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Two Old Guys and a Guy in a Suit

When you think of The X-Files, you naturally think of wacky hijinks. Right? Right?

Oh, you don't? Well, then I'm not sure you're going to like The Lone Gunmen. It's the new spin-off from the endlessly inventive (cough cough) minds at Fox. The titular gunmen are occasional comic relief on The X-Files, because sometimes an alien-obsessed FBI agent just has no other choice than to go to three guys who run a tiny conspiracy newsletter to find out what's really going on. If you want to influence the fight against conspiratorial crimes, I recommend you start up a crackpot-style zine. Or write for a two-bit television review Web site. Either one, really.

The gunmen are Langly, Frohike, and Byers, and although the three of them acted more or less as one unit in the X-Files episodes where they appeared, it's now important to be able to tell them apart. Well, sort of important. Let's say it's more important than being able to distinguish between the girls on Popstars, but less important than knowing the names of both your parents.

Langly is the tall guy with stringy white hair. He's jumpy and outspoken, and is the most likely to go off on anti-government rants.

Frohike is the little one who looks suspiciously like a troll. It's apparently his job to be comic relief; in the pilot, he had three wacky pratfalls (including one that was face first into the mud) and was the lucky recipient of a full-body cavity search. Oh, and when it came time for the inevitable "Mission: Impossible"-style "guy-dangling-from-a-ceiling-to-steal-something" scene, it was his job to do the dangling. Lucky Frohike.

Byers is the bearded guy in the suit. He has a backstory involving the FCC, but his real job is to be the reasonably normal-looking one. He's also noticeably younger than the other two.

If you're thinking "Oh boy! Two old guys and a guy in a suit! Fox sure knows how to put the sex in sex-ay!" then you've put your finger on what might be called the demographic hole in the classic Lone Gunmen archetype. So they've added Yves Adele Harlow, who is a perfectly normal hacker. No doubt you've frequently run into hot women who spend all their time either hacking into government computers or testing out their twin Uzi submachine guns (which might not really be Uzis, but as that's the funniest submachine gun name, that's what I'll call them) at the local shooting range. You've probably also noticed that they spend a lot of time on their makeup. Oh, and because series creator Chris Carter has issues of some sort, Yves Adele Harlow turns out to be an anagram for "Lee Harvey Oswald." Make of that what you will.

Okay, so Harlow is somewhat unrealistic. Almost exactly as unrealistic as Angelina Jolie in "Hackers," in fact. Although the person Harlow most resembles is Angelina Jolie in "Tomb Raider", what with the British accent. And the twin Uzis, of course. I don't want to dwell on them, but, well, twin Uzis! Twin Uzis, I tell you! And when she's at the shooting range (which she apparently is a lot), there is, of course, a slow, loving pan of her posing, both barrels blazing away.

Aside from the occasional both-guns-blazing hottie, the look of the show is a lot like The X-Files. All the lights seem to be turned off, and various excuses are found to light the faces of the starts with blue, green, or red lights. Also, hardcore X-Files fans will be delighted to know that there are scenes involving flashlights in which the beams of light are visible in the air. Casual fans will no doubt use this as excuse for everybody to sip their drinks.

It's hard to escape the impression that The Lone Gunmen isn't destined for a long, happy life. Its debut was scant days after sweeps month was over, and The X-Files is slated to come back to its time slot after a month. Also, the description of The Lone Gunmen in my television guide is "Hackers who are brilliant but short on social skills investigate conspiracies." Boy! Ill-mannered geeks exploring their own paranoia on television? That should be great! And you say they're funny-looking? Well, all right!

Okay, I admit that the description appeals to me. But if television history has taught us anything, it's that a show which sounds good to me is doomed to vanish from the airwaves in short order.

This show raises important questions about society today. Questions like "Didn't this already air a few months ago, and wasn't it called The Trouble With Normal?" The answer, it turns out, is no. That show had four central paranoiacs, and this one has three. And many more shadows.

Another difference is that The Lone Gunmen has aspirations to being drama. The pilot dealt with Byers's father apparently dying, and has important character-building scenes involving Byers and his estranged father. Yes, the same father who supposedly died. It's complicated. And what makes it even more complicated is that all this theoretically meaningful plot was wrapped in wacky pratfalls. And Langly saying "Congrats on not being dead," which I guess was a punch line. Made me want to punch something, anyway.

To put that joke another way, The Lone Gunmen raises questions about the role of Government in the private lives of its citizens and about whether technology is as powerful a tool for god as it is for evil. It also features jokes about full body-cavity searches, so there's something for everyone.

Series creator Chris Carter claims that The X-Files is a drama with comedic elements and that The Lone Gunmen is a comedy with dramatic elements. But the drama is flat and the comedy isn't funny.

And from what I hear, X-Files fans are pretty irritated with having their show taken away for a month while The Lone Gunmen tries to make its mark. That seems to me like exactly the wrong group to cheese off, but who am I to doubt Chris Carter? After all, he is the genius behind Harsh Realm.


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