It's been more than two years since "X-Files" stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny materialized at New York Comic Con and ignited an eruption of cheers that still echo, at least in memory. The decibel level only grew when Duchovny declared that he and Anderson would "love to" return their roles as FBI paranormal investigators Mulder and Scully.
Sure, he could have been pandering to the audience, packed largely with fans too young to remember the debut of "The X-Files" two decades earlier. But he proved as serious as an appearance by the Cigarette Smoking Man: The show returns for a six-episode run beginning Sunday.
Like the truth, "The X-Files" is still out there, even if the real world has become a scarier place than even show creator Chris Carter could have imagined in 1993. It's up to Mulder and Scully, 14 years after the final TV installment and eight years after the last movie, to make us believers again.
The show's debut all those years ago didn't immediately spark the roar of the crowd. But "The X-Files" soon gained a following, similar to that of its early 1990s predecessor "Twin Peaks" – another spooky mystery show that briefly made weird cool on network TV.
"The X-Files" emerged as far more durable, thanks largely to the interplay between believer Mulder and skeptic Scully, with Monsters of the Week, dark humor and sexual tension helping keep things fresh for much of the nine-season run. Still, no one can say Fox yanked the show before its time, as was the case with "Star Trek," the first in a line of canceled programs to transcend cult status and slowly earn an elevated spot in the popular culture, buoyed by diehards and fresh generations of fans.
The screams of young wannabe Mulders and Scullys at that 2013 Comic Con spoke to the power of streaming, which helped gain "The X-Files"—as well as "Arrested Development" and "Twin Peaks"—new acolytes and new life. As evidenced by the recent triumphant return of "Star Wars," following three disappointing prequels, striking a winning balance between the old and new amid expectations that grow with time is no easy task. It's a particularly tough challenge for a show like "The X-Files," whose comfort zone rests in making the audience uncomfortable.
Anderson and Duchovny felt the brunt of fan disillusionment in the 2008 movie, "The X-Files: I Want to Believe." But TV is their home. The six new episodes promise a storyline, along with some new monsters and a flying saucer crash straight out of Roswell. Perhaps we'll learn a few things—like more about that semi-secret son of Mulder and Scully's, and how the Cigarette Smoking Man escaped apparent death—as the duo try to save the world from forces, seen and otherwise.
"X," of course, stands for the unknown - the biggest of which is whether Duchovny and Anderson can live up to the rock star reception that greeted the first hint of their latest return. Check out a preview (above) as Mulder and Scully head back out there in search of renewed success as much as the truth.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.