quarantine stream x-files

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The TV Show: The X-Files

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: FBI Agents Mulder (believer in the supernatural; horny) and Scully (non-believer in the supernatural; also horny) team-up to investigate government conspiracies, ghosts, monsters, aliens, and other strange occurrences.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: Sure, there are a few bad seasons. And the much-hyped revival was kind of a bust. But the majority of The X-Files remains compulsively rewatchable TV. From the over-arching conspiracy plotlines to the monster-of-the-week episodes, The X-Files remains one of the most buzzed-about cult TV shows for a reason. It’s scary, it’s funny, and it’s blessed with two great leads, both of whom have immediate chemistry with each other. And don’t even pretend you don’t feel a sudden endorphin rush the minute that theme music kicks in.

Often imitated, never duplicated, The X-Files came from seemingly nowhere in 1993, quickly turning David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson into stars and earning itself a rabid cult following. Arriving at a time when the TV landscape was changing – NYPD Blue, which also premiered that year, proved that network TV could start getting very R-rated – The X-Files was unlike anything else on the air at the time. Dark, moody, unapologetically weird, the series took a weekly procedural format and used it to tell stories about alien abductions, hideous sewer monsters, killer bugs, government cover-ups, and so much more.

It’s easy to forget that at first, Mulder and Scully were supposed to be at odds. Scully was initially assigned to Mulder and his X-Files – the FBI’s code-name for weird cases that no one else wanted to touch – to spy and report back. The higher-ups didn’t trust Mulder and his endless crusade, and wanted Scully to dish the dirt. But of course, it wasn’t long before the new partners grew attached to each other.

So many TV shows ride or die on the will they/won’t they chemistry of their leads – CheerMoonlighting, etc. – and The X-Files played around with this, too. But even though Mulder and Scully did eventually climb into the sack together, their respect and love for each other became apparent rather quickly, primarily because Duchovny and Anderson have unbeatable chemistry together. We understand why these two very different people – the hard-nosed skeptic and the guy who just wants to believe – are drawn together. They need each other, and through their exploits, they grow as people.

That relationship is key to making The X-Files work, but also key: all the spooky stuff. The series could go to some extremely dark and scary places – the now-iconic episode “Home” was so intense that it actually came with a pre-air warning that more or less told audiences, “Y’All, This Episode Is Gonna Fuck You Up.” But the show was also willing to get comical, too. Indeed, some of the very best episodes – “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”, “Bad Blood” – are funny as hell.

On a lesser show, these clashing tones could backfire. But The X-Files persevered…until it eventually didn’t. The show ran out of steam after Duchovny decided to leave – only to then eventually return. But by then, the damage was done. New FBI Agent characters failed to inspire as much admiration as Mulder and Scully, and by the time the show came to an end (the first time), The X-Files felt as if it had run its course. But that doesn’t mean we can’t go back and relive all those great episodes (while remembering to skip that really bad episode where Mulder remembers one of his past lives or some bullshit like that).

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