When it was originally on: 1993-2002 (Revived for two more seasons 2016-2018)
Original network: Fox
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: I have several friends who are into it, and I definitely remember it playing in common rooms when I was in college. But actually WATCHING it? Not so much.
What IMDb says: Two F.B.I. Agents, Fox Mulder the believer and Dana Scully the skeptic, investigate the strange and unexplained, while hidden forces work to impede their efforts.
Why I picked it: I wanted to make sure we had adequate Sci-Fi representation on The List and The X-Files is one of the most successful iterations of it on network television.
It also came from an era when the Fox Network was still relatively young and had stronger incentives to do things other networks wouldn’t. The X-Files feels network-y in a lot of ways, but the supernatural element makes it stand out from your run-of-the-mill cop drama.
What I liked: This one does a surprisingly fantastic job of balancing its procedural elements with larger conflicts that could cause tension for years to come. I’m actually surprised at how well it did this given that it’s from 1993, when longer arcs within procedurals weren’t as common as they are now. Oftentimes I find that with pilots for case-of-the-week shows, I get more of a closed loop than I want. The story is complete, and so I’m not left with any burning desire to see more. But right as we were getting to that point with The X-Files pilot, we get a hint at a larger government conspiracy, and that makes me curious for more. The notion of two people investigating cases where the bureau they work for might be actively sabotaging them is fascinating.
I also love the gender politics of a woman representing the side of logic and reason and a man representing the side of emotional instinct. It’s quite clear that the tension between logic and emotion will drive this whole series, and while that clarity is a strength in and of itself, the fact that they are subverting gender stereotypes is an added bonus. They also do a great job of letting Mulder be emotional and talk about his abducted sister without it ever making him feel less smart than Scully. These two may view the world differently and they have different backgrounds, but yet the show never really portrays one as being inherently smarter than the other.
What I didn’t like: Because the whole nature of this show is to explore unexplained phenomena, the ending of this pilot does feel very out of left field. I actually re-watched this one because on the first view it was hard for me to make sense of the ending. While the extraterrestrial element sets the show apart from other detective shows, it’s a bit of a double edged sword because playing along is part of the fun of detective shows. Usually as these kinds of stories progress, I’m forming my own ideas about who the killer might’ve been or what plot twists I’m going to encounter along the way. Knowing that this The X-Files is just going to make up its own rules as it goes and that the endings will just be “unexplained phenomena” takes that guessing game factor away.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that The X-Files premise easily lends itself to unpredictable stories. However, feeling like it’s a fool’s errand to even try and predict outcomes just makes a show like this less fun. It’s totally possible that the next few episodes tie more stuff together and better define the rules of The X-Files universe, but I can also see how the mystery is part of the show’s appeal, and that’s an incredibly tough tightrope to walk.
I also didn’t quite love Mulder and Scully as much as I was hoping I would. I wish there would’ve been more time to watch them interact on matters outside the case, and connect to them on a human level. Instead, I feel like I’m watching stock footage of “the logical one who plays by the rules” and “the one who’s not afraid to go rogue.” They feel more like characters than real humans, with not enough to distinguish them from other versions of those archetypes that I’ve seen before. I can see how this issue would go away with more episodes, but it was a little bit disappointing given the reputation that Mulder and Scully have.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: I can definitely see why so many people like the show, including people who weren’t old enough to enjoy its original run.