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I Rewatched THE X-FILES So You Didn’t Have To

Several weeks ago it was reported that The X-Files might make a comeback, which prompted a post by me wondering if the show would work in the present time, if it was too much of a relic from the 1990s.

Since then I’ve been binge watching the show; I’ve now completed the first five seasons and I’m halfway through the six. To my surprise, this was the first time I had watch many of the episodes since they first aired, some over 21 years ago!

It’s kinda hard to believe that The X-Files was such a popular culture phenomenon, and mainstream enough to have routinely been nominated for the top awards at the Emmy’s (winning some of them), as well as winning the best drama award at Golden Globes several times.

This comment has nothing to do with the subject matter — which I’ll get to in a minute — but that the tone of the show would violently swing from one episode to the next.

One week it would be the pulpy monster of the week, the next a show filled melodramatic introspective voice overs, then to Scully’s crisis or religion, and then to a comic episode that’s almost slapstick silly.

Further, the relationship between Mulder and Scully would dramatically change. One week they had a deep platonic friendship, the next they were at each other throats. Several episodes would be spent laying the groundwork for how Scully resents the way in which Mulder treats her as his secretary, and then there wouldn’t be any mention of this again for a dozen episodes. It was like it never happened.

It’s almost like show would produce scripts that were written for half a dozen other TV shows. Nobody knew what the show was about, so any script could get shot so long as it had the main characters in it.

To give a specific example, the Vince Gilligan episodes tend to be psychological thrillers where paranormal elements were minimal to the point that the stories didn’t rely on them. He had is own unique vision of what the show was like, which got mixed in with very different other visions.

Maybe we didn’t notice this in the 1990s because we weren’t binge-watching episodes, and the occasional reruns helped break up episodes even more. Or, as TV shows have become more episodic we just demand a greater degree of unity across episodes.

But still, I just didn’t remember how schizophrenic the show was and I’m surprised people weren’t more critical about this.

It was pretty easy to see why the ten-year old version of myself liked the show so much — monsters, aliens, spacecraft and conspiracies — but The X-Files’ anti-government vitriol went completely over my young head.

Criticism of the government, its institutions, leaders, policies, etc. is basically a pastime of TV.

But The X-Files’ ongoing narrative takes an unrelenting position that the government treats its citizens in the most monstrous way with no regards of civil and human rights.

While this has happened from time to time, such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, The X-Files rarely makes these historical connections in efforts to illustrate larger point.

It simply maintains a belief that people in power are cruel and malevolent in the most literal way.

Its view is almost prophetic of the right wing media’s treatment of President Obama — that he just wants to destroy our American way life because. If The X-Files were around today, I imagine that there would be an episode all about how the current Ebola outbreak was orchestrated by the government in order to see how exactly people die from Ebola.

My issue here is that the antipathy never really had a point — it was a metaphor or attempt to level criticism. And it was just kinda silly to take these extreme positions about the government when there are real ways in which its policies harm people, but in more mundane ways (which shows like The Wire explore).

Further, as the show went on it never addressed a growing incongruity of why its heroes continue to work for the government despite being so disgusted with it. As a viewer, I just didn’t understand why Mulder and Scully just didn’t quit, why Scully would be so concerned with her career track!

As for the content of the show, for better or for worse, the best
episodes are the ones where a good bit of humor is mixed in, such as the
one where Peter Boyle is a clairvoyant insurance salesman, or the one
where a town is overrun with killer cockroaches. These were typical the
best-written and spontaneous episodes. 

These episodes also didn’t take themselves too seriously. The melodrama was turned down (really, what was up with the episodes that heavily used voice overs), and the anti-government conspiracy theories were done with more of a wink and a nod. The balance of everything just seemed right.

So if the show were to restart, what would the show be like? What would its tone be this time?

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