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Non-Review Review: The X-Files – I Want to Believe

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

The plan was always to transition The X-Files from television to film, but fans change.

Following the success of The X-Files: Fight the Future, there had been some mumblings about the possibility of releasing a film in the summer of 2000. Given that The X-Files was a cultural property rooted in the nineties, it seemed like a big screen adventure would have been the perfect way to bring Mulder and Scully into the twenty-first century. After all, the original plan was that the show would retire in its seventh season. (The network even had a bespoke successor selected in Chris Carter’s Harsh Realm.)

Gotta have faith...

Gotta have faith…

However, this was not to be. It turned out that Fight the Future represented the cultural peak of The X-Files, the moment of maximum pop culture saturation. Almost immediately upon the production team’s move to California at the start of the sixth season, the show’s rating began their slow (and then not so slow) decline. The seventh season was itself hampered by behind-the-scenes drama, with David Duchovny suing Chris Carter and Fox over syndication. At the same time, Fox’s “worst season ever” meant that the broadcast could not afford to cancel The X-Files.

So, understandably, the sequel to Fight the Future was postponed and put on the long-finger. As the show came to an end in its ninth season, the subject of a second X-Files feature film arose again. Still, there was a debate to be had about whether the world really wanted a second X-Files film. While the sixth and seventh seasons had slowly eroded the show’s popularity and appeal, the ninth completely collapsed it; through the combination of bad storytelling decisions and the broader shift in the political mood, The X-Files felt like a spent cultural force.

"Platonic", eh?

“Platonic”, eh?

Ultimately, that was not to be either. The production history of The X-Files: I Want to Believe often recalls the mythology at the heart of The X-Files, with the project constantly shifting and changing as outside forces intervene. I Want to Believe arrived in cinemas in July 2008, a full decade after Fight the Future and more than six years after the broadcast of The Truth. The finished product is radically different from what anybody might have imagined in the immediate aftermath of Fight the Future, its design often surreal and awkward.

If I Want to Believe would have been a strange choice for an X-Files film release in July 2000, it seemed downright perverse in July 2008.

The truth is out there. Way out there.

The truth is out there. Way out there.

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The Lone Gunmen – Pilot (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

It is meant to be a joke.

It is an episode known as The Pilot, because it is a proof of concept for a new series that can be shown to executives in the hopes that they might green-light it and give the production team a series order. That is, after all, what a television pilot is. It is the first episode of a television show to be filmed, usually with considerable space between it and the rest of the first season. There is time for network notes and feedback, to determine what works and what doesn’t. There is space for recasting and reshooting, which becomes more problematic on a weekly schedule.

Rocket man.

Rocket man.

However, the fact that the first episode of The Lone Gunmen is called The Pilot is also a rather wry punchline. It is a self-aware reminder that the show takes itself considerably less seriously than Millennium or Harsh Realm. After all, even if this weren’t the very first episode of a new television show, it might be called The Pilot. Based purely on the plot, the episode might have been called The Pilot. It is an episode about a sinister plot to hijack planes using advanced technology. So calling the episode The Pilot is a cheesy and goofy bit of wordplay.

Of course, there is very little funny about it in hindsight.

Don't leave us hanging...

Don’t leave us hanging…

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The X-Files – X-Cops (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

There is a very serious argument to be made that X-Cops represents the last point at which The X-Files truly pushed itself.

There are experimental episodes later in the run that play with new narrative forms and concepts. Improbable features a snazzy musical number; Lord of the Flies intersects with stunt-driven television shows; Sunshine Days has the characters enter The Brady Bunch. However, X-Cops represents the last time that The X-Files allows itself to be completely submerged in a high-concept idea, following the concept through to its logical conclusion in the spirit of Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” or Bad Blood or Triangle.

xfiles-xcops17a

X-Cops features Mulder and Scully crossing over into an episode of Cops. However, the episode is told entirely from the perspective of the Cops production team, filmed and broadcast as if it were an episode of Fox’s long-running law enforcement reality television show. The camera becomes a performer in X-Cops, and at no point in the entire forty-five minutes does it “break character.” Barring the use of the X-Files opening credits sequence and superimposing the logo at commercials, X-Cops adopts the form and structure of Cops.

This is a boldly experimental piece of television; it is not the sort of episode that viewers expect from a show in its seventh season. This is a giddy and goofy concept more akin to enthusiastic student filmmaking than an established television institution. After Sein und Zeit and Closure suggested that The X-Files was winding down, X-Cops proves that there’s life in the old show yet. Sadly, this feels like something of a last gasp; there would never be quite as much life in The X-Files after this point.

xfiles-xcops2a

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Through the Looking Glass (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s very tempting to write off the problems with the mirror universe episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as diminishing returns – the idea that repeated exposure to what was once novel robs that item of its novelty. It is possible to become immune to the charms of camp, dulled to absurd space opera, and just worn out by watching the cast play “space pirates meet Star Wars.”

However, this does a bit of a disservice to the mirror universe as a concept. As iconic as it has become, Mirror, Mirror worked very well as a piece of introspection for the original Star Trek. Crossover stands out as one of the strongest episodes in the first two years of Deep Space Nine, because it manages to capture the thoughtful-yet-campy self-criticism of Mirror, Mirror.

Let's face it, after what O'Brien's been through, nobody would be surprised if he snapped...

Let’s face it, after what O’Brien’s been through, nobody would be surprised if he snapped…

In contrast, Through the Looking Glass marks the point at which the mirror universe really ceases to be a clever concept, and becomes something that is simply kept around because it’s old and because the production team like the idea of playing “roguish rebels and evil empires” in a way that’s impossible in the mainstream Star Trek universe.

While the episode does have an interesting central premise and is nowhere near as weak as some of the mirror universe episodes ahead, Through the Looking Glass is the moment where the mirror universe seems to get away from Deep Space Nine.

They really nailed Rom to the wall...

They really nailed Rom to the wall…

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