Judge Eric Profancik wants to slap every nerd he overheards saying "How can they be the Lone Gunmen? There's three of them!"
"How are we supposed to get any work done? How are we supposed to publish our paper and root out graft, corruption, and corporate greed for our loyal readers if we're changing poopy diapers?"
If you have a successful series with some fan-favored supporting characters, why not go ahead and spin those guys off into their own series? Over the years, there have been many successful spin-offs—The Jeffersons, Mork and Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, and Frasier, just to name a few—so where's the harm in giving it another try? Start with a quirky cult favorite series called The X-Files, take the three nuttiest characters in the show, transplant them to a dark basement, and hope for a winner. But it didn't work. Though premiering with a strong 13.2 million viewers for their first episode, The Lone Gunmen (TLG) petered out quickly and found themselves canceled only 13 episodes later while pulling in only 5.3 million viewers. Funny, if Enterprise had had 5.3 million viewers on UPN, it would not have been canceled. Interesting how things change over a few short years…
Facts of the Case
John Fitzgerald Byers, Melvin Frohike, and Richard "Ringo" Langly form "The Lone Gunmen Newspaper Group." They're what many people would impolitely label "conspiracy nuts," and they publish a newspaper with stories full of conspiracies and hidden threats. For the past few years, they've helped out their friend, FBI agent Fox Mulder. Nowadays, they struggle to make ends meet and to continue publishing their paper.
Luckily for them, while investigating the latest injustice, the three make the acquaintance of one Bond, Jimmy Bond. He's a good-looking but intellectually challenged young man who appears to have a hefty savings account. Soon, Jimmy's enamored of the Gunmen's quest for truth, justice, and the American way, and he agrees to finance their publication. Unfortunately, he also wants to join the team and help out.
As the four Gunmen look for proof of their fantastic conspiracy theories, they find themselves constantly foiled by their nemesis, the lovely Yves Adele Harlow. She's usually one step ahead of the boys, nabbing the proof and selling it for big money. It's really beginning to get on their nerves.
I was one of the "few" people who was excited by the series and ended up watching it to the bitter end. When "To Be Continued" popped up at the end of "All About Yves," I sputtered out a "no" reminiscent of the one I moaned when Jean-Luc Picard turned into Locutus. What made it all the worse this time was that it would not be continued. The midseason replacement was tossed to the curb after only 13 episodes. At the time, I was pretty disappointed with the cancellation because, though not an awesome series, it had some great potential and was just beginning to find its legs. Leaving those blue-faced guys locked up in the basement really sucked. Watching it again four years later, I wasn't as drawn into the show as I had been during its run. I still feel the material was pretty good, with a nice mix of serious, camp, action, and humor that had some interesting potential. (Hey, if The X-Files could do it for nine years, I had faith TLG could log in several years itself.) I found myself enjoying the antics of Byers, Frohike, and Langly. Though a bit far-fetched, the escapades endured and the meshing and interaction of the three distinct personalities made this an easy show to watch and enjoy.
Actually, it wasn't just three distinct personalities, but five. From Byers noble drive to Frohike's derring-do to Langly's geeky cowardice to Jimmy's slowness to Yves's sultry talents, TLG had a core ensemble of characters that were well defined and delightfully different from the normal fare you saw on television. If you thought these guys were a bit off base in The X-Files, you haven't seen anything yet! It's worth the price of admission alone to see them dancing in "Tango de los Pistoleros." (Though I think this episode would have been "more amusing" had it been called "Tango de la Muerte" instead.)
Speaking of the episodes, the 13 episodes of the series are:
As you can see, the titles are quite clever and spoof many other, popular titles. In addition to spoofing titles, the show itself is laced with numerous homages to and spoofs of other material. On the top of that list is Yves Adele Harlow herself. She's one huge caricature of Lara Croft. Yves is a sexy, tough as nails, intelligent woman with a delicious British accent…just like Lara. Beyond that, the episodes have satirized Mission: Impossible, James Bond, The Matrix, Indiana Jones, Risky Business, and The Terminator, just to name a few.
