Paranoid for the PARANORMAL
Peruse THE X-FILES and you're likely to be left with a dangling explanation
Via word-of-mouth and the computer bulletin boards, science-fiction fans, government-conspiracy buffs and UFO afficionados got word of THE X-FILES, a new Fox series about two FBI agents who investigate paranormal and unexplainable phenomena.
Attracted by the slick $1-million-per-episode production values, they latched onto THE X-FILES' intelligent, balanced treatment of subjects usually reserved for the WEEKLY WORLD NEWS.
Letters, loads of letters, poured in. Tales of alien abductions, accounts of close encounters, and, above all, testimonials in praise of the show. They -- the X-ophiles, the growing cult audience for THE X-FILES -- provided Fox with its best ever ratings for Friday nights (a notoriously tough night to crack) and prompted the network to order a full season of 24 episodes. All of this for a show that initially shunned the sci-fi tag.
"Now I don't think the association with science fiction is that bad after all," says Chris Carter, the X-FILES creator and exec producer. "It brought people to the show, and they stayed even though it's not STAR TREK."
Nor is it THE TWILIGHT ZONE or TWIN PEAKS, two other shows to which it is frequently compared. THE X-FILES is carving out its own niche -- part eerie crime story, part thriller, and part tug of war between intuition and logic, seen and unseen forces. If there's any show it comes close to, at least in terms of creating a comparably creepy atmosphere of unparalleled paranoia, it's THE OUTER LIMITS.
THE X-FILES plays out its conflicts with intricate stories and a team of crime-solvers: federal agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Mulder, condescendingly nicknamed "Spooky" by his colleagues, is a wry-witted renegade investigator who like to refer to himself as "The FBI's Most Unwanted." When plausible explanations don't resolve a crime, Mulder posits solutions involving genetic mutations, pyrokinesis, UFO visitations, and shadowy government cover-ups, one of the show's favorite themes.
"Mulder is obsessed, but he has to be a regular guy," says Duchovny. "If someone in Coke-bottle glasses tells you about cloning, you say, 'Yeah, sure.' If a normal guy tells you about it, you say, 'Really?' Mulder makes the show believable."
His counterpart is Anderson's by-the-book medical expert Scully. Like Jodie Foster's character in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Scully is rational and cool under pressure. "Scully is someone who rarely jumps to conclusions," says Anderson. "She works from her mind while Mulder works from his heart."
The duo's sleuthing relationship, with only a hint of sexual tension, operates within action-packed plots structured basically to scare the pants off the audience. That was how Chris Carter sold the series to Fox, which was initially skeptical. "There's a knee-jerk reaction to anything involving UFOs or paranormal activities," says Carter, a writer for SURFING magazine until Hollywood beckoned. "They'll say, 'That's idiotic. It sounds too tabloid.'"
But Carter, who was never a sci-fi fan, convinced Fox executives that there was a place for a show that was scary yet sophisticated, something like the mid-'70s series THE NIGHT STALKER. "Only I didn't want to deal with mummies, monsters, and werewolves," he says. "I wanted to do something smart, like Michael Crichton did with JURASSIC PARK -- tell interesting stories that are within the realm of extreme scientific possibility."
Adds Duchovny, "THE X-FILES aims at the point where physics and metaphysics meet, where science and poetry come together. We take the real world and put imagined things in it. We're not science fiction and we're not cops-and-robbers. We have one foot in each."
That's the show's overriding appeal for viewers beyond the science-fiction and UFO hounds, says Carter. "People have the need to believe there are more dimensions to our existence than our little lives here on earth. THE X-FILES can make you think about the world in a different way."
But any messages are simply a byproduct: "This isn't a show just for believers," he says. "It's for anyone who wants to take a roller-coaster ride every week."
Divina Infusino is a freelance entertainment writer based on the West Coast.