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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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Millennium – Goodbye Charlie (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Goodbye Charlie is an interesting oddity at this point in the season. It is the closest thing that the show has done to an old-fashioned “serial killer” story in quite some time, while still remaining quite unique and bizarre. It is a story about a man who may (or may not) be a serial killer, opening with shots of that (possible) killer serenading his victims with a dodgy karaoke version of the already dodgy Seasons in the Sun. It is memorable and striking, a strange hybrid of familiar trappings and completely bonkers absurdity.

There are points where Goodbye Charlie does not work. There are moments when the script seems a little too knowing or a little too heavy-handed. However, there moments are generally fleeting. When Goodbye Charlie falters, it is only a slight misstep; there is never a sense that it might implode in the same way that Sense and Antisense or A Single Blade of Grass threaten to collapse in on themselves. More than that, as with a lot of the bumps in the road during the second season, the show is generally ambitious and energetic enough that it’s hard not to get drawn in despite the flaws.

Sing with me now...

Sing with me now…

There are two elements of Goodbye Charlie that really sell it. The first is Richard Whiteley’s script. It is perhaps a little stilted in places – most notably in the way that it awkwardly plays up the ambiguity around the case by having Frank and Lara repeatedly draw attention to the ambiguity around the case – but it is clever, fast and witty. The episode also benefits from the casting of Tucker Smallwood as Steven Kiley, who turns in one of the best one-shot guest appearances of the season as a character who might be an altruistic helper or a manipulative sociopath.

Goodbye Charlie is perhaps a little too uneven to count among the very best of the season, but it is a fascinating little episode. It is also perhaps an indication of how profoundly the show has changed over this half-season that Goodbye Charlie manages to feel like one of the more conventional episodes of the year.

Nuts to that...

Nuts to that…

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Millennium – The Beginning and the End (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The Beginning and the End manages the impressive and paradoxical feat of both rebooting Millennium and resolving the cliffhanger at the end of Paper Dove. These two contradictory impulses become part of the thematic fabric of The Beginning and the End, an episode fascinated by duality and opposition. Can the polaroid stalker be both a serial killer of the week and the herald of something so much greater? Can Catherine and Frank Black be both united and separated? Can Millennium be the same show it was last year and something completely new?

The Beginning and the End is the start of the show’s polarising and divisive second season. To critics, the second season completely branches off from the first season of the show, replacing a framework that had grown and developed over the course of the year with a bizarre and unwieldy approach that was gonzo and surreal. To fans, the second season was an ambitious and exciting piece of television utterly unlike anything that had been broadcast before or has been broadcast since.

Up in the sky...

Up in the sky…

With Chris Carter back focusing on the development of The X-Files and the looming release of The X-Files: Fight the Future, Fox drafted in Glen Morgan and James Wong to steer the second season of Millennium. The duo had helped to define the identity of The X-Files in its first year, and had produced the failed (but ambitious and prescient) series Space: Above and Beyond for the network. After working on the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium, Fox allowed the pair to produce their own pilot – The Notorious Seven.

When Fox opted not to take The Notorious Seven to series, they asked Glen Morgan and James Wong to take charge of Millennium in its sophomore season. As The Beginning and the End demonstrates, Morgan and Wong promptly made the show their own.

Looking up and wondering...

Looking up and wondering…

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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 – 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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