn't miss David Duchovny, whose presence brightens up even the most dank and daft aliens-among-us episode?) Fox, blessedly, has turned over the franchise's time slot to the bit players, giving the computer-hacking- conspiracy-tracking- newspaper-publishing Lone Gunmen--Byers (Bruce Harwood, somber and sincere), Frohike (Tom Braidwood, short and stubbled), and Langley (Dean Haglund, Garth's gangly stepbrother)--their own shot at their own show; no more standing in Mulder's and Scully's estimable shadows, no more bringing welcome comic relief to a show in dire need of lightening up. The boys are on their own now, forced to fend for themselves in prime time's Phantom Zone: The show will move to Fridays later this month, which might be the French kiss of death.
Despite its roots in the Chris Carter empire of paranoia, The Lone Gunmen isn't a sure bet: It's light enough to feel inconsequential, derivative enough to feel way too familiar, and smart enough to alienate those millions who turn on their television sets so they can stop thinking and start drooling. The pilot episode, which airs March 4, opens with a Mission: Impossible homage so hoary it was played out well before Sela Ward re-enacted the gag in a series of bad ads. While the goofy Langley's creating a diversion downstairs, Byers is lowering Frohike into a computer company's sterile white lab so they can steal a computer chip that will invade its users' privacy; that the stunt goes haywire--yet another thief spoils the trio's plans to liberate the chip--is all that keeps it from playing like Mission: Inevitable. And the second episode opens with something lifted from both the first M:I film and, but of course, The Matrix; it's less a fleshed-out TV show than a pop-culture junkyard filled with the detritus lifted from a Blockbuster shelf. (Even the intro is swiped from the old M:I series.)
The plot of the pilot, co-written by Carter and a trio of X-Files co-conspirators, is standard-issue Carter: A few traitors in the Department of Defense are plotting an act of terrorism on U.S. soil, for reasons obvious and banal; the story line's so ridiculous--it begins with the, ahem, death of Byers' dad and culminates with a nuh-unh special-effects sequence--that it's no doubt meant to play as parody (no doubt, meaning it doesn't really). It also introduces a Pretty Woman destined to become a regular: Yves Adele Harlow (her name, when deciphered, spells out Lee Harvey Oswald), a competitor of the Gunmen played with a wink and a smirk by Zuleikha Robinson. Robinson appears in the brilliant second episode, as does Stephen Snedden as Jimmy Bond, a dim (or is he?) dude who finances the publication of the boys' underground rag--when he's not busy coaching a blind football team (they play with sonar helmets and beeping balls). Hope only that Fox sticks with the Gunmen far longer than it did with Harsh Realm, Carter's coulda-been-brilliant virtual-reality series that didn't last long enough on Fridays to be forgotten. Fact is, The Lone Gunmen is the funniest thing Fox has on the network. Maybe it could replace...let's see...oh, yes. The Simpsons.