Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The X-Files Returns!

The X-Files (1993-2002)

I was (and still am) a huge fan of the X-Files. It was recently announced that the show will return for a limited run; hopefully resulting in a satisfying ending that eluded the last film. In honor of the show's return, here is an article I wrote for my defunct movie review blog. Enjoy! 

The television landscape of the early 90's was completely different than it is today. For one, cable was the land of reruns and B-movies. HBO and Showtime weren't producing their own material yet; so the networks were king. By networks, I mean NBC, CBS, and ABC. Back then, FOX was a newcomer, struggling to make a name for itself.

Aside from The Simpsons and 90210 franchise, FOX had little to draw viewers. Shows came and went at the drop of the hat. There were oddball comedies, talk shows, and teen dramas. Slowly, the network rose in ratings. There was no sci-fi programming on any of the networks at the time; there weren't even any police procedurals. In 1993, that all changed.

Indirectly born from the ashes of a little town called Twin Peaks, a unique series arose that would become a huge hit. The show featured a number of actors from the David Lynch directed series, David Duchovny being the main lead. Gillian Anderson starred as Duchovny's oppositely minded partner. The two FBI agents investigated paranormal occurrences, usually linked to crimes. Duchovny's Fox Mulder would invariably argue with Anderson's Dana Scully, with his supernatural theories usually winning out at the end.

The X-Files looked like nothing else on television. It was grounded in the traditional detective style, though it explored very unique themes. The series asked tons of questions, gave few answers, and created an intriguing world that captivated audiences. The show was also lit differently than others. The cinematography relied on noir lighting, with slivers highlighting the actors in pure darkness.

The show established many elements that viewers now take for granted. It established Vancouver as the Canadian Hollywood. Everything from shows like Supernatural and Battlestar Galactica, to hundreds of films, have come from the same area in which this series was filmed. Creator Chris Carter also established the idea of  having a mythology that would drive the entire series run. Before X-Files, most programs were contained to the hour or so they were on, with none of this week's events affecting the next's. Carter ran with Mulder's quest to find his missing sister for 7 seasons. It's almost impossible to find a program on air today that doesn't run with a mythology. The show was also self-referential at times; unafraid to laugh at its own seriousness, or wink at its audience.

What made The X-Files work for so long was the relationship between the main characters. Unlike most programs of the time (or ever), Mulder and Scully held a professional respect that transformed into a deep friendship. For most of the show's run, they held off the romantic tension that ruined other shows. (During the final two seasons, unfortunately, creativity had run low, and the writers awkwardly put the two together.)

The show was intelligent, startling, intriguing, and respected its own audience. It was bold enough to wind arcs through multiple seasons, and intelligent enough to throw in superior stand alone episodes. For that, viewers flocked to the X-Files for 7 seasons.

By season 8, Duchovny had begun to tire of his character. He only appeared in a about half of the episodes, leaving Scully to find a new partner. Robert Patrick was brought on as a no nonsense agent, who found himself in the middle of the unexplainable. Agent Dogget's blue collar beliefs forced Scully to become the "spooky" one of the pair.

For a while, I believe the show regained its footing. The writers successfully transitioned from the steadfast duo of Mulder and Scully, to a more dynamic relationship of Scully and Dogget. Unfortunately, they went further, and introduced Annabeth Gish as a New Age new agent named Monica Reyes. It was clear that producers were attempting to hand the show over to this new pair, but audiences quickly lost interest.

By season 9, Duchovny was completely absent and the show was coasting on autopliot. Stories were dry and unimaginative. The old mythology had been played out, and there was no real glue to bind the characters together any more. Also, the attacks of September 11th played out just 2 months before this season premiered. Suddenly, government conspiracies weren't fun anymore.

On May 19th, 2002, The X-Files left the air in a finale that highly disappointed fans. On trial for murder, Mulder listens as guest star after guest star...I mean witness after witness... outlines the entire mythology of the show, and attempts to answer every question ever put to producers. They even have the ghosts of dead characters appear to Mulder to help out.

No matter the outcome, The X-Files was a trailblazer that is just as influential today as it's first season. I would go so far as to say the majority of series that we all love: Dexter, Lost, The Wire, Breaking Bad, etc owe a debt to The X-Files. It proved that audiences were ready for sophisticated story lines, multiple season-long arcs, and unorthodox television.

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the show's premiere. To celebrate, Duchovny and Anderson appeared at Comic-Con. Fan interest was as high as ever, and audiences went nuts for them. Everyone involved in the series has expressed interest in returning for a third feature film; one which returns to the alien mythology of the show. Perhaps we will return to Mulder and Scully, to finally receive the send off they deserved all those years before. If not, we will always have the show on disc or download. The truth will always be out there.


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