“Whatever happened to playing a hunch, Scully? The element of surprise, random acts of unpredictability? If we fail to anticipate the unforeseen or expect the unexpected in a universe of infinite possibilities, we may find ourselves at the mercy of anyone or anything that cannot be programmed, categorized or easily referenced.”
[Pops a sunflower seed into his mouth]
–Special Agent Fox Mulder The X-Files Movie
I am not sure anyone needed to play out a hunch to guess that The X-Files might return to television. We are literally living in the day and age Mulder and Scully formed their trademark banter over. The NSA is spying on the world and all of a sudden those hair-brained theories The X-Files liked to chew on don’t seem like abstract fantasy. Despite the fact that the show has been silent for over a decade, fans still yearn for one last mystery. Which is saying something giving how terrible the final two seasons of the show were. In a world where TV resurrections and reboots are the accepted norm The X-Files may just have the most untapped potential. Writer and creator Chris Carter has a chance to not only fix the show’s sour ending, he has been given the opportunity to introduce Mulder and Scully to a brave new world. If done right, this is good news for anyone lucky enough to have watched the original series in its entirety. Everyone else is left with a giant mess of material to catch up on, a 220 episode hurdle barring the way of new and old fans alike. If you are anything like me than you are left asking questions like: Is it even worth watching the original series? If so, how in the hell am I supposed to watch a 200+ episode series? And why would I want to?
The answers to the first and second questions are inseparably tied together. In fact, these two questions have been asked so many times, by so many different people, that there have been entire communities built around their solution. At its heart the problem revolves around the fact that The X-Files has big problems with consistency. For every haunting masterpiece of television there was an equally forgettable mess. While the high points of the series were enough to propel the show to its now legendary status, the lows were what got it canceled. Which is where the Internet comes in handy. Now by simply Googling “X-Files Mythology,” a slew of websites come up whose goal is to distill the 220+ episode show down into its best and most important parts and pieces. One such website named X-Files Universe hosts such a list of pertinent episodes. For those of you out there that need to either refresh your Mulder trivia and for neophytes watching the show for the very first time, this is the way to do it. These lists are more than just a random gathering of fan favorite episodes, they represent an entire different way of viewing the series. A method to watching to the show that helps solve both of the problems listed above. Not only does the list allow you to watch the show in a timely manner but through its strict and heartless edits all the fat has been trimmed away leaving only the best of the best.
A process that wouldn’t have needed to be so drastic if the The X-Files wasn’t always at war with itself. On one hand the series is defined by its episodic nature. Only about half of the episodes in a given season are actually mythology related. The rest, a slew of different mysteries and murders that revolve around the supernatural and occult. On the other hand, the show was trying to set up a bigger narrative in the background. A grand conspiracy involving the government and their long relationship with extraterrestrial life. The conflict starts to appear when these two very different styles of storytelling are jammed together in an attempt to make both of them work. What results is a very odd and inconsistent television series. These fan-made lists attempt to fix this issue by cutting out quite a bit of the episodic episodes and instead focusing in on the main story. They do this by putting small stars next to the episodes that you should/need to watch. These are required viewing, without them you will be missing out on large parts of the overarching The X-Files story. Other episodes have two stars next to them, these are considered the “best” episodes in all of The X-Files. More often than not, these are episodic episodes and have little to do with the story but represent the very pinnacle of what The X-Files has to offer. I would highly recommend watching them. In the end there are 87 episodes “starred” or “double starred”. A significant drop off from the 220+ the show started off with. By choosing to watch the series through this method the story is presented in a way that is both coherent, a distinct issue with the original series, and properly paced. The perfect presentation of the series for people without much time who are desperately looking to catch up.
Which leads us to the third question: Why would you even want to catch up in the first place? Well, in the time since the show ended a lot has changed in the popular mindset. Nerd culture has gone through an unprecedented boom and the industry no longer denies that Sci-fi and Fantasy appeal to a statistically relevant viewership. In the last five years television has gone from being the red headed bastard of the entertainment world to one of the premier forms of storytelling. Suddenly there is a real reason for The X-Files to not only return, but for it to be given the budget and space it needs to flourish. There is an entire generation of potential viewers who have grown up with shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. There’s an entire culture that hungers for aliens and monsters and mystery, and The X-Files has the potential to give them all of it. The adventures of Mulder and Scully offer up more than well-written Sci-Fi and Horror – more often than not they are a timely and relevant critique of the world we now live in. The reboot essentially allows The X-Files the chance to exist in the very world it always talked about. The pseudo-science that Mulder and Scully always fought over, stuff like Biological Engineering and Eugenics, are actual debated issues in today’s world. The material has never been more relevant.
Which brings us to the present. We can talk all day about how The X-Files is perfectly poised to sweep the market, and why you should care, but what remains to be seen is if creator Chris Carter can actually deliver. Well, if you are a fan of cold hard numbers, then I have good news. The premiere, which aired January 24th, pulled 16.2 million viewers, the second largest premiere to air across the big 4 networks this season. While these numbers don’t directly correlate with quality, the second episode, which aired at 9.7 million viewers signals that there is a significant amount of sustained interest in the series’ return to television. Which signals that Creator Chris Carter took the series issues to heart. The fact that there even exists a fan made list signals to large, unsettled problems with the way in which the older show is written and directed. With these numbers Carter has the chance to change, to address the long criticised flaws with the series. Which given the numbers and initial reviews, it’s safe to say may happen. In other words, The X-Files reboot is a quality investment of time and energy. Mulder and Scully are not quite ready to leave and that can only mean good things for fans of the show and its premise. The X-Files was, and could again be fantastic TV.