Short-Lived Shows: The Lone Gunmen - VIDEO
"We tell the stories others refuse to tell." - Richard "Ringo" Langly
Like many of you, I have a growning collection of DVD sets from shows that left the airwaves too soon. If I had to pick just one to have back, it would probably be Firefly, but The Lone Gunmen would certainly be in the conversation. It was a great example of a spin-off done right. After years of service, fighting the good fight, lending a hand to Mulder, the boys finally got their own gig. Melvin Frohike, Richard Langly, and Johy Byers weren't your typical prime-time, leading man, characters, and The Lone Gunmen wasn't your typical prime-time show.
Our trio of heroes lent themselves to the spin-off very well. They had been around for a long time, having made their debut in the first season of The X-Files. Originally conceived as a one time thing, the characters caught on and kept being called back into duty. Thoughts of giving them their own series really started to gain some steam in season five. Work on the X-Files movie was keeping Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny busy, making the production schedule difficult.
The solution was the episode "Unusual Suspects." The lone gunmen carried the weight for that episode providing some much needed relief for production, and proving that they had the stuff to be the core of a show. That was followed up in season six with "Three Of A Kind." The success of that one was the spark that made the spin-off a reality.
The gunmen had always been popular characters with the writers because they provided comic relief, or an accessible way to get an explanation from way out in left field into the show. They were originally conceived as an even more paranoid group than Mulder. And all of those thoughts and ideas made it into the show. There were changes, to be sure, but at the root of it, these were the same guys we had been watching for years.
Of course, with their own show they were going to need some supporting players. That was another thing that the team behind the show got just right. First up was their new nemesis, Yves Adele Harlow, played by the beautiful Zuleikha Robinson (New Amsterdam). She started as a nemesis, thwarting the boys plans for her own personal gain. You were never really sure just what side she was on. But as we moved through the season, the Yves character flushed out nicely, and she got some great story in both "Tango De Los Pistoleros" and the final episode, "All About Yves."
Joining her for the ride was the handsome everyman, James "Jimmy" Bond, played by Stephen Snedden. Jimmy was the perfect compliment to the gunmen for a couple of reasons. For one, he was a true believer who wore his heart on his sleeve. His motivation really was to do good. More importantly from a structure standpoint, he represented the viewer. The gunmen all knew and, for the most part, believed the same things. They didn't have a lot of reason to expound on those things. With Jimmy in the picture though, they had to explain things. As he learned, we learned. He also served as a possible romantic interest for Yves, something we got peeks at, but ultimately a story there wasn't time to tell.
Over the course of their one short season there were a lot of good episodes. The one that obviously stands out for its notoriety is "Pilot." In one of the most incredible coincidences ever, just six months before the 9/11 attacks, that first episode focused on terrorists that wanted to crash a hijacked plane into the World Trade Center. In talking about it, executive producer Frank Spotnitz said that on the morning of the attack the first thing he thought of was The Lone Gunmen. And he hoped that this had nothing to do with their show. Here is a video where Byers discusses the plot with his father.
If I have to choose, I think my favorite Lone Gunmen episode was "The Lying Game." Thinking that Assistant Director Skinner is involved in a murder, Jimmy is done up in the full Skinner disguise to go undercover. The story is solid, but not so different that it stands above the other episodes for that alone. What really sells the episode is the work of Mitch Pileggi. When he appears as Jimmy being Skinner, it's some of the funniest stuff you'll see on TV. By that time Skinner was so established, to see him firing off lines like, "This is Walter Freakin' Skinner of the F.B.I and I am going to jail! Big time!" is so crazy you can't help but laugh.
Unfortunately, the show didn't end gracefully. The ratings were a little iffy, but the producers were hopeful for a second go, so the final episode ended with a cliffhanger. That second season just wasn't to be and fans were left hanging for some time. The story of the men who told the stories others refused to tell did finally get its ending almost a year later with the X-Files episode, "Jump The Shark." As we all know, they were killed off in that one, but they went out as big damn heroes, which is just how it should have been.
Or did they? There is a theory about the caskets we saw them being buried in at Arlington. It's possible that they didn't really die, and it's all part of a massive government cover up. I'm just sayin'...