While few “X-Files” fans will dispute the greatness of the two Lone Gunmen-themed episodes, the actual series “The Lone Gunmen” (2001, Fox) gets mixed reviews. I love the fact that three funny-looking dudes starred in a network TV series and I was sad when it was canceled, but I admit that “The Lone Gunmen” was a work in progress that never totally gelled through 13 episodes.
Despite telling Byers’ story and heavily featuring Frohike and Langly, Season 5’s “Unusual Suspects” and Season 6’s “Three of a Kind” still had that “X-Files” tone. Mulder was in the former and Scully was in the latter, but mainly, the vibe was serious; the humor came naturally from the characters themselves.
“The Lone Gunmen” opted to add a comedic tone. It was never offensively or distractingly unfunny, but the comedy always felt a bit gratuitous to me. Bruce Harwood’s Byers continued to be the suit-wearing straight man, and Tom Braidwood’s Frohike showed more of a temper (memorably pulling out an “ass paddle” on an annoying kid in “Madam, I’m Adam”). The short-statured Frohike was also thrown into visually humorous situations, such as wearing lederhosen in “Eine Kleine Frohike” and a baby-feeding apparatus in “Three Men and a Smoking Diaper” and inexplicably turning out to be a world-class tango dancer known as El Lobo in “Tango de los Pistoleros.”
Without a doubt, though, Dean Haglund’s Langly was the primary victim of the increased emphasis on visual gags. Granted, Haglund went on to an improv comedy career after “Gunmen” and “The X-Files” ended, but I just wasn’t laughing much when Langly:
- barfed into a golf bag after siphoning gas,
- had to give a rectal exam to a bull,
- had his leg humped by a small dog,
- got his face blasted by blue paint,
- was regularly mistaken for a girl due to his hair,
and so forth.
The two new cast members were both likable, despite seeming like network-mandated add-ons at first glance. Stephen Snedden’s wide-eyed and dim-witted Jimmy Bond is the audience surrogate so the Gunmen can continue to do their high-tech computer kung-fu without having to explain it to the audience; instead, they explain it to Jimmy (Byers does so patiently; Frohike and Langly do so with exasperation, with Frohike regularly “firing” him). Jimmy also has the funds to keep the Lone Gunman newspaper afloat, thus answering the question of “Where do they get their money?”
The other new addition is Zuleikha Robison (who later appeared on “Lost”) as Yves, who adds a woman to the cast and also a rival undercover investigator who gradually becomes the Gunmen’s ally. In the short-lived series, we don’t find out what organization (if any) she works for or what her ultimate goal is (that will be handled in the Season 9 “X-Files” episode “Jump the Shark,” which continues from the “Gunmen” finale “All About Yves”), but there’s a nice element of mystery to the fact that all her aliases are anagrams for Lee Harvey Oswald.
Some pundits felt “Gunmen” came along too late in “The X-Files” run, after the franchise’s popularity had peaked. Although the characters will always be associated with the zeitgeist of the ’90s, I’d argue the Gunmen (who were sadly killed off in “Jump the Shark”) are timeless.
In “All About Yves,” the trio explains to Jimmy that they try to dig deeper than the mainstream media. Today, the mainstream media, due to budget cuts, have almost no investigative reporters left. As such, The Lone Gunman — which, as Byers says in “The Lying Game,” look like the National Enquirer to many people but must still have the standards of the New York Times — could really make an impact in 2011, although it would probably do so with a blog-heavy Internet-only newspaper rather than with a print edition. I think if the show had put more emphasis on the importance of the newspaper and allowed the humor to come naturally out of the characters rather than via slapstick and pratfalls, the tone would’ve been right on.
Still, no one will accuse “Gunmen” of being too simplistic. On more than half of the episodes, I couldn’t follow the plot at all, including the pilot episode (which is famous for predicting the World Trade Center attack). The twisty-turny plots call to mind the just-wrapped season of “Fringe.”
Also, “Gunmen” was more like “Fringe” than “The X-Files” in the way it explored cutting-edge technology. Sometimes it worked beautifully, as in “Like Water for Octane,” about a car that runs on water, and “Planet of the Frohikes,” with its super-intelligent chimpanzee.
But at other times I struggled to suspend my disbelief. The second episode, “Bond, Jimmy Bond,” shows that the Gunmen (via Yves) have access to a device you can plug into the top of your mouth that makes you sound like another person. “Eine Kleine Frohike” is wrapped up when Jimmy uses not only that device, but also a “Mission: Impossible”-style mask that makes him look exactly like another character. (This was later used to comedic effect in “The Lying Game” when Mitch Pileggi does a great Jimmy Bond impression.)
The problem with the “M:I” masks is that several hairy situations come up where you can say “Why didn’t they just disguise themselves?” It’s too convenient of a solution.
Despite my criticisms, I have a soft spot for “The Lone Gunmen.” You’re not likely to find three more un-Hollywood guys as TV leads (all are Canadian actors who haven’t had any other major roles, and Braidwood’s main job was as a crewman on “The X-Files”) and it was a pleasure hanging out with them on their noble missions to expose government corruption every Friday. Sure, they had a good run on TV (appearing in all nine seasons of “The X-Files”), but I still say their mission ended too soon.
What are your thoughts on “The Lone Gunmen?” Share your comments below. Up next, it’s back to the parent show with a review of “The X-Files’ ” ninth and final season.