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The X-Files – Season 1 (Review)

Trying to appraise the first season of any show is quite different from judging any other season. While all subsequent seasons have some measure of continuity to build off, some experience to guide the cast and crew, some familiarity to play into or away from, the first season literally starts with nothing. Even when there’s a sizeable gap between the production of the pilot and the start of work on the series proper (with over a year between the filming of The Pilot and Deep Throat), there’s still a sense we’re watching the production team settle into their roles.

All of this is a round-about way of saying that the first season of The X-Files is not a great season of television, judged on its own merits. It’s certainly not the strongest season of the show, which would go from strength-to-strength over the next three years, while also having an ambitious (if not entirely successful) fifth season. The first season of The X-Files is probably the weakest of the first five years of the show, but to express it in those terms is to miss the point.

The first season does a pretty great job laying the ground rules for the franchise, and offers a pretty solid indication of the talent involved in the show, if they can figure out what they want to do. (With quite a few episodes serving as examples of what the show doesn’t want to do.)

xfiles-deepthroat7

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The X-Files – The Erlenmeyer Flask (Review)

When you think about it, The X-Files conspiracy mythology is just a fancy way of dressing up generational “daddy issues.” Both Mulder and Scully have problems with their fathers, and it plays into the show’s wider themes. The X-Files is, appropriately enough, a show that helps define what is known as “Generation X”, the generation born following the post war baby boom, as the afterglow from America’s ascent to global superpower began to wear off. Existing in the wake of the Cold War, in a unipolar world, The X-Files was a vehicle for introspection.

One of the recurring themes of the show, and one that has come up quite a bit in the first season, is the weight of history bearing down on the current generation. Living in the shadow of Watergate, dealing with the revelation of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, coping the Vietnam and other skeletons, it’s little wonder that Generation X seemed completely disillusioned with their elders. Jamie Notter argued that “unlike their parents who challenged leaders with an intent to replace them, Generation Xers tend to ignore leaders.”

Christine Henseler would go further, suggesting that there’s something close to righteous anger in the attitude that Generation X holds to its parents, holding “a world view” that “is based on change, on the need to combat corruption, dictatorships, abuse, AIDS.” The Erlenmeyer Flask seems the perfect place to end this season then, pushing all this uncertainty to the fore and killing the series’ much-loved father figure.

Bodies of proof...

Bodies of proof…

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The X-Files – Roland (Review)

Roland is an episode that works much better than it really should. On the surface, it has many of the same problems as Born Again, to the point where it seems like “angry spirits” take up a disproportionate amount of Mulder and Scully’s case load. The filming and broadcast of Born Again and Roland in rapid succession probably points to the kind of pressure that Carter and his crew were under towards the end of the first year – both episodes play a lot better spaced out, and having the room to shuffle the production order on the two stories probably would have helped them seem less derivative.

And yet, Roland is elevated by a superb guest performance. Željko Ivanek isn’t the first stellar guest star that we’ve seen this year. Doug Hutchinson was perfectly cast as Tooms, and Brad Dourif did a marvellous job as Luther Lee Boggs. However, Ivanek might be the first guest star on The X-Files to elevate an otherwise bland episode through the sheer force of his performance.

It doesn't suck or blow...

It doesn’t suck or blow…

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The X-Files – Born Again (Review)

Born Again is a very bland episode of The X-Files that really suffers from being broadcast this late in the season. Indeed, the first season of The X-Files seems almost obsessed with life after death and reincarnation – we’ve already had episodes like Shadows, Lazarus and even Young at Heart. We’re three episodes from the end of the season, and we’ll still find room for one more “vengeance from beyond the grave!” story before we close up shop. Born Again isn’t bad so much as it’s just bland.

I don’t hate Born Again. In fact, it’s the episode that I remember least from this first season – the only evidence I had that I had seen the episode before came from a vague creeping feeling of familiarity while I was watching it. Even now, as I sit down with my notes to type a review, I’m not sure I can tell you that much about it.

It's only a paper giraffe...

It’s only a paper giraffe…

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The X-Files – Tooms (Review)

Tooms offers us the show’s first returning monster, not counting the recurring alien menace that has appeared in episodes like Deep Throat or Fallen Angel or E.B.E. In fact, it arguably offers us two recurring monsters, with Eugene Victor Tooms putting in his second appearance, but also featuring the second official (but third possible) appearance of the Cigarette-Smoking Man.

Appropriately enough, Tooms doesn’t just bring back the eponymous serial killer, it begins to tie various loose ends together, and to fashion a sense of continuity and development from the various character moments and implications of the first season, suggesting that forces are moving in the background, behind the scenes of everything we’ve watched unfold.

They've got him boxed in...

They’ve got him boxed in…

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The X-Files – Shapes (Review)

Shapes feels like something of a companion piece to Shadows. Both are very traditional horror monster stories, feeling a little dated and out of place among the more modern paranoia of The X-Files. Shapes might carefully avoid using the word “werewolf”, instead dressing up the classic movie monster in loose fitting Native American mythology, but it feels like an attempt to pay homage to one of the definitive Hollywood monsters. Unfortunately, like Shadows, it winds up feeling a little stale and tired, a little too familiar and cliché.

It’s a werewolf story that lacks bite.

Chew on this...

Chew on this…

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The X-Files – Miracle Man (Review)

The biggest problem with Miracle Man is that it’s a Howard Gordon script. I don’t mean to diminish Gordon’s contributions to the show. Gordon is one of the strongest contributors to this rocky first season (only Morgan and Wong can claim to be stronger, and they also have their misfires), and he – along with frequent partner Alex Gansa – seems to have the strongest grip on Mulder as a character. And therein lies the most fundamental problem with Miracle Man, the horribly clumsy and muddled ending aside.

Miracle Man feels like it focuses on the wrong lead. It tackles themes and subject matter the show would revisit more successfully in the years ahead, in episodes like Revelations and All Souls. However, the religion-themed episodes in the years ahead would typically focus on Scully – contrasting her religious faith with her scientific skepticism to provide Anderson with some of the best work she’d do on the show.

Instead, Miracle Man digs its character hooks into Mulder, tying back to the disappearance of Samantha for no reason other than “well, this story needs to be about Mulder for some reason.”

Symbolism!

Symbolism!

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