For the last few weeks, it seems as if all the hype for television has been focused solely on the comic book-based shows coming back to midseason and season premieres – and believe you me, I was as excited as anyone last night to realize that I had a veritable smorgasbord of geeky goodness from which to choose when I finally flopped down on my couch after work – hah! Like work ever stops. Welcome to the glamorous life of a writer, kids!
But lost in all the hype surrounding the likes of The Flash, Agent Carter, and Legends of Tomorrow has been the fact that the X-Files miniseries sequel premieres this Sunday. If there is a shade past excited, then color me that, because as a former die-hard X-phile, I am so here for the whole spooky gang getting back together again.
In order to prepare myself for the miniseries (insert your favorite “my body is ready” gif as needed), I decided over the long weekend to binge-watch Season 1 of the original X-Files on Netflix to see if it still holds up as well today as it did when it premiered 22 years ago.
In a word? YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT IT DOES.
Okay, that was five words…whatever.
The X-Files revival is happening at an interesting time. 30-somethings and up remember it fondly, but it’s not left much of a tangible footprint on the minds of 20-somethings and younger millennials. Though it ran for 9 seasons, by the time most nof them were old enough to watch it, it was already into the last few seasons that were, well…awful. It was too late to catch up. And with the explosion of genre shows on television, those same millennials used Netflix to catch up on those shows, not one whose last episode wrapped over a decade ago.
But whether they realize it or not, we have The X-Files to thank for so much of what we have on TV today. And this only fully resonated with me after giving it another watch with a fresh pair of eyes and a decade of distance between us.
1. It set the tone for our genre shows today
The X-Files itself may have been inspired from previous horror and sci-fi shows like The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Darkside, but it, in turn, spawned two decades worth of inspiration for future television shows. If you’ve ever watched Supernatural, Lost, Fringe, Dark Skies, Torchwood, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, just to name a few, you have The X-Files to thank for it. Every single one of those shows, and a number of others, drew direct inspiration from Chris Carter’s creation. What The X-Files did so well was to create the modern-day genre series formula of taking “Monster of the Week” episodes and weaving them together with an overarching storyline that progressed through the series, creating the concept of a complex, canonical mythology that is still heavily in use today. It’s a format that we’re absolutely used to by now, but The X-Files was such a pioneer in this aspect that it even had its own term for that canonical aspect: the “mytharc.”
The influence of The X-Files doesn’t just stop at horror and sci-fi series, either. Crime procedurals like Bones can also tip their hat at The X-Files for certain aspects that have now become standard. Every single show that relies on a skeptic/believer partnership, especially if the skeptic is a.) a woman and b.) has either a medical or scientific background (and isn’t that all of them, really?) can point directly at the Dana Scully/Fox Mulder dynamic as its model.
2. It was ahead of its time in terms of technology
Assuming you were old enough to have been alive before the internet was an integrated part of our lives, think back to when you first regularly started using it. And email. Cell phones. Chat rooms. I’m betting that most of us would say the mid- to late-’90s was when it really caught on, particularly those of us who grew up in more rural areas.
But in 1993, The X-Files was already incorporating all of this into its first season, and not in a hamfisted, “Look at how technologically advanced we are!” sort of way, or worse, in a way that talked down to the audience by overexplaining it, but naturally and seamlessly. Dana Scully sat down at her laptop and typed up her field reports to send back to FBI headquarters from the very first episode. Mulder and Scully spoke regularly on cell phones and communicated with others via email and computer messaging. And it wasn’t just technology that they incorporated in a pioneering way, but the way in which they used that technology. The Lone Gunmen, introduced in the first season, became regular allies of Mulder and Scully. The conspiracy theorizing, computer hacking trio of technoanarchists were not the first hacking group to exist, but influenced pop culture heavily at the same exact time as the rise of the internet. Essentially, the Lone Gunmen were the precursor to modern hacker groups like Anonymous and Lizard Squad, as well as conspiracy theorist websites like Infowars and ATS. Considering we’re living in an age where characters in big budget movies still occasionally use flip phones and smart phones from multiple model versions past, and the prescient way that The X-Files treated technology, and how it could be used, is remarkable.
3. Dana Scully was a badass and the first of her kind
The brilliant, career-driven woman working in the fields of medicine and science, or with computers, is ubiquitous in television shows and pop culture today: Daisy Johnson and Jemma Simmons on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Caitlyn Snow on The Flash, Felicity Smoak on Arrow, Abby Sciuto on NCIS, Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz and Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, and Temperance “Bones” Brennan on Bones, to name just a few, all owe their allegiance to The X-Files. As both an FBI agent and a gifted medical doctor, Dr. Dana Scully is the Patron Saint of Female STEM Characters on TV.
When casting was first happening for the series, show creators has originally wanted more of an eye candy female partner to play opposite David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder. But they quickly saw the chemistry between Gillian Anderson and Duchovny and wisely made the decision to take the character of Dana Scully in another direction entirely. The result was that she was a character that hadn’t really ever been seen to that point. She was just as gifted and brilliant as her male partner in her own field, and her accomplishments as a medical doctor were often utilized in the stories of each episode. When she spoke, Mulder listened, often overturning the advice of other male characters in order to defer to her judgment. From the first episode on, Mulder respected her skills and advice. She was never once used as eye candy – her value was based entirely on her brains and bravery, not her looks, and she showed a generation of fans and television executives alike that female characters in scientific fields could hold their own opposite any male character on screen and be compelling characters in their own right.
So there you have it. It wasn’t until I rewatched Season 1 of The X-Files that I truly realized just how influential it was. It’s not a reach to say that the entire structure of the sci-fi/horror/fantasy/procedural-heavy television reality we’re in today rests squarely upon the foundation set in place two decades ago by The X-Files.