Much like the stranger-than-fiction situations it depicts, The X-Files defies easy definition. Perhaps one reason for its appeal and critical acclaim is that it blends and bends genres - mystery, drama, thriller, horror, science fiction, police procedural - without sacrificing psychological sophistication (or humor) for formulaic convention. Not a 'monster of the week' show nor a morality tale, The X-Files transcends easy classification and shatters existing genres by co-mingling the creepy, the scary, and the merely insidious.
To enter the world of The X-Files, is to suspend disbelief. To open the mind to "extreme possibility." And to resist the basic human urge for pat answers and tidy endings. On The X-Files, the dream world and the waking world collide - with the tendrils from one firmly wrapped around the throat of the other. Conventional wisdom is grist for the mill, as the definition of what is impossible is continually pushed, tested, and redefined. The X-Files makes its impact with story lines and characters who reside just this side of normal (determining just which side is for the viewer to decide).
While The X-Files deals with strange events and bizarre creatures that dwell out there-it also concerns itself with the darkness within, the submerged fears and dreads that, despite our best efforts, escape-perhaps in the dead of night...or while driving on the freeway...or when washing the dishes. Stories in which eerie shadow forces and archetypes erupt into everyday life, manifest in physical form or psychological conflict, must be contended with by ordinary people. Aliens have no monopoly on malice, and the evil that men do is even more insidious than any threat from the skies.
Unlike many other shows, The X-Files doesn't offer a regular solution - indeed, its stories frequently offer more fresh questions than answers. Producer Chris Carter's willingness to explore the dark side - and not bring us all the way back with a neatly tied up ending - is one of the reasons that critics consider The X-Files to be more akin to cinema than television. As in life, there is no neat conclusion every sixty minutes - but rather lingering doubt, low-level anxiety, and rare moments of joy and epiphany. The X-Files fan goes to bed after each episode without a palatable answer - it remains strangely unsettling. This open aspect is what sustains The X-Files.
Perhaps the biggest irony is that Scully, and especially Mulder, are the key aliens in the whole drama. Both are assigned to the FBI's basement freakshow cases, with Mulder's 'Spooky' tag being a dig at the waste of his phenomenally talented mind.
Mulder, the believer, and Scully, the skeptic, are like two sides of our own brain - the intuitive and the intellectual - going mano a mano, battling it out to the end. In this way, The X-Files is a fascinating metaphor for the workings of the mind. The struggle between the unconscious mind that "knows" and a conscious mind to "understand." The interplay of the two characters creates an intricate dance between complementary (but not necessarily opposing) attitudes - skepticism and belief, apollian and dionysian, aggressive and passive, professional and personal, the disconcerting unknown and the comforting known - making it extraordinarily sensitive to the emotional tone of its weekly mystery.
Mulder's strong belief in the forces of the unknown continually challenges Scully's rational mind. Their relationship grows more complex with each case and slowly emerges as a heady mix of professional competitiveness, witty repartee and a personal intimacy due to the intensity of their job and the close proximity in which they work. Over the development of the series, the two colleagues become inextricably bound together.
There's so much withheld and sublimated in Mulder and Scully's relationship, it's almost part of the unexplained phenomenon. Their unresolved relationship has probably been the subject of more Internet space and magazine column inches than just about any other aspect of the show. The on-screen chemistry between Mulder and Scully teases and enthralls X-Files fans. Questioning the truth of their relationship and existence is as much what drives The X-Files as the existence of abducting aliens. There is a distinct possibility that both of them, at some point, have thought about being lovers. The occasional hands held, or face touched, helps to keep this unresolved tension simmering.
The interesting feature of The X-Files is its deep-seated mistrust for conventional political authority. Most Americans know only too well that we live in a plutocracy rather than a legitimate democracy. In order words, they live in a system in which the government is run by a wealthy, elite political class. The X-Files responds not only to the predictable abuse of authority such a system encourages, but to the frustration of people who feel alienated from the decision making process of their own government.
