Emmy spotlight: Fun, addictive ‘Project Blue Book’ might just scratch your ‘X-Files’ itch

When “The X-Files” returned for two revival seasons starting in 2016, fans of the classic ’90s series were a bit underwhelmed beyond the initial thrill of seeing Mulder and Scully back in action. Many shows on both broadcast and cable have tried to replicate the indelible success of “The X-Files” and specifically the chemistry between Mulder and Scully but few have come close. History’s “Project Blue Book” is another show drawing clear inspiration from the cult Fox series and might just be the show to scratch your “X-Files” itch.

The series is based on the real Project Blue Book study of the 1950s, which set out to examine the presence of UFOs and determine whether they were a threat to national security. Like “The X-Files,” “Project Blue Book” follows a pair of investigators, one a logically-minded ufologist, Dr. J Allen Hynek (Aiden Gillen, “Game of Thrones”) and the other an Air Force pilot who relies on gut instinct, Michael Quinn (Michael Malarkey, “The Vampire Diaries”). They are being carefully watched by General Hugh Valentine (Michael J. Harney) and General James Harding (Neal McDonough), the founders of Project Blue Book who are invested in making sure any extraterrestrial findings are kept private to prevent mass hysteria. We also get to know Dr. Hynek’s wife, Mimi (Laura Mennell), who befriends a woman she doesn’t know is secretly a KGB spy.

Gillen, following his stint as the conniving Littlefinger on “Game of Thrones,” is perfect for Dr. Hynek as a man of great moral conflict. He is quite skeptical about the prospect of alien life, often explaining away these sightings as a mirage or some sort of confluence of events. Yet, he comes up against some fascinating quandaries when he realizes that some instances cannot be explained away with earthly science. Meanwhile, Malarkey is well-suited for the upstanding Captain Quinn, who is more willing to accept evidence of alien life. Their disagreements make for a classic battle of science vs. faith, of rational vs. irrational, of right vs. wrong. It is also fun to watch Harney and McDonough, character actors of great gravitas, lingering in the shadows and trying to control the narrative for the government and the public.

The series has a “case of the week” format where Hynek and Quinn investigate a paranormal happening, typically in a rural area discovered by townsfolk. Part of the fun of “Project Blue Book” is watching the investigators interacting with the everyday people and figuring out whether what they saw could be legitimate evidence of alien life. We see recreations of many real-life cases, including the Flatwoods Monster, the Lubbock Lights and the Green Fireballs. All throughout, there is a sense of wonder, challenging viewers to determine what is really happening and what else might be lurking. Because it is the 1950s, we also have the threat of the Cold War as an omnipresent factor, giving every new discovery and every diplomatic action a sense of risk and danger. Everyone is figuring out the best way forward, tactically, to keep themselves safe while exploring the truth of what’s going on in the night sky.

“Project Blue Book” was renewed for a second season on History, and it will be intriguing to see how the show deepens its mythology while balancing the more traditional procedural elements. The show feels like a blending of many beloved TV dramas that came before, not just “The X-Files.” The moral battles can sometimes feel like “Lost” while the paranoid presence of the KGB is certainly reminiscent of “The Americans.” It is fun, addictive drama that might just make you go down the rabbit hole in exploring the real-life history of what came before and what might still be out there.

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