In my recent discussion with my conspiracy theory believing friend, the subject of The Lone Gunmen came up. It was a short-lived television series spin-off of The X-Files. I had never heard of it, but that is hardly surprising, since I have never seen an episode of The X-Files. I don’t intend to be mean, but both shows fall into that category of “things I would have loved when I was 12.” They are, after all, just updates of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, but without all the charm that Darren McGavin added to everything he was in.
I was asked to watch the pilot of The Lone Gunmen because it has a 9/11 truther tie in. Even though it was released some six months before 9/11, it was about a secret government plot to remotely take control of a commercial airplane and fly it into the World Trade Center. Cue the dramatic music: du-du-duuunnn! The reason they want to do this is to create a new enemy because the Cold War is over and they want those juicy military contracts to keep flowing. They were kind of late to this given that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
There is a problem with this theory. Those government contacts never stopped flowing. It wasn’t necessary for the military-industrial complex to stage a terrorist attack. All they had to do was more of what they had been doing: lobbying Congress and sending those campaign contributions. Again: the conspiracies are out there, they are just in plain sight and legal. The Supreme Court calls them “democracy”!
But that’s not the fault of the television show. That’s a damned fine premise for a story. And the creation of the whole show is good. It’s about three guys who publish a conspiracy newspaper. There’s the well dressed leader (that seems to be the extent of his characterization), the old radical who keeps things real, and the brilliant young hacker who is excitable. There is also a totally hot female hacker named Yves Adele Harlow (anagram of “Lee Harvey Oswal”) who seems to spend all her time at an indoor shooting range because it turns her hotness factor up to eleven. It’s all pretty standard and with the conspiracy element, it could have been a very fun show.
And maybe it is a fun show. I’ve only watched the first episode. They made 12 more before they pulled the plug. But that first episode is some of the worst television writing I have ever seen. Let’s start with the plot. It is chalk full of the most tired cliches. The leader of the gunmen’s father dies. The father’s best friend talks to them. Oh by God! You mean he was involved?! Who would have thought?! And then they are trying to figure out why he was killed. And then the father is not really dead. And then he shows up and just tells the gunmen why they tried to kill him. It’s all a muddled mess.
The beginning of it also doesn’t make any sense. The gunmen try to steal a new computer chip that has spying capability designed into it. This is clearly a nod to the Clipper chip. Again, they were a little late to this one: it was a big deal in the computer community in 1993, and was dead by 1996. But the gunmen mess up and Yves Adele Harlow steals it away from them, setting them up to be caught. Okay: a big deal computer chip has been stolen and the gunmen are caught, but without the chip. But apparently no charges are filed; they are searched and released. I guess the writers don’t expect us to take the show seriously. But if that’s what they wanted, they shouldn’t have blown the lid off the 9/11 conspiracy! (Note: sarcasm.)
The plot problems might have been okay. They were terrible, but it’s just a television show. What kills the show is the dialog. Really. “The readership doesn’t matter, man, it’s the impact on the black ops that counts!” And it has witty lines like, “Next time, leave the crack pipe at home.” Or this classic example of “stylistic” dialog, “My point being you’re wasting your life, man. A hacker of your caliber ought to be floating in a Silicon Valley hot tub, sipping champers, and counting his IPO cashola.” It is impossible to convey how bad the dialog is. And it is unrelenting. There is pretty much no dialog that is not bad. If you are a connoisseur of such things, watch the whole episode; it will be a hoot:
The episode was written by four The X-Files veterans, who also created The Lone Gunmen: Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, and Frank Spotnitz. I suppose we could say that the episode is so bad because everyone has a bad day now and then. Or we could say that this episode is the result of group thinking. But I think it is more likely the case that none of them are all that good. The fifth season of Breaking Bad convinced me that Vince Gilligan didn’t know what he was doing. He just fumbled into something that worked. But even at its worst, I don’t recall Breaking Bad being in the same creative universe as The Lone Gunmen. This show is unwatchable.