Conspiracy is like an underground spring running beneath the foundation of The X-Files. The System is deeply threatened by Mulder, whose revelations could certainly destabilize the false sense of security it is continuously manufacturing. Consequently his findings are suppressed and obscured. The cover-up is also hidden, creating a layering of ininexplicable mysteries.
Mulder and Scully's quest to reveal the truth behind government cover-up and deceit is one with which the viewer can identify and admire. In a sense, they are the embodiment of the public, encompassing disbelievers, cynics and moles. We cheer them on and side with them at every turn. The poster in Mulder's office declaring 'I Want to Believe' is shadowed by the other great X-Files tenet 'The Truth Is Out There' - both of which the public aspire to.
But it is the lie that forms the trail upon which Scully and Mulder travail, deep into the corners that push through darkness to something else much more sinister and isolated. Each lie is a gift that entices the two further into the brush, driving Mulder and Scully to ever greater depths of anguish and thwarted hope. Something is behind everything and we wait always, with bated breath, because something is always out there and in the end, the truth is anybody's to invent. Each exposed lie drags you deeper into the intrigue - until you can't tell the good guys from the bad. Trust No One.
The X-Files has come under serious criticism for subverting faith in democratic government, feeding wild conspiracy theories and treating every official statement as a potential lie. But we should should be heartened the values of truth, meaning and justice play in prime time. The X-Files pulses with a thirst for justice; a suspicion of the concentration of power; an instinctive sympathy for the marginalized and ridiculed; a will to believe despite the persistent tug of doubt; an indefatigable desire to see the truth come out; and a need to find meaning amid apparent chaos. Anyone who watches the show will recognize these themes.
To add a nice twist to the
proceedings, the humor is kept
sparse and very dry. But when humor does arrive, it is hilarious. In
one of the show's most baroque and flamboyant hours,
The screen was never so dark on the TV before The X-Files. Its presentation is dark and eerie but not in any crass, House of Horror fashion. Light spills through doorways, faces and figures are backlit, the monocrome filmic quality of shadow and generous expanses of deep, dark space matches the monotone delivery of the two stars, and the lack of glamour is distinct. The dark gray wash that covers everything adds to the drama, a visual representation of the social disintegration focused on in the show.
Author Charles Taylor notes that The X-Files "has the look of a recognizable world gone slightly off. When sunlight appears, it looks fake. A negatively charged grayness hovers over everything; vast open spaces are capped by cloudy skies with heat lightning that pulses like tantalizing clues... Watching each episode is like watching a photo that comes up in a chemical bath and suddenly goes bad; what seemed crystal clear clouds over, leaving us to grasp at what we thought we saw. The most unsettling thing about The X-Files is how inviting, how lulling this slightly alien world looks."
The X-Files is set very much in the real world, but is always visually on the edge of somewhere else. Many more of the literally rendered paranormal sequences are defined as viewpoints, dreams, or meditations. That which is half sensed, captured in the corner of one's eye, seen peripherally and therefore "known," and that which is in the conscious mind.
The X-Files also boasts the best music on television. Composer Mark Snow's ethereal underscores create a wide-ranging aural tapestry that becomes the third chracter in The X-Files. Mysterious, delicate but intensely emotional music enriches pivotal sequences and transforms moments and images into experimental magic. The music alone sets The X-Files apart from its contemporaries.
Putting together a single episode of The X-Files more closely resembles movie making than any typical weekly series. The attention to detail is legendary - from the brilliantly honed screenplays to the technical wizardry. And with every script requiring new sets and locations - not to mention special effects ranging from a wriggling, subcutaneous, alien worm to a translucent but powerful energy field-pulling it off week after week is also a superhuman endeavor.
In the Beginning
The humble roots of The X-Files began on the Fox network in September 10, 1993. In its first season, The X-Files established itself as a cult hit. Like a water slide into the surreal, The X-Files demanded (and earned) surrender from its audience, who in turn responded by spreading the word: this program must be seen to be believed.
In its second season, The X-Files ratings grew faster than any other series on television and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Drama. By the third season, it was the highest rated series on television in Australia (Network Ten), Great Britain (BBC2), France (M6 network), Spain (Telecino network) and Germany (Pro 7 network). In Japan it marked the first American-produced series to air in prime time in over a decade. Sales of The X-Files videocassettes in that country exceeded more than 120,000 units before the series had ever even aired.
