by Erik Arneson
Sept. 10, 1993 to present
- David Duchovny as FBI Agent Fox Mulder
- Gillian Anderson as FBI Agent Dana Scully Mitch Pileggi as FBI
- Assistant Director Walter Skinner Nicholas Lea as FBI Agent Alex Krycek
- William B. Davis as Cigarette-Smoking Man
In a post-Watergate era full of government cover-ups both perceived and actual, “The X-Files” tapped into a conspiracy theory that existed decades before Richard Nixon moved into the Oval Office: the FBI holds evidence of extraterrestrial life.
The UFO crash landing at Roswell, New Mexico, an incident well-known to those who believe in life on other planets, was presumed fact by FBI Agent Fox Mulder. His partner, Dr. Dana Scully, was assigned to the X-Files specifically because of her more skeptical, scientific outlook. After being abducted and operated on by aliens, however, Scully’s attitude shifted to the point where she occasionally had to convince Mulder that something unearthly was nonetheless real.
Agents Mulder and Scully investigate anything paranormal — not just aliens. The Jersey Devil, pyrokinetic serial killers, a mysterious lake creature, stigmatics, psychics and faith healers all found their way into at least one “X-Files” plot. Rarely satisfied with the simple solution, the show’s writers liked to add layers of unanticipated twists. Often, Mulder and Scully were given room to consider the moral implications of the strange realities they discovered.
The pair also ran into plenty of trouble from humans. Supporting characters like Cigarette-Smoking Man, Well-Manicured Man, Gray-Haired Man, Deep Throat, the Lone Gunmen and rogue FBI Agent Alex Krycek added to the mystique of “The X-Files.”
Cigarette-Smoking Man loomed most ominously. As leader of the Syndicate, a collection of some of the world’s most powerful and shadowy figures, Cigarette-Smoking Man was the mastermind behind a devil’s pact made with an alien race that intended to colonize the earth and enslave or murder its human inhabitants. If not for Mulder’s relentless pursuit for the truth and a gang of rebel aliens, Cigarette-Smoking Man’s plans may have come to fruition.
But true to form for the show, Cigarette-Smoking Man could not be dismissed as purely evil. In a two-part episode that aired during the show’s sixth season, he claimed that the Consortium’s deal with the aliens actually extended the life of the human race because it called for the development of human-alien hybrids. The Syndicate, he said, never intended to succeed with the hybrid experiments until they produced a vaccine that would thwart the aliens’ plans.
FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner, Mulder’s and Scully’s supervisor, was a good man trapped in a bureaucratic job. Although he initially doubted the veracity of Mulder’s outlandish claims as much as anyone, he seemed to want to do what was right. Unfortunately, his job responsibilities sometimes made doing the right thing a very creative proposition.
Rogue FBI Agent Alex Krycek, who debuted on the show as Mulder’s apprentice, turned out to be in cahoots with Cigarette-Smoking Man. He tried to kill Scully, and was present when her sister Melissa was killed; he also tried unsuccessfully to kill Mulder. Even Cigarette-Smoking Man turned against Krycek for a time, although their unholy alliance rekindled itself.
“The X-Files,” filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, for the first five seasons and Los Angeles thereafter, helped define the Fox Network’s identity through the 1990s. Along with “The Simpsons” and NFL football, it was one of the three programs most commonly associated with Fox. But few would have blamed Fox if it had pulled the plug on the show after season one.
Winning an Emmy after its first season ended in 1994– albeit for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Graphic Design and Title Sequences– helped establish the show as a legitimate drama. It also may have given Fox executives a reason to keep the show on the air despite its number 102 (out of 118) ranking in the Nielsen ratings.
Fox’s faith in the show paid off handsomely. Just a year later, “The X-Files” was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Guest Actress and four other Emmys. It won none of those, but took home five Emmys in 1996. By 1997, Gillian Anderson won as Outstanding Lead Actress, and Anderson and David Duchovny both earned nominations in 1998. Through the years, the show also won various Golden Globes, Saturn Awards from the Academy of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Films, Q Awards from Viewers for Quality Television, Screen Actors Guild Awards and numerous others.
Creator Chris Carter’s directions to the writers– that every episode must take place “within the realm of extreme possibility”– worked well. “The X-Files” can attribute much of its appeal to the fact that many viewers believe it could happen.
Inspired in part by shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” the series served as a breakout platform for Carter and stars Duchovny and Anderson. Carter, who previously created and executive produced the comedy series “Brand New Life” for The Disney Channel, went on to create a crime drama even more bizarre than “The X-Files,” “Millennium.”
Duchovny’s most notable credit prior to “The X-Files” was a stint as the transvestite detective Dennis/Denise on “Twin Peaks.” Anderson, who had less than a handful of screen credits before joining the show, first earned recognition by winning a Theatre World Award for her off-Broadway performance in “Absent Friends.”
“The X-Files” sparked a number of ancillary products, including novels, comic books, retail videos, trading cards, calendars and more. The 1998 feature film “The X-Files: Fight the Future” grossed more than $80 million in the U.S.; Carter has said he plans to produce more films, even after the television series ends.
NOTE: “The X-Files” can be seen on Fox Sunday nights, as well as on the F/X cable network and in syndication.