During the heyday of The X-Files, Chris Carter was one of the biggest names in television. Consider that, during the run of that show, Carter had not one, not two, but three other series premiere, to varying degrees of success (only Millennium had any staying power — both Harsh Realm and The Lone Gunmen came and went quickly). Now, after having been AWOL from the entertainment industry since The X-Files: I Want to Believe was released to middling response in 2006, Chris Carter is back with his first new show in years: The After, which recently premiered as part of Amazon’s “pilot season,” when viewers can check out the first episode of several potential shows and vote for their favorites. Naturally, people wanted to know why Carter had gone silent for so many years, and why The After brought him back.
Speaking to TV Guide, Carter reveals that he actually wrote the pilot for The After some six years ago, with the story inspired by his experience surviving a hurricane in Hawaii. “It was kind of shocking how quickly things went south,” recalls the writer. If you haven’t watched The After yet, you can do so right here, but here’s the gist of it: a group of strangers find themselves thrown together in a parking garage in the midst of a mysterious apocalyptic event. The power is out throughout the city, people are panicking and running through the streets, and they keep hearing deafening crashing sounds that they can’t identify. Honestly, it’s all a little too “generic apocalypse” for my liking, but things do take a more interesting turn in the second half of the pilot, when the group discovers they all share the same birthday and have a run-in with a creepy critter of some sort.
It definitely hints at bigger things in play, and that could be a good thing, since conspiracies and secrets are right in Carter’s wheelhouse. And while the former X-Files maestro isn’t spilling any beans, he does have plans for where the show is headed, should Amazon order it to series. He says:
I’m keeping those things pretty close to my vest. I think I’m trying to take advantage of this new technology where you can watch things again and again and try to put as much detail and drop as many hints and along the way see if people pick up on the layers. It’s not dissimilar to what I did on The X-Files.
That’s a comparison that brings both good and bad associations. X-Files at its best was fantastic, but as the show’s nine seasons dragged on, the underlying mythology became more and more byzantine and tangled, and not to the show’s advantage. Hopefully, if The After does get picked up, its mysteries will feel a little less like Carter is just pulling story points out of a hat.
Carter isn’t just keeping the audience in the dark about where The After is headed, either. “[Amazon wants] a really clear indication of where the series is,” says Carter. “I’m reluctant to do that. I want to always keep my audience, including the actors and the crew, on the edge of their seat. They should be waiting for each new script to come out. It’s the serialization of an idea. If everyone knows too much too soon that kind of spoils the fun.”
Even if The After pilot does get lots of love — and I have no doubt many X-Files fans have already checked it out — it’s still unclear when we might see the series itself become available. For comparison’s sake, Amazon premiered its first batch of pilots in April 2013, and the full series that were picked up posted their initial seasons beginning last November. So we could probably expect further episodes of The After sometime this summer.
Of course, that’s assuming the fans tune in and vote to see more. “Someone said it’s like testing your pilot with your pants down,” Carter says. “It is a true test of the marketplace. I guess there’s reason to be afraid of this. But I’m so curious about how it all comes out.”
For my part, I’m curious to see more from Carter and The After, but the pilot is deeply flawed. The cast, which includes Adrian Pasdar, Sharon Lawrence, Jamie Kennedy, and Louise Monot, does their best with broadly drawn and mostly cliched characters, but they’re undermined at every turn by tin-eared expository dialogue that at one point has a character exclaim, “We all have the same birthday!”…right after everybody in the room has pointed out that they all have the same birthday. Thanks for clarifying.
Here’s hoping Carter’s creative muscles were just warming up after the long vacation. And let’s hope enough people want to see where The After will take us that it winds up as more than just a pop culture footnote, mouldering on the pile next to that ill-fated Zombieland pilot.