What is perhaps the defining legacy of TLG lies not so much with it being a spin-off or with its quirky characters, far-flung conspiracy theories, or quick cancellation. No, the legacy of the show stems from the plot of "Pilot." When this episode premiered on March 4, 2001, nobody could have ever imagined what would happen just six months later. In this story's climax, we are thrust into a U.S.-government-led conspiracy whereby a rogue group is out to inflict a terrorist attack upon the United States. The attack is unthinkable and frightening. As Byers, Frohike, and Langly uncover this plot, they are shocked to discover the plan is already in motion. The rogue group has electronically hijacked a commercial airliner, and it is going to crash into the World Trade Center in New York City. Yes, that's right, the first episode of the show, the first unthinkable and far-fetched conspiracy theory, came to fruition in real life just six months later. There were mumblings that TLG gave al Qaeda the idea, but we all know that's not true, as bin Laden had his men begin their horrid plans in 2000. I had forgotten the plot of the "Pilot" episode, and as I watched it again, I was nervous and jittery. Seeing this fictional show predict the future just brought back many eerie memories.
Fortunately the other 12 episodes weren't as prophetic, and their quirky theories and ideas never came to be. But, then again, wouldn't it be awesome if there were such a thing as a water-powered car?
This set from our friends at Fox is a fairly nice package for a series that was killed before its time. The first thing I want to mention is that the set contains three flipper discs. I hate flippers. There are only 13 episodes, which could have fit on three discs in another fashion—though they may have needed a fourth for the bonus features to make room for the commentaries. Instead of putting the usual four episodes on one side, they put three on side A and two on side B. Huh? Is it really cheaper to make three flippers instead of four non-flippers? I guess either way, you still have to get up, either to flip the disc or to put in a new one.
Each episode is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic. The transfers earn the moniker of "standard television transfers." They are neither wonderful nor terrible and offer accurate colors and blacks, decent details, and no significant errors. The show looks better than it did on television but doesn't have the polish of a full Hollywood production. The same goes for the audio mix, which allows you to hear the dialogue cleanly and without distortion.
The set does come with a small smattering of bonus items, which is a bit more than I would have expected for this show. The bulk of the bonus items are the four audio commentary tracks on "Pilot, "Bond, Jimmy Bond," "Tango de los Pistoleros," and "All About Yves." Commentaries for "Pilot" and "All About Yves" are loaded with the producers of the show, while "Bond" and "Tango" have the cast. Fans of the show will enjoy all of the commentaries. They impart lots of humorous stories and production details. Of course, the most riveting of all the tracks is the one on "Pilot," in which they talk about the episode and its haunting relation to 9/11.
On Disc Three, you'll find the rest of the special features. Since the "To Be Continued" never was, luckily the loose ends of TLG were tied up in a Season Nine episode of The X-Files. That episode, "Jump the Shark," has been ported over from that DVD release, including its audio (crew) commentary. I could discuss this episode and whether or not it answer the questions well and provides a good end for TLG, but we'll leave that for the Internet chatrooms. I'll just say that it's a surprising and not entirely welcome end, from my point of view. Next up is an informative featurette titled "Defenders of Justice: The Story of the The Lone Gunmen" (40 minutes). This is a very good piece that talks about the entire series, has many interviews with the cast, and spends a little time talking about each episode. And rounding it all out are four TV spots.
I will also mention that the TLG DVDs have the longest introductory segment I've seen in quite some time. Thank goodness you can skip past it to get to the main menu.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
What a weird bunch of misfits! You want me to be interested in some long-haired hippie geek; a short, scruffy-looking nerd; and a prissy, manicured man? I don't think so. Watch them miraculously stumble across all these magnificent conspiracies and publish them in their little rag? No, I think I'll take a pass on this hare-brained concept.
Though Fox quickly axed this midseason replacement after just 13 episodes, The Lone Gunmen has reached immortality with its release to DVD. Fans everywhere will be delighted to experience once again the antics of this quirky band of misfits out to trumpet truth, justice, and the American way. I recommend you buy the set because of the strong and unusual stories, the characters, and the nice treatment the set was given—not to mention a reasonable MSRP. If you don't know who Byers, Frohike, and Langly are, then you would be doing yourself a favor to rent these discs and meet three of the most unlikely heroes that ever stumbled onto television.
The Lone Gunmen are hereby found not guilty of trespassing, computer fraud, and breaking and entering. Their intrepid goal to uncover the truth is found admirable and is thusly encouraged.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentaries on Four Episodes
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