You've heard the expression "strike while the iron is hot." Fox's "The Lone Gunmen" is an example of waiting too long and striking when the iron has turned lukewarm at best.
At the height of its popularity, a spinoff from "The X-Files" would have made sense, but this comedy-drama about the computer nerds who sometimes assist "X-Files" agents Mulder and Scully comes three years too late.
"The Lone Gunmen"
When: 9 tonight on Fox.
Starring: Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund.
"The Lone Gunmen" will air in "The X-Files" time slot for the next three weeks. It moves to 9 p.m. Friday on March 16 ("X-Files" returns April 1).
The lead characters in "Lone Gunmen" have made welcome, brief contributions to "X-Files" episodes for years now, with the emphasis on [begin itals] brief. [end itals] Secondary characters such as these work best in small doses. Need proof? Think about the horrid "Michael Richards Show," which was essentially a "Seinfeld" spinoff starring Kramer.
"The Lone Gunmen" isn't as awful as that, but it's not good. Imagine "The X-Files" with fewer dark themes and more pratfalls and you've got a good idea what to expect.
"X-Files" creator Chris Carter calls it " 'Mission: Impossible' on laughing gas." But does anyone really want to see "Mission: Impossible" on laughing gas?
Bearded Byers (Bruce Harwood), balding Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and long-haired Langly (Dean Haglund) continue to publish their weekly newspaper devoted to conspiracies, but they're beginning to question whether their efforts have any effect.
"We've spent 11 years putting out this paper," Byers says dejectedly. "Have we really made a difference?"
Now that they have a TV show of their own, the Lone Gunmen can't just be the fun respite from gloominess they were on "X-Files." Now they must have motivation and back story.
Tonight that involves the possible murder of Byers' father and the introduction of a new character, Yves Adele Harlow (Zuleikha Robinson), a beautiful computer hacker who's in the game for monetary gain rather than ferreting out the truth. She tantalizes the boys both with her looks and her mysterious name, an anagram for Lee Harvey Oswald.
The premiere includes multiple Frohike pratfalls, including a tumble in the mud (he seems to be the show's punching bag), and cool special effects as an airplane heads on a crash course for the World Trade Center.
It's light and jokey (including an homage to the first "Mission: Impossible" film) in parts, but then turns serious, giving "The Lone Gunmen" an uneven tone.
It's not action-packed. How could it be when most of the action takes place in front of computer screens? Not only is the hacking dull, it's also unbelievable. Perhaps some computer genius can hack into an airliner's controls from the ground, but it seems highly unlikely to this computer layman.
A future episode introduces another regular character, Jimmy Bond (Stephen Snedden), a dim-witted, good-hearted jock who bankrolls the Lone Gunmen's publishing efforts. Perhaps he was added to dilute the show's nerd quotient, but his introduction is cloaked in weak comedy: Jimmy tries to launch a football team comprised of blind players. Predictably, there are many scenes of guys falling over one another trying to get at a football that beeps a homing beacon.
You don't need to know anything about "X-Files" lore to follow what's happening in "The Lone Gunmen," but who would tune in other than "X-Files" fans? With that universe shrinking rapidly, it doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to conclude "The Lone Gunmen" won't shoot to the top of many viewers' must-see list.
You can reach Rob Owen at email@example.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.