What’s So Wrong with The X-[position] Files, Anyway?
Back in the late 90s, Chris Carter’s “The X-Files” on Fox was one of only a few shows I watched with any degree of regularity. I recall it as a dry period in television. Today, by contrast, we’re in a Golden Age, or, as some have suggested, seemingly reaching “Peak TV.”
Thus, I was hopeful about the return of “The X-Files” as a six episode miniseries this winter. These hopes were dashed when I read the early reviews from those who had the opportunity to preview it prior to broadcast. It generally didn’t bode well for my old favorite.
For anyone inexplicably unfamiliar with the show, the show featured two FBI special agents, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) who were relegated to a basement office in the J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building in Washington, D.C. to investigate unexplained or unsolved crimes of a paranormal or unexplained variety, dubbed “X-files.”
Scully, a skeptic, who was also conveniently a medical doctor/scientist, was initially planted to debunk Mulder’s conspiracy-minded theories, though we later learn his presence wasn’t exactly coincidental, either. His self-purported mission in life was to find his younger sister, who went missing as a girl, and who he suspected was abducted by alien forces, facilitated, we’re led to believe, by the government.
Some episodes were “monsters-of-the-week” — stand-alone, or self-contained episodes about the supernatural or unexplained phenomena. Other episodes followed the increasingly complex government conspiracy concerning the existence of extraterrestrials. These mythology episodes, for which the show became famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view, were highly serialized and became increasingly convoluted and never really reached any conclusion. From time to time, the show ventured into comedic episodes.
The cross-genre versatility of the show was remarkable, even in its day, when 22 episodes were the norm rather than the exception. It would be virtually unthinkable today, especially with abbreviated seasons, to produce a show which stretches across genres the way “The X-Files” did.
The series followed the two agents’ relationship as it developed. Ultimately, Scully and Mulder (as they oddly called each other) got together in the biblical sense and had a baby, William, who was given up for adoption ostensibly for his own safety because his parents had unearthed such sinister forces. These forces were never fully explained in the original series, and the ambiguity over its nine seasons on Fox was both maddening and intriguing to fans, or self-styled “x-philes.”.
At another point, Scully had an unusual cancer ostensibly caused by, it is suggested, her own abduction by aliens.
Some of the major recurring characters included Assistant FBI Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), their boss, who sometimes overlooked, or even encouraged their zealous investigations. The mysterious Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) was a dark force who said few words but, we learned, apparently pulled a lot of strings in the government conspiracy.
This miniseries, or Season 10, didn’t necessarily illuminate the mythology, but neither did it obscure it. It expanded and contemporized it. The negative reviews were, I think, unduly harsh, and overall, I view the season very favorably, if too short.
One complaint of reviewers involved heavy exposition, particularly in the episodes penned by Carter, earning the series the moniker, “The Exposition Files” by one snarky viewer.
But the show, by its nature and history, was generally exposition-heavy. Good stories sometimes involve doses of exposition, but when it’s presented in an engaging way, if it’s light-handed, doled out incrementally, and presented in an interesting visual way, it’s unobjectionable. Some exposition was voice-over to reorient the viewer. Some sought to illuminate the science behind the story. Reviewers who complained about it were a bit hypercritical, and perhaps a little forgetful.
Another problem people seemed to have was the clunky dialog. I didn’t consider the dialog the show’s strong suit originally, so again, I’m forgiving about this. Since when do lovers call each other by their last names, anyway?
The third major issue raised was the show’s unevenness. It never was consistent. In the days when 22 episodes per season was the norm, some scripts were inevitably produced before their time. From the beginning, too, the show shuffled between monster-of-the-week, mythology, and even the occasional comedy, so you’d never really know what to expect. In the current world of TV, this flexibility is unheard of. Over the years, fans have rallied around one type or the other; preferred some episodes over others. It is still true today. In that regard, the new miniseries was, I think, a resounding success.
As to the claim it seemed like a money-grab, I don’t know how to respond. Art for art’s sake is fine, but I’m also quintessentially American and don’t blame anyone for trying to capitalize on their previous success. “The X-Files” is deserving of its franchise and I don’t begrudge it.
Finally, some asserted Anderson and Duchovny’s performances fell flat. That was always the case, as well. I seem to recall some of Carter’s interviews or commentaries where he discussed his dislike for talking with one’s hands or expansive gesturing. The actors, I think, had the flatness baked into that cake from inception. Furthermore, Mulder and Scully were clearly depressed, at least at the outset of the new series, when not only had the X-Files come to a close, but so had their relationship.
Here’s hoping for a longer Season 11. It’s deserving, timely, and beautifully produced. I want to believe we’ll have one.