Review for The Lone Gunmen: The Complete Series
I can’t believe that I’ve left it nearly 20 years to watch The Lone Gunmen, the series that spun-off from The X-Files late in its run. After all, I love The X-Files, and The Lone Gunmen trio of conspiracy theorists always gave good comic relief. If ever a group of supporting characters had the legs to stand on their own, it’s Byers, Langly and Frohike. But late in The X-Files’ run was when that series was going off the boil, a satellite channel snaffled up The Lone Gunmen, making it too much of a chore to watch, and it wound up cancelled after just a handful of episodes. All of that told me that The Lone Gunmen probably wasn’t that good. But the completist in me has been irked every time that I’ve re-watched The X-Files, in that I’m leaving something important out. Now that I’m taking in The X-Files on Blu-ray, it seemed the right time to indulge in the adventures of The Lone Gunmen. Only they’re still stuck in the standard definition world of DVD.
In the X-Files, when Fox Mulder needed another perspective on a case, he would occasionally call on The Lone Gunmen, John Fitzgerald Byers, Melvin Frohike, and Richard ‘Ringo’ Langly, three conspiracy theorists who kept the world informed as to the horrific truths of the government and big corporations through their Lone Gunman newsletter. The spin off series follows them on their investigations, with the questionable aid of their eager benefactor Jimmy Bond, and the occasional help and more often hindrance from thief Yves Adele Harlow.
13 episodes are presented across three dual layer discs, plus a bonus X-Files episode.
The Lone Gunmen are doing what they do... best for want of a better word, looking for material for their conspiracy theory publication. In this case a microchip which harvests its users’ data. They’re up against professional thief Yves Adele Harlow, and are left hanging, literally. John Byers’ world takes a more serious turn when he learns that his father has died in a car accident in suspicious circumstances. When they investigate, they uncover a government conspiracy so audacious and lethal, that they’ll need help from their worst enemy.
2. Bond, Jimmy Bond
Yves shows up again with a new mystery, a murdered hacker with a million dollar cheque. The cheque comes from a philanthropic charity, and while the CEO’s name seems suspicious, it turns out that Jimmy ‘James’ Bond is on the up. The same isn’t true for the charity’s anonymous trustees though. But Yves Adele Harlow is hardly altruistic, so the real question is what she’s really after...
3. Eine Kleine Frohike
It may be cruel to say that Frohike looks like the son of a Nazi general and a French collaborator, but it also might be accurate, when the son of the last victim of the Alsace Poisoner comes looking for Frohike’s help. It seems that she may just be hiding in plain sight in the US but her desire to see her long-lost son might just smoke her out. If Frohike can do so without being poisoned himself...
4. Like Water for Octane
Byers thinks he’s finally hit the jackpot. The government has responded to his Freedom of Information request, with a big, heavy box. The joke’s on him. It’s a big heavy box, containing a big, heavy concrete block. But there is also one, heavily redacted document about a Stan Mizer which catches Frohike’s attention. Stan Mizer reputedly invented a car that ran on water, a car that promptly vanished from public awareness, but a car that Frohike actually had a ride in as a child.
5. Three Men and a Smoking Diaper
The Lone Gunmen’s latest mission is to unmask a duplicitous senator who looks to be a shoe-in for re-election. It’s more than just political when one of his aides winds up dead. Sending Jimmy in undercover is never a smart idea, but then they’re left holding the baby when they find one alone in what’s suspected to be the senator’s love nest.
6. Madam, I’m Adam
Adam Burgess comes to the Lone Gunmen with a story of identity theft. Not just his credit cards, but his whole life has been stolen. Someone else lives in his house, sleeps with his wife, his neighbours don’t even recognise him. He thinks that he’s been abducted by aliens from a parallel universe and dumped in this one. But before the Lone Gunmen call in Mulder, they have to figure out why he has an electronic access port in the back of his neck.
7. Planet of the Frohikes
Getting an e-mail asking for help doesn’t sound too strange, but for the Lone Gunmen, when that e-mail contains an audio file from Edward Woodward, that raises a few eyebrows. It’s weirder than that. The e-mail’s actually from a super-smart chimp with access to a speech synthesiser who wants the Lone Gunmen to break him out of the research lab where he’s expected to become the next Shakespeare.
