Why we love The X-Files, even if we may never know what ‘the truth’ really is.
Everything old is new again on TV as well as at the movies. Doctor Who has been back for almost a decade now, Thunderbirds were relaunched last year, and in 2017 we’ll return to Twin Peaks. But this year, right now in fact, The X-Files have been reopened.
Inspired by seventies’ series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with a liberal dash of The Twilight Zone, Chris Carter’s creepy, conspiracy-laden creation – along with David Lynch’s bizarro Twin Peaks – pretty much defined ‘90s television and changed the way we watched it. “Water cooler shows” became the new buzzword – i.e. series that would be discussed and debated in the office around the aforementioned device. Moreover, weekly dinner parties and group viewings were organised around new episodes. Such quaint practices are simply no longer possible in today’s online, interconnected, spoilerific, binge-watching world. And do offices still have water coolers, for that matter?
The X-Files tapped into our fascination with conspiracy theories, UFOs, Roswell, paranormal activity, and other strange and inexplicable phenomena. It offered cool variations on popular sci-fi and horror themes – aliens, evil children, faith healers, shape-shifters, et al. It gave us an eminently whistlable theme and two iconic characters in the yin and yang of FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully – the believer and sceptic, respectively. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s palpable chemistry and conviction carried the show for over 200 episodes across nine seasons, two spin-off movies, and now a six-part “event” miniseries. From cameos in The Simpsons to a song by Catatonia, Mulder, Scully and The X-Files have been a constant in our lives since 1993.
A Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Series secured the series future after just one season, and the show rapidly progressed from cult curiosity to full-blown pop culture phenomenon – its mainstream acceptance and success largely driven by the emergence a newfangled thing called the Internet, which might well have been a product of the same alien technology that Mulder was always obsessing over. It also became a major innovator, spawning its own brood of bastard offspring that includes Supernatural, Torchwood, Fringe and Warehouse 13.
As the series developed, so too did the convoluted and all-encompassing conspiracy ‘mythology’ at its heart, which would drive Mulder to seek the elusive “truth” that was supposedly “out there”. But what the hell was it? By the time the show wrapped up in May 2002 with a two-part finale entitled The Truth, we were still none the wiser. That’s why, for me, the standalone episodes were always the best ones – the mythology arc just never really gelled.
No surprise then that the series’ 2016 return opens with a traditional conspiracy-laden episode that questions everything that has gone before. Yes, the truth is still out there, Mulder still wants to believe, and Scully thinks its all a load of bollocks. Just as it should be.