Big television anniversaries are being commemorated all over the net it seems. Doctor Who’s fiftieth will soon be upon us in November. Fringe just hit five. But September 10, 2013 was a pretty big anniversary in the realm of geek television as well, for this date marked twenty years since The Pilot for The X-Files first aired on FOX. The X-Files anniversary panel at this year’s ComicCon was once of the most anticipated, and of course, Hall H was filled to the brim with X-Philes of all ages.
The Friday night timeslot was iffy, the concept was nothing that had ever been shown on TV, and to be honest—this show was lucky to even reach the screen. FOX was not exactly sold on the concept when it was pitched by its creator, Chris Carter. However, there was someone of influence who did believe—one Peter Roth. Carter’s pitch received a second chance, and the green light was given. For many, this series blew the lid off of the box for television and what it was capable of being. For most of its history, television was made to be easy to follow, at any point. The Pilot’s creepy vibe at the beginning was a real attention-getter for those interested in the realm of the paranormal. But it would be the characters that would steal the show.
Chris Carter was heavily influenced by a 70s show, Kolchak: The Night Stalker (for a paranormal, monster-of-the –week premise). In fact, Carter paid homage to this series by writing a part for star, Darren McGavin. He was given the role of retired detective Arthur Dales in two episodes, and the character was given the credit of starting the X-Files for the FBI. David Lynch’s brilliant-but-out-there semi-serial puzzle, Twin Peaks paved a path for the idea an ongoing story mythology—a purpose for the show. (Both of these are available on Netflix, and are worth viewing. I could see a lot of Mulder in Carl Kolchak.) You can watch the X-Files as well as other tv shows and movies online with LOVEFiLM.
The creative talent behind many of the shows that have come since then have cited The X-Files as an inspiration. Vince Gilligan went on to create the wildly successful, Breaking Bad. Fringe started off (lol, fooled us good) on an X-Files vibe, and was very much assisted with that by Darin Morgan. Homeland and the killed-before-its-time Awake, are babies of Howard Gordon. Besides the sizzling synergy created by the “FBI’s most unwanted” agents—Dana Scully (Emmy award winner, Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny)—why is this two-decades-old show still on the minds of so many?
The Guest Stars
The show featured a plethora of famous guest stars over the years. It’s always fun to see one in a recent role and recognize him or her because of an X-Files stint. The list of alumni is impressive and includes Breaking Bad cast (Cranston, Paul, Norris), a LOST trio (Terry O’Quinn, Michael Emerson, and Mark Pellegrino), singers (Michael Buble), game show hosts (Alex Trebek), a former governor/wrestler (Jesse Ventura), Brad Dourif, Peter Boyle, Lily Tomlin, Ed Asner, Lucy Lawless, Seth Green, Jack Black, Giovanni Ribisi, Bruce Campbell, and more. I almost expected to see Stephen King make an appearance at least once, but no dice. (King did co-write the episode “Chinga,” however.)
Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston recently made some statements that made me arch my eyebrows, and make an “oh really?” face. He felt that Walter White was the first television character to have real change. Did he actually watch The X-Files? Part of the joy in watching it is derived from how Scully and Mulder evolve over the course of the series. The two very headstrong, tenacious, and polar people learned from each other, as they came across proof of things that shook her skeptic and his believer. The absolute, relentless search for the truth led to answers, some of which neither partner was seeking. The stark contrast between the individuals was expertly melted together over the years; the pair was far different from those rigid aspects by the series finale. Breaking Bad did not break the mold.
Ah, yes. The assumed to always be platonic relationship of Dana Scully and FOX Mulder was—and still is—a source of fan contention. Back in the heyday, there were two camps: the shippers (MSR still sounds like a bad infection to me) and the NoRomos. Carter himself seemed to love to just teeter on the edge, playing with the hearts of our heroes and fans alike. To this day, mention “that darned bee” to an X-Files fan, and you’re likely to get a hilarious response. (In the first film, Fight the Future, a bee was the ultimate “blocker” for a Mulder/Scully kiss.) Together, they learned, grew, trusted, and loved. In the episode, “The Rain King,” Scully gave an endearing explanation that wasn’t exactly about Mulder, but it was:
“It seems to me that the best relationships, the ones that last, are frequently the ones that are rooted in friendship. You know, one day you look at the person and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere. And the person who was just a friend is suddenly the only person you can ever imagine yourself with.”
Which leads to another process used in the show that made it awesome…
The character monologues
While character exposition in scenes can become stale—and is often seen as lazy writing—this show’s most powerful moments were often felt as the characters delivered a voice-over in a scene. Scully’s notes to Mulder, penned as she was dying from cancer, ripped apart the hearts of many. Her thoughts over the course of the series worked to underscore the emotions that she often chose not to share at first, and were also a testament to the character’s growth.
The Outstanding Secondary Characters
Where to begin? For many, The Cigarette Smoking Man (William B.Davis) — a.k.a. Cancer Man — a.k.a. C.G.B. Spender — is still the quintessential “villain” to this day. As far as man who did bad things for what he felt was the greater good, I’m pretty sure he has Walter White beat. (Davis is now masterfully playing the enigmatic Alec Sadler on Continuum.)
The Lone Gunmen (Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood, and Dean Haglund) – True geek heroes that had a one-season spin-off series of their own. They even thwarted a conspiracy much like 9/11 in the Pilot.
Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) – almost as bad as C.G.B… (And also had a part on Continuum.)
Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) – Talk about character evolution! I hated this guy at first, but at the end, he was capable of bringing me to tears.
Doggett and Reyes (Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish) – Once I got over the loss of Mulder when Duchovny threw in the towel, I found that Doggett and Reyes were solid and enjoyable characters in their own ways. Seasons 8 and 9 weren’t the best, but still better than most of the other things on television at the time.
So far ahead of its time. From the monsters, to clones, to the aliens — this show made sci-fi and the paranormal seem believable.
An X-Files Anniversary Legacy and Stuff!
- It spawned two films: Fight the Future and I Want to Believe. Fans desparately want a third.
- Two lines of comic books from Topps and IDW Publishing have been published. The IDW Publishing X-Files Season 10 comics, written by Joe Harris, have an excellent story-line, and are highly recommended.
- Some um… tantalizing magazine covers were printed — Still have the Rolling Stone cover that featured Duchovny and Anderson in bed, wrapped only in sheets.
- Action figures, a collectible card game, collectible trading cards, shirts, posters and novels galore. Barbie and Ken even got in on the action
Plus, references are found all over the place in pop culture.
I grew up watching this show, and it was hard to say goodbye. It didn’t take itself too seriously, and had its own brand of humor, even as it sometimes poked fun at itself. (Like in “Jose Chungs’s from Outer Space” or “X-Cops”) For me, it was the only show that I had to tape. Yes tape. On a VCR. The original Friday night slot was terrible for a band geek who had ball game halftime performances, and band contests on many Saturdays. It was my first serious television passion.