8. Maximum Byers
An old lady is one of the Lone Gunmen’s subscribers, and she comes to them for help when her son is on death row. He’s given up the fight to prove his innocence, and is even asking for an expedited execution date. If the Lone Gunmen are to clear his name, they’ll have to go in undercover as fellow inmates.
9. Diagnosis: Jimmy
Jimmy was supposed to get the evidence of a poacher selling black market bear organs, but somehow skied face first into a tree, winding up in hospital with a broken leg and amnesia. While the others brave freezing temperatures to go up against the poacher, Jimmy’s doing his best to recall what happened on the mountain. But not all is as it seems in the hospital.
10. Tango de los Pistoleros
This time the Lone Gunmen aim to pull a fast one on Yves as opposed to the usual reverse. They’ve tailed her to Miami, shadowing her as she tries to deceive a smuggler shifting military secrets. But their action puts Yves in mortal danger, and the only way to save all their hides is to dance the tango.
11. The Lying Game
Byers knows a woman? Carol has come to him looking for help finding the killer of her brother Jeff, who was murdered in a nightclub toilet. But Jeff isn’t the innocent victim. He was a high tech blackmailer, who filmed all of his contacts. He also caught on camera the identity of his killer... one Assistant Director Walter Skinner of the FBI.
12. The Cap’n Toby Show
Young men dying of heart attacks, on the same day, in the same mall is the kind of coincidence that deserves investigation. Someone is selling state secrets, but when Langly’s childhood hero is implicated, the star of a harmless children’s show, it’s the kind of news story that can shatter illusions.
13. All About Yves
The Lone Gunmen have targeted professional MIB and general creep Morris Fletcher for information, but when they uncover links to a government sanctioned terrorist group called Romeo 61 behind every major incident since the Kennedy assassination, they wind up working with Fletcher instead. And when Yves Adele Harlow is implicated in Romeo 61, they no longer know who to trust.
14. The X-Files: Jump the Shark
When Morris Fletcher shows up again floating in the Caribbean, he’s eager to see Doggett and Reyes, dangling the possibility of an X File and a potential Super Soldier named Yves Adele Harlow. And when a university professor ends up dead, his innards glowing in the dark, it certainly looks that way. But it’s not an X File, it’s a job for the Lone Gunmen, but this time it will be their toughest challenge yet.
The Lone Gunmen gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic PAL transfer on this collection. Think later season X-Files DVD boxsets when it comes to the image quality. It’s clear and sharp, and colours are consistent, although this is one show where the colour palette is somewhat subdued. You also can’t get away from the NTSC origins of the show, imbuing an added level of softness to proceedings. But, the show is watchable enough, and there is no real problem with aliasing or compression, other than a hint of occasional moiré over fine detail. Alas, I doubt this will get the same Blu-ray treatment that The X Files got.
You get a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround English track for the episodes, with optional English subtitles. You also get PAL speedup, which is blatantly obvious on the theme tune, as the theme tune on the menu screen is at the correct speed and pitch. The audio is fine in bringing across the action, offering a little stereo separation, and even some surround effectiveness when prologicked up. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the show’s music comes across well, allowing composer Mark Snow to be a fair bit more up-beat and quirky compared to his work on The X Files.
Remember when DVD distributors could be profligate in their packaging. The Lone Gunmen’s three discs are presented in a fat Amaray case, one on each inner face, and one on a central hinged panel. You also get a 4 page inlay with the series.
The discs boot to static menus after a ‘You wouldn’t close the X-Files!’ antipiracy warning.
Disc 1 has two audio commentaries. The first is on Pilot, from director Rob Bowman, cinematographer Robert McLachlan, and writer/producers, Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, and Frank Spotnitz. The second is on Bond, Jimmy Bond with actors Dean Haglund (Langly), Tom Braidwood (Frohike), Bruce Harwood (Byers), Zuleikha Robinson (Yves), and Stephen Snedden (Jimmy), alongside director Bryan Spicer.
Disc 2 has an audio commentary on Tango de los Pistoleros with actors Dean Haglund, Tom Braidwood, Bruce Harwood, Zuleikha Robinson, and Stephen Snedden, alongside director Bryan Spicer and writer Thomas Schnauz.
