I admit that until recently, I didn’t even know The Lone Gunmen show existed. Looking around online I found quite a few people who’d only discovered the show years later. A direct spin-off of the X-Files, it stars the eponymous group often seen helping Mulder and Scully. Unfortunately cancelled very early on the show only has a single 13-episode season, which is available on DVD.
For those who need reminding, the Lone Gunmen are Melvin Frohike, John Fitzgerald Byers and Richard Langly, played by Tom Braidwood, Bruce Harwood and Dean Haglund respectively. The three of them work and live in the same apartment where they produce a newspaper that exposes conspiracies. The series follows them on their investigations independent of Mulder and Scully.
Tonally the show is very different from the X-Files. Most obviously in that this is far more comical. The Lone Gunmen generally brought humour to the X-Files so here with their own show every episode is littered with jokes. Some episodes take it further than others, the pilot episode is played much more seriously while some episodes have a premise which is already quite ridiculous.
The pilot episode itself is infamous in that it depicts a plane being electronically hijacked in an attempt to crash it into the World Trade Centre in New York. A very tragic coincidence the episode is uncomfortable to watch. I even debated skipping it entirely and it’s very hard to look at it knowing the truth of what actually happened only six months after airing.
The second episode “Bond, Jimmy Bond” introduces a fourth member of the team, Jimmy. As explained by the creators Jimmy was added so that the cast had a character to explain themselves to during episodes as otherwise the group all had the same motivations and knowledge. Jimmy is played by Stephen Snedden and is written to be essentially a good natured moron. He flip-flops between being entertainingly amusing to a little irritating. His complete stupidity often feels it’s pushed a bit too far, as if he’s too dumb to feel believable. Unfortunately he’s the weakest link in the series. Admittedly there’s no issue with Snedden’s acting, the serious and comedic moments are both acted well but the writing itself just pushes him too far away from the tone of the source material.
Another new cast member is Yves Adele Harlow played by Zuleikha Robinson. A mysterious character, she acts as an occasional helper to the group. As with Jimmy her presence is hit and miss. Sometimes she works very well and provides a nice alternative viewpoint while other times her presence feels very forced as she turns up almost inexplicably. It’s also a little cringe worthy that they push her sex appeal so much as it’s completely unnecessary.
The third episode is a standout one as Frohike goes undercover as a long lost son of a suspected Nazi. It’s played almost entirely for laughs and is where the show really finds its footing. There’s a solid blend of humour and nice character moments, which the remainder of the show’s episodes do well to duplicate. It shows that when everything comes together the show can really nail it.
While The X-Files dealt with aliens and dangerous creatures The Lone Gunmen always deals with more grounded mysteries. There’s more infiltration and lying here as the group try to figure out what’s going on and bring the culprit to justice. Investigation takes place while trespassing or hacking into computers more often than not. There’s also vibes of Mission Impossible as well as a direct homage early on.
Although cancelled abruptly there’s thankfully closure via the X-Files episode “Jump The Shark” which is smartly included in the DVD set. It’s a little bit jarring when making the swap and the early moments of the episode feel a bit forced as The Lone Gunmen’s remaining plot points bulldoze the X-Files characters into background roles. By the second half it’s easy to forget you’re not just watching an episode of the former series, which is great here as it provides a proper conclusion, which it never got to have.
Overall it’s a good series. If you come expecting it to imitate the X-Files in tone you’ll be left disorientated and possibly disappointed. If you can judge the series for what it is on its own merits then there’s something to like here.
Some odd choices do get in the way of this being a truly great show though. The extra cast members feel contrived and some episodes struggle with the balance of comedy and drama. There’s shining moments where the full potential of the show is evident, it’s a shame it wasn’t given the chance to really find itself.
What we do have in its limited episodes is fun and sometimes just plain silly, but there are a lot of memorable moments that make The Lone Gunmen worth watching, for X-Files fans or anyone else.
Want more X-Files articles? Check out this post for a list of all of the X-Files content this week.