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Space: Above and Beyond – Level of Necessity (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Coming hot on the heels of Who Monitors the Birds?, Level of Necessity was almost destined to be a little disappointed. Who Monitors the Birds? is perhaps the quintessential episode of Space: Above and Beyond, encapsulating the show’s core themes and utilising its world in a clever and constructive manner. In contrast, Level of Necessity seems almost rote. It is an episode that might have been written for any other nineties science-fiction show.

There are some nice ideas here, but Level of Necessity feels far too generic. In fact, it seems like the episode is centred around Damphousse not because the story makes any more sense for her than it does for any other character, but because she is the only character who has yet to occupy the centre of a story. Thomas J. Wright directs quite well, and Richard Kind makes for a solid guest star. However, Level of Necessity suffers from the fact that it could be an episode of any other show.

Stars in his eyes...

Stars in his eyes…

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Space: Above and Beyond – Who Monitors the Birds? (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Who Monitors the Birds? is a phenomenal piece of television.

Space: Above and Beyond is a show that only ran one season, languishing on Sunday nights before Fox decided to just scrap the idea of consistently scheduling it and just bounced it around the network timetable. It was not a breakout hit. It did not inspire a revival or resurrection in the way that other science-fiction properties have done. It has a very devoted and strong cult following, but its name is more likely to evoke a vague remembrance than anything more concrete.

spaceaboveandbeyond-whomonitorsthebirds13

And yet, despite that, Space: Above and Beyond was still a massively influential piece of television. Despite the fact that it was structured as a throwback to classic war movies, it was also a very progressive piece of television. The influence of Space: Above and Beyond can be keenly felt on Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, even though the show seldom gets any real credit for that influence. In some respects, Space: Above and Beyond was well ahead of its time.

Who Monitors the Birds? is put together with incredible skill and confidence. It is an episode that holds up fantastically, and which serves as a demonstration of the series’ lost potential.

spaceaboveandbeyond-whomonitorsthebirds3

 

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The X-Files (Topps) #1/2 – Tiptoe Through the Tulpa (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Tiptoe Through the Tulpa is another nice “extra” from Topps’ licensing of The X-Files. The comic book was Topps’ most successful property, and the company worked very hard to promote it across various platforms. They tried to recruit potential readers from within the comic book industry and outside the comic book industry, devoting considerable time and energy to advertising the ongoing series.

Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard had provided promotional strips for TV Guide and for Hero Illustrated, both very clear attempts at courting potential new readers. Both strips adopted very different approaches. Aimed at as broad an audience as possible, the strip for TV GuideCircle Game – was a tight five-page story that covered a lot of ground in a very efficient manner. In contrast, the strip for Hero IllustratedTrick of the Light – was very clearly targeted at a much more niche audience, featuring in-jokes and references for fans and geeks.

He's not 1/2 the man he used to be...

Herbert’s not 1/2 the man he used to be…

Tiptoe Through the Tulpa was written as a tie-in promotion for Wizard magazine, a giveaway for people who read the comic industry’s most popular collector and insider magazine. People would buy Wizard #53, fill out a form and then send away for their copy of the seventeen-page X-Files #1/2. It was a gimmick, but it was a gimmick that was very clearly aimed at broadening the comic’s audience, convincing a few readers who wouldn’t otherwise try the book to check out a “free” sample comic.

As such, Tiptoe Through the Tulpa is written as a seventeen-page comic that could serve as a potential jumping-on point for new readers. It is rather light, rather simple, but nevertheless makes for a clean and effective X-Files one-shot.

Cue theme music...

Cue theme music…

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The X-Files – War of the Coprophages (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

It is very odd to describe any Darin Morgan episode as “underrated.” And yet, despite that, War of the Coprophages feels like the underrated Darin Morgan teleplay.

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose had appeared towards the start of the season, featuring a powerhouse guest performance from Peter Boyle. Both Boyle and Morgan would win Emmys for their work on that episode, and Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is perhaps Morgan’s most conventional script for The X-Files or Millennium. In contrast, José Chung’s “From Outer Space” is perhaps the most adventurous and gonzo episode of The X-Files ever produced, coming at the end of the season and relentlessly (but affectionately) mocking the show’s core iconic mythology.

Down the drain...

Down the drain…

In contrast, War of the Coprophages sits in the middle, literally and figuratively. It is positioned almost precisely in the middle of the third season, with Morgan writing the screenplay in an exceptionally short period of time. It isn’t a truly exceptional example of a monster-of-the-week episode in the way that Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose was, but it also isn’t as off-the-walls and bizarre as José Chung’s “From Outer Space.” It doesn’t feel like it has as much to say about death as Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, nor as much about life as José Chung’s “From Outer Space.”

And yet, in its own way, War of the Coprophages as an incisive and well-constructed commentary on The X-Files as a television show while allowing Morgan to tackle his recurring themes about society and humanity, and whether the world is what we would like to think that it is.

Bug hunt...

Bug hunt…

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Space: Above and Beyond – The River of Stars (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

And so this is Christmas.

On the face of it, doing a Christmas episode of Space: Above and Beyond seems absurd. Space: Above and Beyond is a show about a grim and relentless future war, where human lives are sacrificed in a long and brutal slog. It is very hard to reconcile that with the traditional structure of a Christmas story, which typically draws together a family so that they might celebrate the possibility of “peace on Earth” and “goodwill to all men.”

Homecoming...

Homecoming…

And yet, the episode works in spite of this contrast – or, perhaps, because of it. The River of Stars opens with a monologue narrated by Wang that helps to set the mood for the next forty-five minutes, documenting the well-known Christmas truces that took place during the First World War. Although these spontaneous demonstrations of good will and trust were by no means unique, those temporary reprieves served as a reminder of the humanity that often seemed lost amid the pain and the bloodshed.

If any show could use a charming feel-good story about the possibility of peace on Earth and goodwill towards other people, Space: Above and Beyond might be it.

Staring at the stars...

Staring at the stars…

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The X-Files (Topps) – The Pit (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Tucked away in the Winter 1996 issue of The X-Files Magazine and republished with The Silent Sword in September 1996, The Pit is an atmospheric short story from Petrucha and Adlard, demonstrating the two work quite well together across a variety of formats. The Pit is only nine pages long, including two splash pages – and another half-page splash. There isn’t a lot of room for plot or detail. Instead, Petrucha and Adlard opt for mood and atmosphere, crafting a weird and spooky little diversion.

All fall down...

All fall down…

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The X-Files – Revelations (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Religion, eh?

In the mid-nineties, religion was a very difficult subject to navigate on network television. The so-called “culture wars” were in full swing at the middle of the decade, with religious values serving as a particularly brutal battleground. Religion is a very thorny and contentious subject. As recently as 2012, more than 40% of polled Americans stated they would not vote for an atheist candidate in a presidential election. Pete Stark would admit to being an atheist in 2007, becoming the first self-identified atheist in the United States Congress.

Mulder's got a taste for adventure...

Mulder’s got a taste for adventure…

As a result, it is very difficult to have a meaningful and thoughtful conversation about it. “There’s a man that I work with – a friend – and usually I’m able to discuss these things with him… but not this,” Scully confesses at the end of the episode. While undoubtedly a comment on Mulder’s stubborn refusal to engage with Scully on the topic, it also feels like a commentary on the awkwardness of any public discussion about religious beliefs or values, which was prone to become highly charged and contentious.

The conventional wisdom was that you didn’t talk about religion at the dinner table. It wasn’t much easier on television. This puts Revelations in a very awkward position.

A bloody business...

A bloody business…

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