Writer-executive producer Chris Carter, the man who created both The X-Files and Millennium, is the sort of popular artist who’s always trying to transcend the pop culture that inspires him. Too often, such ambition dulls the obstreperous energy that makes the best mass entertainment vital. But like Ross Macdonald with his moody private-eye novels and Philip K. Dick with his grandly paranoiac science-fiction tales, Carter has found a way to make dark-minded self-consciousness help rather than hinder his work. Using junky forms like TV sci-fi and the modern horror novel as jumping-off points, he’s given us two series that stand out as unpredictable, original visions.
None of which means that Carter is infallible. Indeed, The X-Files‘ fourth season, which concludes on May 18, has been very uneven, with a few superb episodes propping up weak ones. And the recently renewed Millennium, just closing out its first season, has been a major disappointment, often managing to be pretentious and silly at the same time. After a brilliant pilot introducing Lance Henriksen as Frank Black, a preternaturally sensitive ex-FBI agent enlisted by the former law-enforcement officers who make up the Millennium Group, this show quickly became a serial-killer-of-the-week drag.
Here’s a checklist of what’s right and wrong with this show, along with a few presumptuous suggestions on how to improve it.
Enough pale-balding-white-guy villains. Unlike X-Files, which accommodates all sorts of unexplained phenomena, Millennium is hamstrung by its premise: Frank Black exists to hunt down warped criminals. Certainly, individual episodes can be powerful in their carefully modulated bleakness. But witnessing the same nightmare week after week (eek! — another psycho with arcane ways of expressing his violent looniness) is as boring as the steady drip of Seattle (by way of Vancouver) rain that provides the damp backdrop to this gory goon-fest.
A few weeks ago, Millennium abruptly redeemed itself with a Carter-penned episode that gave the series a welcome blast of novelty (Lucy, a Lucifer-ish female villain), clarity (the dialogue was hard-boiled to a crisp), and surprise (the killing of a major supporting player, Bill Smitrovich’s Lieutenant Bletcher). More free-for-alls like this, please.
Frank’s family must go. Sorry, but all the at-home scenes with wife (Megan Gallagher) and child (Brittany Tiplady) are deadlier than any murderer. With pronouncements like ”You should love your family as much as you can and be prepared for the possibility that that may not be enough,” Millennium pushes family values as overtly as Touched by an Angel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — except when it results in wooden dialogue. Sure, Carter wants Frank’s family around to show us the hero’s softer, happier side, but the marriage seems ludicrous (Hi, honey, I’m home — get any deranged phone calls today?), and the series would work better if he were a haunted workaholic with no private life. Hey, Carter — think back to Kolchak: The Night Stalker, an inspiration you’ve cited for X-Files.
No more kids-in-danger scenes. Way too many episodes have shown children threatened, manipulating viewers in a way that verges on cheap-porno violence. If the intention is to show how vulnerable we all are to irrational cruelty, using kids as guinea pigs is a cynical way to dramatize it.
Don’t lighten up, but vary the tone a tad. X-Files has been justly praised for being dark, but there’s a crucial difference: Mulder and Scully are heroic gloomy Gusses in a busy world full of interesting people of every sort of temperament; in Millennium, everyone is a morose depressive. This reduces the solid supporting cast — including Terry O’Quinn, Stephen J. Lang, and ER‘s CCH Pounder — to a collection of personality-free poker faces.
I’ll end with a logical disclaimer: If Millennium weren’t so potentially good, I wouldn’t bother to pick on it. C-