Disc 3 autoplays with trailers for The X Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Family Guy.
You get a commentary on All About Yves with John Shiban, Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan, and Bryan Spicer.
The Jump the Shark commentary from John Shiban, Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotnitz is repeated from the X-Files Season 9 Boxset.
Defenders of Justice: The Story of the Lone Gunmen is a retrospective look at the making of the show, with interviews with the cast and crew, as well as a look at the more notable episodes, which given how long the series lasted, pretty much is all of them. This featurette runs to 39:17.
Finally there are 4 TV Spots for the show, running to 1:47 in total.
Looking at my collection, it seems I have a soft spot for also-rans, series that never made it past the first season, or indeed the first 13 episodes. Certainly it saves on shelf-space, and it works out cheaper, but really I think it must be just me. I like the shows that apparently no-one else does. I mean, no-one liked Firefly, right? Yes, The Lone Gunmen is actually another case of ‘the studios are idiots’. They pulled the plug on the Lone Gunmen just as it found its feet and had settled into a groove, delivering some of the best episodes of its run. The writing was on the wall too, by the time they’d come to the final episodes, as the writers pulled out all the tricks to keep it on air, guest stars, crossing over with the X-Files, and ending on the kind of whopping cliff-hanger that you’d demand to see resolved.
It was resolved too, thanks to a Season 9 X-Files episode, which is appended to this collection as a bonus, It’s too much of a downer for me, and I’d have much rather they’d shown the season 6 episode, The Unusual Suspects instead, the story of the creation of The Lone Gunmen rather than their demise. On the other hand, you could see why The Lone Gunmen didn’t succeed. It is rare for a spin-off from a popular series to hit in the same way, for every Frasier following Cheers, there’s twenty Joey following Friends. The Lone Gunmen was also a high-tech, cyber-thriller, hour long comedy, with three, unconventional leads (they had to bring in Jimmy to fulfil the traditionally handsome male quotient). A tech thriller spinning off a supernatural/paranormal conspiracy show was enough of a stretch, but spinning a comedy out of a drama even gave me cause to blink, despite The X Files having more than a few comic episodes in its run.
The biggest problem of course is that 13 episodes isn’t quite enough time for the show to really find and establish its identity, with some wayward episodes, especially early on. The nadir of the show has to be the Chris Carter penned Three Men and a Smoking Diaper, which wholly embraced the concept of lowbrow toilet humour that you might have expected this show to be an antidote to. It took a few episodes to climb out of that particular pitfall, as you have to be in a certain frame of mind for Madam, I’m Adam, while Planet of the Frohikes’ only saving grace is the voice of Edward Woodward. They also had a problem with the character of Yves Adele Harlow, who was introduced as an enigmatic foe/competitor/occasional ally in the opening episode, but by the end of the run was pretty much ‘one of the guys’. It was only the final episode that tried to restore a sense of mystery to the character, and by then it was too little too late. Of course the elephant in the room, and conceivably the sole nail needed to batten down the coffin was the opening episode, which appeared to presage 9/11 before it actually happened.
While the consistency as a series is a little absent, the episodes as standalones are entertaining enough, and even when the show sinks to its lowest levels, there are moments of fun to be had. The characters of the three Lone Gunmen, Frohike, Langly and Byers were always great comic relief in the X-Files, but what’s surprising is that they can indeed carry a series on their own, helped in no small part by some serious character development from the off. We get to meet Byers’ father in the first episode, get some idea of how he became the idealistic crusader, while there are plenty of allusions to Langly’s childhood. And just when you think that Frohike was there just for the pratfalls (of which there are many), we learn something surprising about his past too. The studio may have wanted Jimmy in the cast as the traditional lantern-jawed hero, but he served a more serious role as an audience proxy, asking the questions that we needed answered as exposition, and later on he would become the heart of the group.
Still, the Lone Gunmen was on an upswing towards the end of its run, and the final six episodes are great entertainment, and given the state that The X-Files was in, around about the same time, this show was actually stronger. The Lone Gunmen is well worth checking out if you’re a fan of the X-Files, but what you may not realise is that it’s well worth checking out in its own right as well.