In 1993, “The X-Files” made its debut on “The Fourth Network:” Fox Broadcasting Company. For those old enough to remember when Fox got its start, the programming seemed (upon first glance) fairly bottom shelf. However, many of their early programs went on to become part of the pop culture in big ways because the network (probably sensing they had better distinguish themselves from “The Big Three” in short order) greenlit shows like “Married…With Children,” “The Tracey Ullman Show,” “21 Jump Street,” “The Ben Stiller Show, “ “The Simpsons,” “Beverly Hills 90201,” and “Melrose Place.”
Hindsight is certainly 20/20, but “The X-Files” tapped into something that Fox News excels in: paranoia. Not to get too deep in the weeds, but historian Richard Hofstadter wrote a fairly popular piece in Harper’s magazine in 1964 called “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” that layered a psychological reading of American political movements on the right and left and found many groups exhibited feelings of conspiracy, persecution, and aggression against power structures they felt were trying to control them. Paranoia (even on a mass scale) never seems to go away, but “The X-Files” synthesized and packaged those feelings in weekly episodes that involved alien abduction, government conspiracies, monsters, paranormal activities, and other assorted anomalies investigated by two FBI agents. It helped that agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were opposites (one a skeptic and the other wanting to believe in unexplained phenomena), who were likable, good looking, and had a very low boil sexual attraction to one another. Without that tension, the show wouldn’t have had the foundation to thrive. Add to that wonderfully inventive writers, directors, and the show’s creator (Chris Carter) who, for the most part, kept the show compelling for almost a decade, and you have the proverbial lightning in a bottle. However, with the release of two X-Files films (Fight the Future and I Want To Believe) and a couple of TV spin-offs (“Millennium” and “The Lone Gunmen”), the franchise seemed to running out of steam in terms of relevance, TV viewership, and box office draw.
Flash forward to January 2016: Carter resurrects the series with the original actors David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and Mitch Pileggi playing the beloved characters, and it’s like 1993 all over again. But what seemed like edgy and marginal paranoid styles in 1993 is very mainstream in 2016. Could “The X-Files” be relevant in an era when carnival barkers, Internet trolls, and gossip sites have decentered — to borrow a title from a Robin Williams album — reality (what a concept). The short answer is yes. The new episodes of “The X-Files” are relevant and compelling television — but the episodes are uneven. “My Struggle” is classic X-Files to the point parody at times, but the series hits its stride with the very funny “Mulder & Scully Meet The Were-Monster” and the super creepy “Home Again” — featuring the Band-Aid Nose Man in the non-mythology episodes. However, in the mythology episodes, the heaviness of Mulder’s word salad monologues of how deep and wide “the conspiracy” is can be a bit like listening to your stoned friend go on and on about his latest revelation about how the world really works. Fortunately, the explanation of space aliens in the first episode confirms the government conspiracy in a satisfying way. Alas, “Founder’s Mutation” and “Babylon” didn’t quite hit their marks in terms of innovative storytelling the series is known for. Add to the fact that episode six ends on a cliff-hanger and there’s a kind of eye-rolling moment of “Great, what if Fox Broadcasting doesn’t bring the series back?” Well, the viewership for season 10 was a over 13 million, so it’s possible season 11 may happen. But only time will tell. For the Blu-ray release of the DVD, it seems like they’ve stuffed it full of extras that will give fans enough to gnaw on for the time being. With two behind the scenes features, a surprisingly well made gag reel, audio commentary, and a few more extras on the second disc, it’s well worth the purchase if you’re a fan of the series. Besides, The Smoking Man is in this one!