review by John W. Herbert
Freshly out on DVD is The Lone Gunmen, a short-lived spin-off that aired 13 episodes in early 2001, taking a trio of characters from the popular X-Files tv series.
The title characters are three conspiracy nut/hackers/journalists who publish a small press newspaper, The Lone Gunman: John Fitzgerald Byers (played by Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood), and Richard Langly (Dean Haglund). Joining them in the series is their new intern, a painfully earnest but not too bright young football coach with the improbable name of James "Jimmy" Bond. They are also sometimes both aided and thwarted by a mysterious female operative by the even more improbable name of Yves Adele Harlow (an anagram of Lee Harvey Oswald).
While the X-Files explored conspiracies of science fictional or supernatural origin, The Lone Gunmen are concerned with more earthly conspiracies: has the automobile industry covered up the existence of a water powered car; is the latest computer chip also spying on its users; and the holy grail of conspiracies, who killed JFK.
The Lone Gunmen’s only real claim to television history might be the plot of the pilot episode, which aired in March of 2001, in which a rogue group of American government officials, trying to increase flat weapons sales, um, hijack a fully loaded passenger jet intending to crash it into the World Trade Center, and it will be blamed on the "dozen tin pot dictators all over the world clamouring to take responsibility and just begging to be smart-bombed," and lots of money will be made by American arms dealers. So the next time you here a politician say no one could have predicted the method of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, they obviously weren’t watching The Lone Gunmen.
In fact, not many people were watching The Lone Gunmen, and it easy to see why in some ways as early on some jokes were repeated ad naseum. Early episodes contained unfunny body function humour that went on too long, such as Langly puking and Frohike farting. Many episodes contain the same basic formula: a stranger approaches the Gunmen with a mystery that needs solving, but only after things go wrong do the Gunmen discover through some simple checking that it was the stranger that has been setting them up all the time. It also seems that the Fox network failed to get behind the show, and as the X-Files was nearing the end of its run, the network wanted to put the show, and any spin-offs, behind it.
But for the most part, The Lone Gunmen is entirely enjoyable. While most episodes strove to walk the fine line between being a comedy and a drama (and didn’t always succeed), there are a number of episodes that caught the balance just right. And a few that were downright suspenseful and thrilling. And when they stayed away from the bathroom humour, they did have a few genuinely funny running gags, particularly the one depicting Frohike as the ladies’ man of the bunch.
The cast is uniformly excellent, particularly the three leads. And kudos to Stephen Seddon, charged with the thankless task of playing the sometimes near-moronic Jimmy Bond. Seddon throws himself into playing Bond, and captures the romantic soul and dignity beneath Bond’s lack of intellect. And more kudos to Mitch Pileggi for his hilarious guest shot as FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Scully and Mulder’s boss)
There are some bonus features, including four episode commentaries by the cast and crew, and a nice little documentary. The best feature, however, is the inclusion of the X-Files episode "Jump the Shark," which resolves the cliff-hanger ending of the final Lone Gunmen episode, and reveals the ultimate fate of our conspiracy-minded trio.
Reasonably-priced and more than reasonable entertainment, The Lone Gunmen is a conspiracy worth pursuing.
(originally published in Under the Ozone Hole #17)