Sometimes a television show can perfectly capture the spirit of its era. Miami Vice evokes the Reagan years, both in its subject matter and in its general tone of pastel disillusionment. 24 speaks to the early years of the War on Terror, with its betrayed confusion and brutal paranoia conveying some of the national moods so does Star Trek Enterprise with its terrorist Xindi.

There are countless of examples of television shows overlapping and extending beyond, beautifully summarising a particular moment in the cultural psyche. This was pre-internet, pre-9/11, in what perhaps could be considered a geopolitically naive, optimistic, and content era in human history – the Soviets were gone and what remained was stability and progress towards western ideals of democracy and institutions.

In the early 90s, people had plenty of slack in their emotional and psychological systems to which enjoy a teasing game of “What if …?” once a week. The X-Files speaks to the nineties. It is certainly not the only show that could be said to speak to the nineties as a decade, however.

Television was still a relatively young medium in the early 90s, still uncertain of its own identity or even its artistic sensibilities. The X-Files embraced the idea of film as the closest relative to television, with the mythology offering blockbuster thrills on a television budget for free on a weekly basis. It was arguably the last decade when television was truly a mass entertainment system before the audience began to fragment and before viewing options exploded.

X-files (1993-2018) was a gloriously imaginative fiction, a tapestry of nonsense deftly woven by its creator, Chris Carter. The show was a hit for the Fox Broadcasting Company network, and its main characters and slogans; “The Truth Is Out There”, “Trust No One” and “I Want to Believe” became pop culture touchstones. The X-Files is seen as a defining series of the 1990s, coinciding with the era’s widespread mistrust of governments, interest in conspiracy theories and spirituality, and the belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life.

This long-running FOX drama lasted nine seasons and focused on the exploits of FBI Agents Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, John Doggett, and Monica Reyes and their investigations into the paranormal. From genetic mutants and killer insects to a global conspiracy concerning the colonization of Earth by an alien species.

John Doggett and Monica Reyes were later additions to the show. The main focus was around special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who investigate X-Files: marginalized, unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena.

Mulder believes in the existence of aliens and the paranormal while Scully, a medical doctor and a skeptic, is assigned to scientifically analyze Mulder’s discoveries, offer alternate rational theories to his work, and thus return him to mainstream cases. Early in the series, both agents become pawns in a larger conflict and come to trust only each other and a few select people. The agents also discover an agenda of the government to keep the existence of extraterrestrial life a secret.

Mulder and Scully develop a close relationship that begins as a platonic friendship but becomes a romance by the end of the series. In addition to the series-spanning story arc, “monster of the week” episodes form roughly two-thirds of all episodes.

The show thrilled because of how smartly it turned bureaucratic rigor into the characters’ struggle to understand and accept the unknown — and, of course, because of the devastating sexual tension between Mulder and Scully.

The character Walter Skinner was played by actor Mitch Pileggi. Walter Sergei Skinner is an Assistant Director in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a former marine in the United States Marine Corps. Assigned to the FBI between the mid-1980s – 2008, one of the sections under his jurisdiction was the X-Files unit, which focused on cases involving paranormal activity and unexplained phenomena.

Another reoccurring character is “Cigarette Smoking Man” (William B. Davis), a mysterious individual who appears to be a higher-up government official with some power, though not the person calling the shots. “The Lone Gunmen” Byers (Bruce Harwood), Langly (Dean Haglund), and Frohike (Tom Braidwood)are three of Mulder’s sources who work at “The Lone Gunman,” a publication dealing with perceived government conspiracies.

The show’s first season sets a wonderfully creepy and mysterious atmosphere. The introduction to an overall conspiracy within the FBI sets the second season a little higher than the previous season. The third and fourth seasons were the X-Files at their best, the overall conspiracy and stand-alone episodes mesh so well that you just want more and more.

The script is flipped in Season 5 of The X-Files as Mulder loses his faith and Scully finds hers. After having the “Alien” conspiracy revealed to him as a government psyop, Mulder comes to doubt everything that he thought he knew, meanwhile Scully’s battle with cancer reawakens her faith and opens her up to extreme possibilities.

After moving production to LA and making the leap to feature films, The X-Files starts anew in Season 6. Picking up a few months after the X-Files was shut down, Mulder and Scully are stuck doing run-of-the-mill FBI work (yet still a lot of paranormal stuff); but everything changes when an Alien Resistance suddenly appears and attacks the Syndicate. The season begins the slow downfall of the series.

The X-Files spent its first seven seasons unearthing a secret buried history, tracing a web of deceit and deception from before the founding of the United States to the present day. The seventh season’s preoccupation with unreality mirrored that bubbling through pop culture in films like The Matrix, The Truman Show, and Dark City. The season finale “Requiem” was a great cliffhanger, but they probably should’ve ended the series there and wrapped things up with a second movie.

Following Mulder’s UFO abduction the FBI begins a manhunt headed up by special agent John Doggett, and in the interim Doggett is assigned to the X-Files. Meanwhile, Scully’s mystery pregnancy gets more mysterious, and soon garners the interest of an alien cabal and the Syndicate. Robert Patrick (the T-1000 himself) joins the cast and takes on the skeptic role. And he proves to have good chemistry with Gillian Anderson

The first 9 seasons aired between 1993 and 2001, but then returned in 2016 with season 10 and then again in 2018 with what is probably the last 11th season of the show until we probably get some sort of reboot, reimagining, sequel and/or prequel to the series in the not so distant future.

While television had traditionally been considered a writers’ medium, The X-Files embraced its directors and allowed them to make the show their own. Directors like Rob Bowman, David Nutter, and Kim Manners were just as important to the voice of the show as writers like Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan, or Darin Morgan. Carter even encouraged his writers to become directors, developing something of an auteur theory of television episode production.

In 2007, Time magazine included it on a list of the “100 Best TV Shows of All Time.” In 2008, Entertainment Weekly named it Classic Sci-fi and the fourth-best TV show in the last 25 years. TV Guide called The X-Files the Second greatest cult television show and the 37th best television show of all time.

Both the series itself and lead actors Duchovny and Anderson received multiple awards and nominations, and by its conclusion, the show was the longest-running science fiction series in U.S. television history. The series also spawned a franchise which includes Millennium and The Lone Gunmen spin-offs, two theatrical films, and accompanying merchandise.

X-Files (1993-2018)

7.5

Television Series

7.5/10

Worth Rewatching

7.5/10

Overall

7.5/10

We like:

  • That the X-Files will forever be remembered as a true hit TV show, and a breakout accomplishment for Fox.
  • The script, the actors and the direction make the most unbelievable seem believable and the unfathomable- unfathomably real.
  • It is dark, moody and like nothing before it.

  • It survived cast changes, location moves, ups and downs in ratings, and years of airing.