Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for X-Files


In the 90s everything was conspiracy theories, don't trust the government and the Truth was Out There.

On TV we had the X-Files.

There was a paranoia in the 90s.  Today it has boiled over into disgust about our government (believe I know, I live in Illinois, we have one ex-Governor in prison and another headed there).  But back then it was a general low hum of paranoia, suspicion and doubt.  It started with Iran-Contra, and moved on to movies like "JFK".  It was the climate that allowed the X-Files to grow.

It began on a start up station called Fox, long before they became synonymous for killing shows, good or bad, too early.  X-Files was their hit, their main show outside of the Simpsons really, and they kept it on for 9 years.

Let be honest here, the X-Files did more for genre TV than anything else. It was a cultural phenomena and most shows that we enjoyed in the 2000s and on are a result of this little show by Chris Carter.   People go on about Whedon, but Carter and the X-files has been nominated for more Emmys and the show had won more collective  awards.  Even in it's "worst" season X-files still had 3 times the views of Buffy.
Plus there is not an episode of Supernatural that doesn't in some way or another recall the X-files.  The Winchesters are this decade's Mulder and Scully.

I came to the show late.  I was working on my thesis at the time and I rarely watched TV.  Once I graduated I became a fast convert.  It became my Friday night ritual (I was watching them with my then girlfriend, so that is ok).  It was also one of the shows I did not invest in any of fandom.  I have an X-files CD and Mulder and Scully action figures, but I got them as gifts.  I really got into it the show all the same.  One of the first desktop "themes" I had for my brand spanking new copy of Windows 95 was an X-files one.

I loved the season long and multi-season long story arcs, I loved the characters, I didn't even care when my then girlfriend (and now wife) would go on about how hot Mulder or Skinner were.  That was fine with me.  I got to see Scully; hot and smart.

The trouble with X-Files is it was doomed from the start.  You can't keep the characters or the audience in the dark all the time and have a god show, and the more secrets you reveal the less the characters have to uncover.  They kept it up though for a good long run.

The same is true for any conspiracy game.  Conspiracy X, also by Eden Studios, is a great example.  You can totally run an "X-Files" game with it, but how often can you keep the players in the dark when they are looking for secrets?

The Godfather of the X-files is "Kolchak" and Darrin McGavin even made some guest spots on the show.  X-Files, while the "mythos arc" is lauded, sometimes worked the best on the "monster of the week" episodes.  Sure the aliens were great and those were the ones I got excited about, but the ones I recall the best, Flukeman, "Theef", the freaky weird family, the hallucinogenic fungus, the chupacabra.  Like Kolchak, X-files did it's best job when it dealt with "small stories"; episodes that dealt with a local myth, legend or monster and came at it with Mulder the one ready to believe anything and Scully looking the reasoned explanation.  I also liked the "spin-offs" Millennium and the Lone Gunmen.

One day I am going to go back to the world of the X-Files.  Back when Clinton was still president, freaky half-worm/half-man things lived in chemical toilets, cigarette smoking men and well manicured men sat in dark rooms with darker purposes, aliens kidnapped little girls and the Truth Was Out There


Xyanthon said...

Great post. I've been really missing the X-Files lately. That must explain why I'm currently reading through the Delta Green Game books and watching Fringe. Good stuff.

Trey said...

I agree, I think it was the standalone episodes of X-Files that worked the best. They went comedic to various shades of horror, and brought heavy doses of atmosphere, which is something TV often lacks.

Knight of Roses said...

The Conspiracy episodes were almost universally terrible for both the reasons you mention and because they were usually badly written.

The weird happening of the week episodes, on the other hand, were often fantastic.

Unknown said...

You stole my post. :P

I was a total X-Files junkie until Duchovny left the show. And in later years, those stand-alones were still some of the best TV ever made.

Antonio M said...

Great post, really. Even i'm on the other side of the world, i see the thing just like you. Oh, one more thing...
...i love The X-Files, entirely from the first episode to the last, and i always watch the various series in dvd again and again ^^
Greetings from south of Italy.