In the US, the series moved from Friday to Sundays during its fourth season, on Sunday, October 27th, 1996. By 1998, arguably at the zenith of The X-Files' popularity, it spawned a blockbuster feature film and continued to grow as a worldwide phenomenon.
After nine successful seasons, The X-Files ended its run on primitive network television in 2002 as one of only three scripted entertainment series from the 1993-1994 season still on air. Even in off-network syndication, The X-Files remained the #1 weekly drama in concentration of 25-54 viewers. The truth is: audiences have never tired of watching The X-Files. Since its inception, The X-Files has maintained its view from the top.
The X-Files has won three Golden Globe Awards for Best Dramatic Series as well as Golden Globe Awards for David Duchovny for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Drama Series and Gillian Anderson for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Drama Series. It has garnered a total of 61 Emmy Award nominations since its inception, and has won numerous Emmy Awards including Outstanding Writing, Outstanding Lead Actress(for Gillian Anderson), Outstanding Art Direction, Makeup, Single-Camera Picture Editing and Sound Editing for a Series. The X-Files also has received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting, numerous Environmental Media Awards, International Monitor Awards, Screen Actors Guild awards and the Parents Choice Award. The series has been recognized by the Museum of Television & Radio, the Mystery Writers of America, The American Society for Cinematographers, the Television Critics Association and Viewers for Quality Television.
As a network series The X-Files is distinctively the series with the fastest growing ratings in the history of prime time television (during its second season) and the first Fox series to ever beat two of the three traditional networks on a total prime time basis for a full season in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 market (and the Fox series to most frequently score in that demographic during its two timeslots). In June 1995 The X-Files was the first ever series to launch an official internet website, and in May 2000 the first television series ever released on DVD, and in December 2008 Fox's first release in the new Blu-Ray format. The X-Files continues to inspire college courses, theses and books, all of them exploring the themes in the show.
For 20th Century Century Fox, The X-Files has generated a profit of US$1.4 to $1.5 billion over its life as a network series including domestic syndication, an estimated $243 million in revenues from international distribution in over 90 worldwide broadcast outlets and merchandising licenses, a 1998 feature film grossing almost $185 million, and ongoing value through Home Entertainment residuals. The X-Files also achieved dynamic growth for Fox through unprecedented affiliation agreement and a retail-oriented strategic alliance of consumer products, including HarperCollins with several X-Files releases that reached The New York Times' Best Seller List, TV Guide and more print media that prominently supported the series, and successful aftermarket products through Fox Home Entertainment, Fox Interactive Media and other subsidaries.
In 2008, ten years after the The X-Files' first feature film and 15 years after its first broadcast, Mulder and Scully return to the big screen in the second theatrical installment of The X-Files: I Want to Believe.
"One of TV's most captivating and original hours, a feast of such foreboding and cinematic finery from Chris Carter that in the manner of its shadowy plots, it defies conventional explanations." - Howard Rosenberg, Los Angeles Times
"The writing, the cool deadpan acting, the whole uniquely creepy mood that ace producer Chris Carter has created for this mesmerizing series, are unlike anything else in the channel-surfing universe. The truth is, ``The X-Files'' is a ripping good yarn with a high IQ. It puts a very special and imaginative spell on you." - Tribune News
"The X-Files is that cult show that is going to be remembered forever for having delivered punch week after week. It's an intoxicating kind of show. You're seeing everybody trying to come up with the next X-Files and nobody can do it." -Matt Roush, USA Today
"The show is a chimera, a mutant; a final, brilliantly inbred expression of the Age of Broadcast Television... It is a seamless pop artifact. It is a disturbing and viscerally satisfying expression of where we've come from, where we are today, and all those places where we simultaneously yearn and dread to go. " - Author William Gibson
"The X-Files leaves you in no doubt that you are watching television's rarest phenomenon - an original gem, mined with passion and polished with care." - Rolling Stone