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The X-Files: One of the greats turns 20
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
There are a few TV series that I consider “mine.” These are the series that I started watching before they were cool, before they were featured on the covers of magazines, before the actors became superstars, before the series were spun-off into movies… One of these shows I consider “mine” is The X-Files.
I had just started college the fall of 1993 when The X-Files premiered. While my peers were spending their Friday nights doing various age appropriate things like going to parties, I spent that time at home on the computer visiting our local BBS while also watching The X-Files. When the show premiered, I didn't know anyone else who was watching it, not even my friends who were into that kind of thing. But slowly, over the preceding months, The X-Files started to gain traction and after a while people who weren't into horror-TV were watching the show and talking about it.
The X-Files followed two FBI agents, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who investigated the X-Files, or weird uninvestigatable cases that included everything from UFOs to ghosts to bigfoot that the FBI didn't know what to do with. Mulder, the "I want to believe" guy, clashed with more even-minded Scully who, while not a total disbeliever, would search out scientific explanations for the oddities they uncovered during their investigations.
Some episodes of The X-Files dealt with various monsters, ghouls and weird goings-on around the country and others focused on an underlying governmental conspiracy in place to keep all this quiet. These conspiracy episodes are what comprised the overarching plot of The X-Files. Essentially, this story boiled down to why are aliens visiting the Earth and why is the government trying to cover this up? And, furthermore, what devious plans do the aliens have for us and our planet?
In the early days of the series me, along with millions of other people, gobbled all this up with glee. For years The X-Files was my favorite show and I eagerly followed it from Friday nights to Sundays when it made a move to a more desirable time slot.
A feature film was released in '98 titled The X-Files: Fight the Future that was reportedly going to shed some light on the conspiracy storylines of the show. While I saw the movie opening night I'm still not sure if it revealed anything new other than featuring some cool "only on a movie budget" sized special effects.
After the film, The X-Files returned to TV and just got bigger and bigger. And when it didn't seem like the show could get any more popular it got immensely more popular with people buying The X-Files comics, trading cards and Duchovny and Anderson and other co-stars being literally mobbed at fan events and conventions.
At one point nearly 30 million people were watching the show each week. To put that number in perspective, the most popular scripted show last season was The Big Bang Theory that has something like 19 million viewers tuning in. And The X-Files was a dark, hour-long bleak drama that was a downer most of the time and not some peppy half hour comedy.
But like all things The X-Files could not last. By the time Duchovny and later Anderson left the show to be replaced by other stars, the sparkle had gone and the series eventually ended its run after nine seasons. And thinking about the show more than a decade after the series ended I'm still not sure what the conspiracy fueling The X-Files was ultimately all about!
While The X-Files may have gone on for a season or few too long, in my heart it's still one of the greats. I think that series like Lost (conspiracy!), American Horror Story (genuinely creepy TV horror!) or Hannibal (FBI agents investigate he bizarre!) owe a great deal to the foundations laid by The X-Files.
Those first four or five seasons of The X-Files still shine with a brilliant sort of creepiness that makes me want to reconsider what the very fabric of the universe is made of.
My personal favorite episode? "Jose Chung's ‘From Outer Space’”of course.
All episodes of the series are available on DVD and Netflix instant. Visit me online at DangerousUniverse.com.