The Lone Gunmen (Sundays, starting March 4; 9 to 10 p.m.; Fox) suggests that the alien pollywogs in charge of abductions for Chris Carter have been up to more than sex games and cancer experiments. They also harvest jokes. Everything that used to be funny in The X-Files has been surgically removed this season. After a sense-of-humor transplant, these laughs show up instead in a spin-off featuring the conspiracy theorists John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood), and Richard “Ringo” Langly (Dean Haglund) – upon whom Mulder once relied for computer hacking whenever his paranoia pollen count got above a sneeze.
Not since Get Smart has there been a bigger bunch of bunglers. Whether they investigate corporate invasion of privacy (Octium chips), or illegal Japanese whaling (ninjas), or airline terrorism to boost the arms trade (good-bye, World Trade Center), or a politician so much like Bill Clinton that he should wear a V-chip on his jogging shorts, or the whereabouts of the long-missing Pastry Poisoner of Alsace-Lorraine, who murdered members of the French Resistance in World War II (and can be identified only by a map-of-Germany birthmark on her butt), what they do best is klutz. They always get the goods but just as invariably lose them before they can publish the evidence in their desktop tabloid.
Which is why they usually require the sleek help of the black-leather bounty hunter Yves Adele Harlow (Zuleikha Robinson pretending to be Emma Peel: “Conspiracy theories and masturbation – I always suspected there was a connection”). If you’ve already noticed that “Yves Adele Harlow” is an anagram for Lee Harvey Oswald, this is your sort of series, in which “Who shot J.R.?” and “Who shot JFK?” are the same question. Then there’s the hunky dunce Jimmy Bonds (Stephen Snedden pretending to be Tom Cruise). He may impede more than he helps, but we know his heart is noble because, with sonar helmets and a beeping pigskin, he is trying to teach blind people to play football, though nobody yet has caught a pass.
The visual jokes (Risky Business, Movietone newsreels) are as witty as the word games (“Angina Monologues”). Nor do we need to worry whether the father of Scully’s child is a Mulder or a Triffid.