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The X-Files 103: Ten Spin-Off/Tie-In Stories

Next week sees the release of The X-Files on blu ray for the first time, just over a month before the new six-episode series premieres on Fox in January. We’re running daily reviews of the show (and its spin-offs) between now and the end of the year, but we thought it might be worth compiling some guides for newer viewers who are looking to experience the length and breadth of what The X-Files has to offer. Every day this week, we’ll be publishing one quick list of recommended stories every day, that should offer a good place to start for those looking to dive into the show.

Although the bulk of discussion around and attention paid to The X-Files focuses on the two-hundred-and-two episodes (and two movies) tied to the series itself, it is worth commenting on the rich world of spin-offs and tie-ins that Chris Carter and his production team built up around the show. The X-Files was not just a nineties television show, it was a multimedia phenomenon. However, these aspects of the show are frequently overlooked in discussions of the show’s legacy and cultural impact.

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Space: Above and Beyond (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 hard to judge a series based on the first season alone. After all, many long-running series evolve quickly and radically from their debut year. In many cases, the first season is about desperately trying to find a footing as everybody gets used to the realities of producing a television show. Assessing a first season is often an exercising in gauging potential, which makes it a risky proposition when trying to evaluate the first and only season of a cancelled television show.

Space: Above and Beyond contains its fair share of clunkers, as does any first season with twenty-odd episodes. There are episodes that seem at odds with the premise and mood of the show, being written by staff writers before the show went to air or simply trying to do something with which the show isn’t comfortable. There are episodes that have interesting ideas, but don’t place emphasis on the show’s strengths.

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However, this is all but expected for a first season. A first season is a learning experience for all involved. After all, the first season of The X-Files was packed with episodes like Shadows, Fire, Lazarus, Young at Heart and Born Again. It is very rare for the first season of any show – particularly a genre show – to be the strongest. There are rules to be learned, beats to be established, foundations to be laid. If shows are lucky, that work gets to pay off in later seasons, as everybody gets more comfortable.

Space: Above and Beyond never got that chance, which is a shame. Because there is a phenomenal amount of potential on display here.

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Space: Above and Beyond – … Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best (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.

Fox has a very weird (and perhaps even paradoxical) reputation when it comes to cancelling television shows. On the one hand, there is the tendency to run successful shows into the ground, missing the window of opportunity to transition them into big screen franchises. The X-Files and 24 are perhaps the most obvious example of this tendency. Of course, this isn’t unusual in American television. If a show is making money, it makes sense to keep on the air for as long as possible.

On the other hand, the network is notoriously ruthless when it comes to cancelling young shows. Although popularised by the cancellation (and subsequent revival) of shows like Firefly and Family Guy in the early years of the twenty-first century, the network had already demonstrated that it had little time for dead weight in the schedule. In hindsight, it seems like a wonder that The X-Files survived its first season, and was allowed to grow and develop into a massive cultural phenomenon.

We have met the enemy...

We have met the enemy…

Indeed, considering the abbreviated runs of shows like Profit or The Tick or The Ben Stiller Show or Harsh Realm or The Lone Gunmen, Space: Above and Beyond was lucky to get a full twenty-two-episodes-and-a-pilot run on Fox, even if it couldn’t count on the network to air the episodes at a consistent time on a consistent day. Space: Above and Beyond was undoubtedly treated shabbily by the network, but it could have been a lot worse.

That’s not the best eulogy you could write for a television show, but it is worth treasuring what we got.

President of the World...

President of the World…

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Space: Above and Beyond – And If They Lay Us Down to Rest… (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.

The last stretch of episodes of Space: Above and Beyond are quite mournful and introspective.

It is very difficult to tell a war story. There are a host of tightropes that any writer has to navigate. After all, it is very easy for a story about the bonds of warfare and humanity in wartime to be interpreted as militaristic or fascistic. At the same time, it is very easy for an anti-war parable to seem critical of the soldiers fighting the war, to dismiss the bravery and courage on display in that most horrific of environments.

Seeing eye-to-eye...

