The X-Files: 25 Years On
Share This Article:
Whether you believe in extra-terrestrials or not — let's face it, we all want to believe — the influence of The X-Files can still be felt on television even 25 years later.
While the way in which television is consumed has changed a fair bit since the '90s, the complex narratives and themes presented in shows like Black Mirror and American Horror Story without X-Files paving the way. However, that's not to say FBI Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) were the first characters to be dealt the hand of complex television.
Twin Peaks, created by Mark Frost and David Lynch, may have only originally ran for two seasons and a movie, but boy did it confuse and enthral its viewers with surrealism, supernatural forces, and detective fiction. Whilst the legacy of Twin Peaks ended a year before The X-Files debuted in 1993, it certainly influenced X-Files creator Chris Carter when it came to developing the investigations his FBI agents would undertake in small towns across America.
But why exactly Carter believe that aliens, conspiracy theories, and governmental mistrust would appeal to viewers?
After reading an analysis of a 1991 Roper Poll Survey that found that "at least 3.7 million Americans may have been abducted by aliens," Carter figured out the root of his series. "[Abduction] is tantamount to a religious experience." Mix that with an innate interest in the Watergate era and a "a love for the 1975 classic All The Presidents Men, and you've got yourself a foundation for one of the longest-running sci-fi shows ever.
What made The X-Files capture the zeitgeist of the era — and stay on air for nine seasons, two movies, and an eventual revival — was the way in which the investigations that Mulder and Scully would undertake were sourced, and how they were portrayed on screen.
Before the pilot episode even begins, you're met with an eerie little title card that reads: "The following story is inspired by actual documented events." From there, the writers would take famous urban legends, abduction stories, and conspiracy theories and group them into two categories: "Monster of the Week" and Mythology. These two strands would make up the complex narrative and the world that the show inhabited.
Instead of having 20 or so episode that were bookedended by climatic premieres and finales, Carter and the writing team decided to make each episode matter in the grand scheme of things. Whether trivial or not, every episode of the show propelled the narrative forward whether it was a standalone story or part of the overarching mythology. Whilst it had its fair share of hiccups along the way, the world of The X-Files was the definition of complex television.
Now the genre of complex TV is more than a common occurance. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Supernatural, Lost to hell, even Grey's Anatomy — they all follow a similar structure. There's the premise, then the main characters (often two or more), and the situation they're placed in that contributes to the overarching story of the series. To avoid consequential burn out from the viewers due to this complexity, standalone episodes are placed between the mythology episodes of the show that still drives the story forward, but puts a slight pause on the main narrative to give the viewer at least some respite.
There's also the small detail that the majority of the shows that followed The X-Files have at least one X-Files alumni on their team. Supernatural and Castle became the main hub for X-Files writers, directors, and producers once the show ended (the first time around) in 2002. I mean, both series even have episodes that directly reference the show, right down to mock-ups of the title cards and that infamous whistling theme.
Obviously, writers, directors, producers, and even showrunners don't just stick to one project. But there are so many pop culture hits that would not have turned out the way they did if it weren't for The X-Files.
For example, whatever your thoughts are on the Final Destination franchise, its existence is all thanks to a script originally written as an X-Files episode by screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick. That script would eventually be adapted to the big screen by two X-Files writers — James Wong and Glen Morgan — and the rest is history.
And who could forget Breaking Bad. Without The X-Files and a certain writer, one of television's most recent successes would cease to exist. It was on X-Files that writer Vince Gilligan developed and honed his craft, and through a certain little episode in season six titled 'Drive' — written by Gilligan — that he met Bryan Cranston. Gilligan needed a specific type of actor that could make viewers"feel empathy for an antagonistic character". Sound familiar?
Evidently, The X-Files wasn't perfect. It had its flaws, and whilst its recent revival was such a nostalgia high, it pales in comparison to the first seven seasons of the series. Without really realising it at the time, Carter created an everlasting legacy that can still be felt in television today — no matter how it is consumed, and that needs to be celebrated.
Happy 25th, X-Files. The truth is still out there.