San Francisco Chronicle
March 2, 2001

'Gunmen' Suffers From Self-Inflicted Wounds
By Tim Goodman

Somebody has a lot of explaining to do for "The Lone Gunmen," the Chris Carter-produced spin-off of "The X-Files," which takes over that ailing series' slot Sunday for a three-week run.

Fox, which desperately wants to keep "The X-Files" franchise going despite its slipping quality, wayward stars (hello, David Duchovny) and the axiom that nothing lasts forever, has put on "The Lone Gunmen" (9 p.m. Sunday, Channel 2) in the hopes that the devoted fans of "The X-Files," particularly the geeky ones, will rally around it, creating a hit.

Two words: not likely.

Adopting the worst trait in the "X-Files" arsenal -- mixing intriguing drama with silly comedy -- "The Lone Gunmen" starts out like a flat episode where Mulder and Scully just happen to be on vacation, then returns in episode two digging up the bones of the Marx Brothers. Unappealing, both ways.

Perhaps the first misstep was believing that the trio of geeky conspiracy theorists that played out as a wacky Greek chorus on "The X-Files" would make great fodder for a weekly series. Anyone familiar with "The X-Files" knows that the three bit characters of Byers (Bruce Harwood), Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Langly (Dean Haglund) were best served up in very small doses.

If they lingered around any "X-Files" episode too long, it just seemed corny. They were at their best when Mulder could mock them one moment, then be saved by their tech smarts the next.

Now we're supposed to love them for a full hour, week after week, as they spin off from the mother ship to create a weird, flat, unfunny and uninteresting little confection that says a lot about the power of Carter and the misplaced hopes of Fox.

The general rule in television is you give a star producer -- particularly if that producer has a show on your network -- free rein. Fox allowed just that kind of freedom as Carter gave the network the dark, underappreciated "Millennium," which failed mostly because Carter was away from the controls too long, leaving direction to underlings.

After milking it for a while, Fox canceled the series. Carter then decided that he'd make something else, this time guiding it personally (probably because he was bored with "The X-Files" at that point and saw the end coming). That new series was "Harsh Realm," which had potential if only the first two episodes weren't as dense and difficult as the SAT might be to a stray dog.

Carter, saying his loyal fans would hang with the show and reap the eventual rewards -- namely the ability to figure out what was going on -- thought "Harsh Realm" would have a sort of safe harbor on Fox. Not so. The network killed it almost immediately, infuriating and embarrassing Carter.

The trouble was, Fox really wants "The X-Files" to stick around, even as pieces of it fall off in decay. Something about pulling in millions of fans each week. Anyway, that gave Carter the kind of power to spin off "The Lone Gunmen," and "Harsh Realm" gives him a kind of protection -- like, kill this one early and kiss "The X-Files" goodbye.

Well, it's clear Fox is over a barrel for no good reason -- because "The Lone Gunmen" is boring -- and Carter has backed the wrong horse (also because "The Lone Gunmen" is boring).

That might be a dark network conspiracy theory about how something this uninspiring got on the air. Sounds out there, but it's the truth.