Seeing eye-to-eye…

With its futuristic tech and gigantic guns, as well as its fascination with the military apparatus, it is easy to read Space: Above and Beyond as a pro-military piece. Given how much pride it takes in the way that it presents military life, or how much it wallows in the military setting, a casual viewer might be forgiven for assuming the it glorifies warfare. However, this is the most superficial of readings. It ignores a lot of what the show actually has to say about combat and warfare.

Space: Above and Beyond is by turns cynical and romantic in its portrayal of this futuristic conflict – it clearly respects and appreciates the sacrifices made by those in service of mankind, but is also wary about the motivations of those ordering the sacrifices. It is a very delicate balance to maintain. However, And If They Lay Us Down to Rest… and … Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best seem to lay the cards out on the table, once and for all. This is as anti-war as the show ever gets.

Face of the enemy...

Face of the enemy…

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Space: Above and Beyond – Sugar Dirt (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.

The end is nigh.

There is a generally funereal atmosphere to the last few episodes of Space: Above and Beyond, creating the sense that the show was well aware of – and had perhaps come to terms with – its own inevitable cancellation. Stardust had assured viewers (and the show itself) that the dead can be heroes too. Sugar Dirt seems a lot angrier about the series’ situation. It is the story of our heroes surrounded and outgunned on all sides; abandoned to their fate by those in authority.

Sadly, McQueen couldn't quite save the show...

Sadly, McQueen couldn’t quite save the show…

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Space: Above and Beyond – Stardust (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.

Stardust was the second episode of Space: Above and Beyond to air on a Friday, as had originally been planned.

Of course, it was too late to help the show. By this point in its run, Space: Above and Beyond was a dead show walking. Stardust seems to wryly acknowledge as much. It opens with an inmate on death row, watching the clock tick down to midnight. The show is essentially about sacrifices made by the already-dead, and it’s hard not to get a sense that it captured the mood of the staff on the show as well. A wry wink at the audience, like all the introspective reflection in the earlier episodes.

Cold wars...

Cold wars…

It is also interesting how Stardust positions itself as a possible companion piece to The X-Files. The X-Files casts a pretty significant shadow over Space: Above and Beyond. It was very much an attempt by Fox to capitalise on the success of The X-Files as a genre show. It drafted in two of the most reliable executive producers working on The X-Files. The first two episodes were directed by a veteran of The X-Files. David Duchovny had popped by R & R as something of a goodwill ambassador.

Space: Above and Beyond had played with these comparisons before. The Farthest Man From Home had teased a conspiracy narrative about alien and government cover-ups. Level of Necessity featured a riff on Mulder, with a tall dark-haired paranormal investigator wandering into the show. Stardust makes the connection more explicit, riffing on some of the themes that The X-Files had pushed to the fore at the end of its second season and into the third, exploring links between Native Americans and extraterrestrials.

The honoured dead...

The honoured dead…

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Space: Above and Beyond – R & R (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.

R & R is what might be described as a “monkey’s paw” situation.

Space: Above and Beyond finally gets to air on Friday nights. It had been promised a Friday night slot in early development, before Fox moved it to Sunday to make room for Strange Luck. Glen Morgan and James Wong had been promised the coveted Friday night slot again in January 1996, but it never materialised. Finally, late in the season, Fox manage to air an episode of Space: Above and Beyond on a Friday night. That episode would even air directly before The X-Files. And not just any episode of The X-Files. Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, a classic.

Everything is Coolio!

Everything is Coolio!

However, as the Host himself points out in R & R, everything has its price. Here, it seemed like Fox had chosen the most stereotypically network-friendly episode of Space: Above and Beyond to air in that Friday night slot. So there were hot young people at night clubs, celebrity cameos, romance, angst, melodrama, absurdity. It is one of the most grotesquely heightened episodes of Space: Above and Beyond ever produced, to the point that Hawkes picks up and drops a drug addiction as only one of the episode’s three primary plot threads.

R & R is not a good episode of television. It is the weakest that Space: Above and Beyond has been in quite some time, and the weakest it would be from this point onwards. It seems like a cruel irony that it finally managed to get that Friday night slot it so desperately wanted.

Chalk it up as a misfire...

Chalk it up as a misfire…

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