A darkly brooding, mistrustful, nightmarishly vivid, paranoid fantasy for the cynically inclined millennial generation. From humble beginnings The X-Files blossomed into full-fledged phenomena, and in the process transformed its hitherto unknown young lead actors into fully-fledged worldwide icons almost overnight.
Deftly mixing the familiar dramatic conventions of the standard police procedural format with the eclectically disparate elements of horror/science fiction and fantasy motifs, creator Chris Carter succeeded in concocting a technically stylish series with resonant echoes of Darren McGavin's short-lived seventies excursion into the paranormal, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Working from a basement office, brilliant but unorthodox young FBI agent, Fox Mulder (a wry and caustically witty, David Duchovny), obsessively investigates the plethora of reported but unsolved cases dismissed over the years by an otherwise sceptical agency involving strange phenomena, dubbed X-Files. Assigned by the upper echelons to partner Mulder in his single-minded quest, (initially as a means of debunking the maverick agent's more radical theories) is pathologist-cum-agent, Dana Scully (A consistently finely judged and multi-layered characterisation from Gillian Anderson).
From the very outset, Carter and his team of writers established the seeds that would quickly blossom into the cryptically elaborate, potentially fatal web of conspiracy and deceit that was to ensnare the tenacious agents over the course of seasons to come. The very essence and embodiment of this all pervading evil of governmental corruption came in the tall, gaunt, and coldly arrogant form of veteran Canadian character actor William B. Davis' anonymous, "Cigarette Smoking Man". (Ironically Davis was about to retire from full time acting to teach drama because of a lack of work when he was invited to join the embryonic X-Files cast). But while the more overtly science fictional and increasingly continuity driven "conspiracy arc" stories have played a healthy part in the series runaway success, the real bedrock of the show is in the touchingly understated, beautifully delineated and played platonic love affair of Mulder and Scully. With little more than the subtlest of looks and gestures Anderson and Duchovny effortlessly convey the unconsummated emotional depths of the relationship which exists between the characters. Refusing to bow to pressure from both fans and his stars alike, Carter has taken pains not to allow the characters to physically consummate their relationship, realising that such a course has seriously damaged the appeal of other "will they, won't they?" based series in the past. (Both Moonlighting and Lois and Clark, being prime examples of such a miscalculated move ending in disaster for the series).
Another crucial factor in the series' success is the overall technical excellence of its production. Boasting impressive design work, moody and artfully composed cinematography and a consistently top-drawer musical score from composer Mark Snow, episodes have the look and feel of a high budget film rather than a weekly series. Allied to all of this is an intriguing and well-rounded set of recurring support characters, of which Mitch Peleggi's assistant director Skinner and the comically mismatched trio comprising "The Lone Gunman" are particularly noteworthy.
Spawning a veritable legion of imitators as well as a merchandising industry, which threatens to reach Star Trek levels, The X-Files has single-handedly redefined both the broad cross-generational audience appeal of modern televisual fantasy, as well as elevating expectations in terms of visual style and quality.
Published on February 13th, 2019. Written by Peter Henshulsuch 'The truth is out there.' (2000) for Television Heaven.